Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Israel’s Endless War Agenda: Biden’s Complicity | TOME


The legendary Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, whose works remain an influence on U.S. military officers today, wrote in his famous 19th-century treatise “On War” that “war is merely the continuation of politics by other means.” A military general himself advising on how best to wage an armed conflict, Clausewitz nonetheless reminded his readers that the purpose of war is to achieve political goals, not to pursue violence as an end to itself, or as a wholesale substitute for diplomacy.

Israeli army battle tanks near the border with the Gaza Strip on May 9, 2024.

Clausewitz’s words would have been well-heeded by the U.S. and Israel before the start of the current war in the Gaza Strip, which has now reached a painful yet predictable impasse. So far, tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed or wounded, Israel now faces genocide charges at the International Court of Justice, and Hamas control is already returning to parts of Gaza previously declared conquered by Israel.

Israeli military officials are now going public with criticisms that the war in Gaza had been misguided for a simple reason that Clausewitz himself would have recognized: Besides revenge, the war never had a clear political strategy or objective.

This lack of a political approach reflects long-standing attitudes in Israeli society that have now trapped the country in a forever war with the Palestinians and their other neighbors — with the U.S. as its patron effectively pulled along for the ride. The roots of this failure had been years in the making.

Well before October 7, the Israeli government decided that the Palestinians, whether in the West Bank or Gaza, were no longer politically relevant. Rather than dealing with the Palestinians as political agents, Israeli leaders have taken the position that Palestinians are merely a subject population to be suppressed and controlled with a mixture of military, technological, and economic tools.

While continuing a policy of blockading and periodically bombing Gaza, Israel has either ignored or rejected the Palestinian Authority’s calls, with the support of international law, for a two-state solution. Instead, Israel proceeded unilaterally with its colonization and annexation of the West Bank, cementing a consensus among major human rights groups that Israel is an apartheid state.

The U.S. under President Joe Biden, following in the line of other administrations, abetted this process of dismissing the political claims of Palestinians. Most notably, Biden followed the Trump administration in its pursuit of faux-diplomacy in the form of regional arms deals and normalization agreements between Gulf Arab states and Israel: the so-called Abraham Accords. That myopia eventually produced the current conflagration in Gaza when the October 7 Hamas assault exposed Israel’s technological and military control over the Gaza Strip as much less robust than advertised.

From a U.S. perspective, Biden’s reflexive backing for a war that has proven to be equal parts aimless and brutal has now trapped the U.S. in a situation where it is the primary enabler of an alleged genocide.

The war has not only tarnished America’s reputation abroad but is also increasingly tearing at its own social fabric. Even diehard subscribers to the U.S. foreign policy consensus have been forced to reckon with the failures of treating the Palestinians as politically irrelevant. In a recent interview with Politico, former top U.S. diplomat Victoria Nuland acknowledged that this approach had laid the groundwork for the present calamity.

“Beginning with the Trump administration, everybody fell in love with regional normalization as the cure-all for the instability and grievances and insecurity in the Middle East,” Nuland said. “But if you leave out the Palestinian issue, then somebody’s going to seize it and run with it, and that’s what Hamas did.”

The Folly of Its Path — and Ours

The Gaza war began in the heat of emotion after Hamas’s attacks against Israeli civilian communities. It was quickly advertised to the Israeli public as a war to eradicate the group entirely. Yet seven months later, with tens of thousands of Palestinians dead and wounded, Israel remains mired in the territory with no prospect of an endgame in sight.

One of many sad ironies is that Hamas itself had made repeated political entreaties toward Israel, which Israeli leaders had rejected alongside their rejection of engaging with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank. Instead, Israeli leaders preferred to visit Dubai and continue developing military and surveillance technology that they believed would allow them to control and ignore the Palestinians indefinitely.

The consequences of this approach have now become clear, but the collapse may be only in its early stages. As a result of the war, Israel now faces the prospect of another conflict with Hezbollah on its northern border, where tens of thousands of Israelis have been evacuated since October 2023. And it faces other risks too, such as the potential demise of its key security relationship with neighboring Egypt, which has threatened to suspend the landmark Camp David peace accords and has recently joined the ICJ case charging Israel with committing genocide.

Despite this escalating pressure, Israeli leaders show no sign of relenting or returning to political bargaining. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant recently declared that Israel should build a large new city in the occupied West Bank, in part to move “the population of Israel to the east.” If a two-state solution remains a possibility at all, development like this on the land allotted by international law for a future Palestinian state would stamp out whatever hope there is. Palestinians, meanwhile, would be further confined to a series of penned-in encampments on their own homeland.

The political landscape in Israel doesn’t offer much solace. Israel’s government contains far-right and even openly fascist ministers. Gallant, for his part, is considered a “mainstream” political figure in the country — a stark demonstration of just how much politics in Israel has moved away from the realm of diplomacy and negotiation.

Just as its war in Gaza is winding up in a slow-rolling military failure, Israel’s policies in the West Bank are likely to produce more catastrophes in future. Israel continues to reject talks with the Palestinian Authority as well as the Arab League, which has offered full diplomatic and economic ties in exchange for a two-state solution for over two decades.

The U.S. enables Israel’s continued digging of this ditch, despite overwhelming international consensus that it is violating international law. The unquestioning support and diplomatic cover it has received from successive U.S. governments, most recently from the Biden administration, has allowed a small country to defy global norms and public opinion as it descends into a North Korea-like posture of paranoia and defiance.

Biden is now tanking in the polls, despite his own reported disbelief. If he loses the next election after enabling all of Israel’s worst tendencies, he will go down not only as the leader who handed the presidency back to Donald Trump but also as a diplomatic failure. He will have locked a superpower into a relationship with a client state that has long since abandoned diplomacy and international law in exchange for apartheid, endless war, and the use of brutal, even eliminationist force to address its problems.

Clausewitz himself warned of the shortcomings of such an approach. “The political object is the goal; war is the means of reaching it, and the means can never be considered in isolation from their purposes,” he wrote. For Israel and the U.S. alongside it, the future is one in which war will likely continue to be waged with no clear goals at all.

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