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Israel-Palestine conflict: Political faultlines deepen in world amid US’ firm support to Israel

Tejas Mehta

Israel-Palestine conflict which took a new turn after the blast on Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza city on Wednesday tragically killing around 500 people seems to have deepened the fissures in vertically divided world over current West Asian crises.

While the Arab world firmly stands united for Palestinian people and has vehemently condemned the Israeli actions on the people of Gaza, United States’ firm support for Israel that too when world is watching Gaza people pleading for refuge under Israel’s threat, has put the world on clearly different sides amidst dance of fury by Hamas terrorists.

President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel although planned well in advance, coinciding with bombing at Ahli Arab hospital, seems to have further fuelled tension in the region.

United States’ Stance and Support for Israel

Throughout the conflict, the United States has unequivocally stood by Israel, providing military support and sending warships and jets. The visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who made two trips to the region within days, aimed to defuse tensions and prevent further escalation. President Biden’s visit was intended to reinforce the strong U.S.-Israel alliance.

Gaza Hospital Blast and Its Impact

However, the situation took a dramatic turn when an explosion rocked the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, resulting in the tragic loss of 500 lives. The immediate blame game that followed only intensified regional divisions. While Hamas accused an Israeli airstrike of causing the hospital attack, the Israeli military claimed that a rocket misfired by other Palestinian militants was responsible.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Palestinian militants for the explosion. “The entire world should know: It was barbaric terrorists in Gaza that attacked the hospital in Gaza and not the Israel Defense Forces (IDF),” he said. “Those who brutally murdered our children also murder their own children.” IDF Spokesperson RAdm. Daniel Hagari said that Islamic Jihad is responsible for the rocket that hit the hospital in Gaza.

However, the Palestinian militant organization Islamic Jihad dismissed the Israeli army’s claims that it was behind the strike on a Gaza hospital, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds, as “false and baseless.”

“The Zionist enemy is trying hard to evade its responsibility for the brutal massacre he committed by bombing the Baptist Arab National Hospital in Gaza through his usual fabrication of lies, and through pointing the finger of blame at the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine,” it said to AFP.

This incident sent shock waves through the Arab world and led to widespread outrage. Even President Biden expressed his deep sadness and outrage at the hospital explosion. His statement reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to protecting civilian lives during conflicts, but it fell short of pacifying the anger in the Arab nations.

Growing challenges in Middle east!

President Biden’s visit to Tel Aviv, although demonstrating unwavering U.S. support for Israel, faced a significant challenge. The conflict was spiralling out of control, and Biden made it clear that the U.S. would back its ally. With U.S. aircraft carriers in the region and a promise of “unprecedented support” to Israel, the message was sent to regional rivals, particularly Iran, to stay out of the conflict.

The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict has raised concerns about the possibility of a broader regional disaster in the Middle East. The fear of escalation is closely tied to the expectation of an Israeli ground offensive inside Gaza, which could lead to intense fighting with Hamas and tragic civilian casualties. Experts worry that scenes of civilians caught in the crossfire might incite violence among Palestinians on the West Bank. Furthermore, such events could prompt Hezbollah, a Lebanese-based Islamist party and militant group, to launch thousands of missiles into Israeli cities, opening a second front in the conflict.

Hezbollah, a far more potent force than Hamas, poses a significant challenge. Israel has warned that it would respond with a destructive counterattack into Lebanon if Hezbollah escalates border skirmishes that have already erupted between the two sides. A simultaneous assault on Israel by Iranian proxies Hezbollah and Hamas could also provoke Israeli retaliation against Iran, potentially involving the United States in the conflict to protect its ally Israel. Iran’s mission to the United Nations issued a warning on social media, stating that if Israel’s strikes on Gaza continue, “the situation could spiral out of control & ricochet far-reaching consequences.”

For the United States, there is the added risk that a wider conflict could lead to reprisals by Iran-backed militias and terrorist groups against its remaining troops in Iraq and Syria, where they are engaged in missions to counter ISIS. An aggressive Israeli ground offensive in Gaza would further restrict diplomatic options for key Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, in their efforts to de-escalate the situation. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for instance, called for the “immediate lifting of the siege on Gaza” and condemned the “targeting of civilians, the destruction of critical infrastructure, and the disruption of essential services” when meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Israel’s right of self-defence do not have many takers!

President Joe Biden, who has expressed strong support for Israel and maintained personal
contact with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the Hamas attacks, has positioned the United States to back Israel’s right to self-defence. However, he has also created political room for the U.S. to attempt to mitigate the potential humanitarian impact of what is expected to be a relentless Israeli operation in Gaza and to preserve long-term regional peace efforts. The intricacies of the situation and the trauma caused by the Hamas assault in Israel make it uncertain whether the president’s balancing act is sustainable. Nevertheless, it’s a necessary effort, as a major conflict in the Middle East would further strain U.S. resources at a time when Washington is providing significant support to Ukraine and could create a perception of global chaos that might harm President Biden’s chances for reelection next year.

In an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” President Biden emphasized the U.S.’s capacity to support both Israel and Ukraine, stating, “We’re the United States of America for God’s sake, the most powerful nation in the history – not in the world, in the history of the world.” He asserted that the U.S. could address both situations while maintaining its overall international defense, adding, “And if we don’t, who does?”

Biden also attempted to address the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza as Israel geared up for a potential ground invasion. However, winning over Arab leaders became increasingly difficult following the hospital blast. While the U.S. sided with Israel, Arab leaders, and many in the international community, believed the Gaza authorities controlled by Hamas, who had already pointed fingers at Israel. This division led to the cancellation of a meeting between Biden and Arab leaders in Jordan.

President Joe Biden faced reluctance from some of the United States’ closest Arab allies as he and his diplomats attempted to prevent the Israel-Hamas conflict from expanding into a larger regional crisis. Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority canceled a scheduled meeting with Biden just hours before a four-way summit in Amman, Jordan. The cancellation came in the wake of a significant explosion at Gaza’s Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital, with Palestinian officials blaming Israel for the incident, while Israeli authorities attributed it to a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi expressed that the summit would not be able to halt the war, which was their primary goal, and described the hospital blast as a war crime. As a result, they decided not to proceed with the summit.

President Biden’s visit to Tel Aviv, where he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, emphasized the United States’ continued support for Israel. Biden also conveyed his belief that the hospital explosion was likely caused by a source other than Israel, and the National Security Council shared this view.

Arab leaders seem concerned about the strong U.S. support for Israel in the conflict and are attempting to distance themselves from the Biden administration as public anger against Israel grows across the Arab world. The Israel-Hamas conflict has already resulted in a significant loss of life, with thousands killed in Gaza and anti-Israel protests erupting in various countries.

Despite these challenges, Biden did manage to engage with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi on allowing aid access, as Egypt had previously pulled out of the Jordan meeting. Biden’s commitment to humanitarian efforts in the region is evident, but the divisions that have emerged over the Gaza hospital blast have further complicated an already complex situation.

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