Palestinians Launch Devastating Offensive When the U.S. can Least Afford It
Most of us, including yours truly, were stunned today by the speed and success of the Palestinian offensive
4 min. read | By Dimitri Lascaris
Hours after launching thousands of rockets at Israeli targets, hundreds of Palestinian fighters streamed into Israel by land, sea and air. They swiftly penetrated at least three Israeli military installations and killed dozens of Israeli soldiers. They destroyed and seized armoured vehicles, including tanks. They confiscated assault rifles, grenade launchers and ammunition.
The Israeli dead included Col. Jonathan Steinberg, a senior officer who commanded the Israeli military’s Nahal Brigade, a prominent infantry unit.
Palestinian fighters then apprehended dozens of Israeli civilians and soldiers and spirited them back into Gaza as hostages. One of the prisoners appears to be Israeli Major General Nimrod Aloni, the head of the Israeli “Defence” Forces Depth Corps and Military Colleges. Western media have published a photograph of Nimrod being paraded in the streets of Gaza in his underwear.
Videos of the carnage and the hostages are circulating widely, as are images of burning infrastructure. Aljazeera reported that, across the Middle East, there were demonstrations in support of Palestinians with Israeli and U.S. flags set on fire and marchers waving Palestinian flags in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
How did it come to this? By what means did militants bearing little more than small arms and “enhanced fireworks” overwhelm a military that is purported to be one of the most powerful in the world? And what happened to Israel’s highly touted Iron Dome air defence systems?
Just when Palestinian resistance looked hopeless, fighters from various Palestinian factions have mounted what might prove to be the most audacious, destructive and humiliating military operation against Israel’s apartheid regime since the occupation began in 1967.
The fog of war remains thick, and this round of violence has a long way to go, but one thing seems clear: Palestinian resistance groups launched this offensive just when the United States government was least able to cope with it.
The Israeli regime has gotten away with so much criminality for so long that we greatly over-estimate Israel’s strength. Israel is a tiny country. Its population is miniscule. Its economy is a pipsqueak. It has few natural resources. It is surrounded on all sides by predominantly Arab states whose populations are seething with anger at decades of Israeli aggression and arrogance.
Yet Israel gets away with murder, both literally and figuratively, on an almost daily basis. How has it pulled this off?
The answer is not hard to see.
In essence, Israel is a massive United States military base masquerading as a country. Without the lavish support of the United States – including nearly $4 billion in annual U.S. military aid to Israel – Israel would have been compelled to make peace with Palestinians and its neighbours long ago.
This means that Israel is in serious trouble, because today, the U.S. government is distracted, discredited and diminished. Its proxy war in Ukraine has become a black-hole and a debacle. The U.S. military’s stocks of weaponry are depleted. The Pentagon is openly preparing for war with China while indirectly waging war against Russia. If that were not bad enough, the barely coherent U.S. President is increasingly besieged with hard questions about his son’s sordid affairs.
With the exception of the enfeebled and near-suicidal Europe, where U.S. dominance is on the rise, the authority of the United States is in rapid decline. In Africa, South America, Asia and, above all, the Middle East, the U.S. government is less potent than it has been at any time in the post-WWII period.
Arguably, the clearest sign of U.S. weakness in the Middle East is the recent rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This momentous development poses a major obstacle to Israel’s quest for ‘normalization‘. After all, how could Israel normalize with Saudi Arabia if Saudi Arabia was doing business with Israel’s mortal enemy?
Unsurprisingly, Iran has responded to the Palestinian offensive by expressing support for the Palestinians. Saudi Arabia took a more measured approach by calling for an “immediate cessation of violence”. Nonetheless, the Saudi government effectively blamed Israel for the violence, stating “We recall our repeated warnings of the dangers of the situation exploding as a result of the continued occupation.”
Israel’s regional dominance has always depended critically upon the hegemony of the United States. Now, the era of U.S. hegemony is over.
If Israel’s leaders had had the foresight and humility to grasp that U.S. dominance could not endure forever, they would have made peace with Palestinians long ago on favourable terms, when Israel’s existentially important benefactor dominated global affairs. But Israel’s decades-long impunity made its leaders stupid. They repeatedly squandered opportunities for peace on favourable terms, because they wanted it all. They demanded the whole of historic Palestine, every inch of it. Now they are trapped by their own hubris and greed.
Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. Of all the individuals who have served as Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is the least inclined to exercise restraint – especially with genocidal fascists as his coalition partners. Already, Netanyahu has declared that Israel is “at war” and that it will extract an “unprecedented price”. He has called up Israeli reservists. Netanyahu is likely to find the temptation for a Gaza ground invasion irresistible. If Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza is any indication, such an invasion will result in considerable Israeli casualties. More dead Israeli soldiers will surely intensify the bloodlust of Netanyahu and his extremist coalition partners.
In these explosive circumstances, the prospect of Hezbollah becoming directly embroiled in this conflict is very real. Hezbollah has issued a statement saying it was closely following the situation in Gaza and was in “direct contact with the leadership of the Palestinian resistance”. Were Hezbollah to intervene, its close ally Iran could be drawn into the war as well.
At this delicate moment, the last thing the United States government needs is another conflagration in the Middle East. Its military forces are over-extended. Its reputation its battered. Its domestic politics are in disarray. If Biden and his inner circle had any sense about them, they would privately tell Netanyahu that Israel must respond with considerable circumspection.
Tragically, there’s no reason to believe that that is what the Biden administration will do.