As Gaza The Genocide Continues, The Wider Middle East Remains More Dangerous Than Ever

Peace Advocate May 2024

Sgt. Kayla Benson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

By Jeff Klein

Israel’s assault on Gaza has surpassed six months and killed more than 34,000 Palestinians – the majority women and children. Now, in response to a Hamas acceptance of a ceasefire proposal, Israel appears to be launching a brutal attack on Gaza’s south, where over a million refugees from other parts of the Strip have been sheltering in miserable and crowded makeshift camps. A new, even worse Gaza massacre may be in the offing if Israel does not heed the weak warnings from the US government and the international community, including the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, which is reportedly considering indictments against Israeli officials.

Meanwhile, the worldwide movement against Israel’s genocide shows little sign of abating, even in the face of rising repression from university administrators and police. Campuses in the US and around the world have erupted in opposition to Israel’s Genocide and the complicity of the so-called “democratic West” in Israel’s crimes.

We cannot and should not take our eyes away from the horrors being perpetrated in Gaza. But neither should we ignore the dangers of a wider war in the Middle East. Israel has long been sparring with its Hezbollah opponents in Southern Lebanon, where the mutual attacks have intensified since the assault on Gaza began last Fall. It has also regularly launched attacks against Syria for years, but the most recent bombing of Iran’s Damascus embassy last month, killing a number of high-level Iranian military leaders, appears to be an intentional provocation and escalation. Iran made a mostly symbolic and measured response by launching drones and missiles against Israeli military targets, most of which, with advanced warning of their launch, were shot down by Israel and its US ally. The US apparently pressed Israel to limit its response and so for the time being the immediate threat of a large-scale war with Iran has been averted. Further, Israel may be fearful of a full-scale war on its northern border with a Hezbollah military thought to be many times more powerful than Hamas.

Israel’s strategic aim to confront Iran and its allies militarily – and preferably achieve regime change there – has long been and remains uppermost in its strategic calculus. The intent, of course, is to draw the US into its war with Iran.  This has so far been resisted by a cautious White House, though continually promoted by the most dedicated Israel supporters in Congress and the media.

The extensive US presence in the Middle East is both provocative and vulnerable. Our military maintains a military connection of some kind in virtually every country of the region. Major US air force and naval bases are located in Qatar and Bahrain; smaller garrisons are scattered around the region, including (illegally) in Syria, with a total of tens of thousands of US troops and military assets; arms sales, training missions and direct military aid are significant, especially in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan.  Iran has declared that a major attack on it from the US or its allies would result in strikes against US bases in the region.

The strategic justification for the US military includes access to Middle East oil resources – read “control,” since the US actually imports very little petroleum from the region – and protection of Israel and other regional allies or client states.

Iran and its allied forces are regarded, in line with Israel’s interests, as the prime regional adversary the US is “defending” against – along with fear of rising Chinese and Russian influence. In propaganda terms, Iran is targeted as a so-called supporter of international terrorism – read resistance to Israel and the US – along with a supposed threat that they may develop their own nuclear weapons to counter Israel’s. Recall that Iran, along with every other Middle East country except Israel, is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its nuclear power and research facilities are monitored by the IAEA. Had the Biden Administration opted to reinstate the Iran Nuclear Agreement which Trump abrogated, Iran’s civilian nuclear program would have been very much more limited and inspection more intrusive. (It’s worth remembering that all the regional states except Israel are also on record in favor of a treaty, like others which exist around the world, to declare the Middle East a “Nuclear Weapons Free Zone” – an effort blocked by the US in support of Israel’s nuclear monopoly.)

What is the way out from this danger of an expanded war in the Middle East?

  1. First, the US should hold Israel accountable for its crimes, stop shielding it at the UN and other international bodies — and halt its US taxpayer-funded arming the Israeli military, particularly in Gaza.
  2. Second, the US should end its destabilizing interference in the Middle East, reduce its arming and support for non-democratic regimes like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan — and begin to withdraw from its many military bases in the region; in particular, end the illegal US occupation of eastern Syria and the theft of that country’s oil and wheat resources.
  3. Third, restart diplomacy with Iran to reduce tensions and support efforts to make the Middle East a Nuclear Free Zone; this would also involve pressure on Israel to declare itself a nuclear weapons power and to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
  4. Fourth, encourage the countries of the Middle East to pursue their own interests in trade and work out their differences without US interference.

The Middle East will not turn into a democratic paradise overnight, but at least the US can stop standing in the way.

Useful infographics for visualization: 1, 2.

Jeff Klein is co-convener of MAPA’s Gaza Israel Peace Campaign and Palestine-Israel Working Group, and a member of the board.