The United States has claimed that its aircraft carrier, USS Carney, intercepted missiles and a group of drones fired from Yemen. These missiles, according to the Pentagon, were targeted by the Yemeni Houthis towards Israel. The event is significant because the United States, by defending Israel’s airspace, has directly involved itself in a war for the first time in recent memory. This involvement comes against the backdrop of rising tensions in the region, fueled by the Israel-Gaza situation.
The recent interception of missiles and drones over the Red Sea marks a turning point in U.S. foreign policy. The United States, despite its support for Ukraine in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, had refrained from direct military involvement. However, in the case of Israel, a long-standing ally, the U.S. has taken a proactive stance.
The escalating situation in the Middle East is multifaceted. It is not limited to missile intercepts over the Red Sea. Recent drone attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria have further complicated matters. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Iranian-backed fighters, has claimed responsibility for two drone attacks in Iraq. These attacks targeted U.S. troops, with the group vowing more operations against the “American occupation.” The U.S. has approximately 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 more in neighboring Syria, tasked with advising and assisting local forces in combating the ISIS armed group. While there has been a relative lull in attacks on U.S. forces in recent years, the situation in Gaza has reignited tensions. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a prominent Shia Muslim leader, condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza, and Kataib Hezbollah, a powerful armed faction with ties to Iran, accused the U.S. of supporting Israel’s actions and called for U.S. forces to leave Iraq.
There is growing concern that Israel might launch a ground offensive in Gaza, increasing tensions along the Lebanese border. Iran and its proxies have taken a strong stance, with Iran issuing warnings of intervention if Israel invades Gaza. Hezbollah in Lebanon also remains a significant concern for Israel and the U.S.
The President of the European Commission has expressed concerns about the potential for regional spillover. Several countries, including Belgium, have advised their citizens to leave Lebanon, anticipating it could become a hotspot in the conflict.
This volatile situation has led to the deployment of additional U.S. forces to the region, raising fears that the U.S. could be drawn further into the conflict. With one aircraft carrier already in the eastern Mediterranean and a second on its way, along with Marine warships and additional aircraft, the U.S. is creating a formidable presence in the region. This show of force is intended to deter potential adversaries, including Hezbollah and Iran, from supporting Gaza when a ground offensive is launched by Israel.
This increased U.S. involvement and its strong pro-Israeli stance are not without controversy. The conflict in the Middle East has been marred by human rights violations, raising questions about the U.S.’s moral and ethical stance. Critics argue that the U.S.’s commitment to Israel is influenced by domestic politics, particularly the presidential elections that are to take place in November 2024. The Israeli lobby has historically played a pivotal role in shaping U.S. electoral outcomes. Moreover, throughout his tenure, U.S. President Joe Biden has been accused of being a ‘sleepy president’. Analysts state that his proactive stance in the Israel-Gaza situation is aimed at making himself appear to be a good president.
The risk of spillover from the Israel-Gaza conflict to the wider region is a growing concern. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen both warned of the potential for a regional crisis. Efforts to assign blame to Iran have further exacerbated tensions. The European Union has called for tighter sanctions on Iran, accusing it of supplying weapons to Hamas. Dialogue between Israel and its neighbors is seen as critical to preventing a broader regional conflict.
The United Nations Middle East peace envoy has also expressed alarm at the risk of a larger conflict, with Washington sending two aircraft carrier strike groups to the region to deter potential intervention by Iran and Hezbollah.
Despite the complex geopolitical dynamics, the U.S.’s involvement in the Middle East remains a subject of debate. Some argue that it is essential to safeguard Israel’s interests, while others see it as a risky and controversial move with potential consequences for regional stability. The Biden administration’s handling of the situation is closely tied to domestic politics, as it seeks to position itself as a staunch ally of Israel in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election.
Amid these geopolitical maneuvers, the absence of a ceasefire call from the U.S. has drawn criticism from advocates. Washington’s recent veto of a United Nations Security Council proposal for a humanitarian pause in the conflict has raised concerns about leadership failure. As the conflict continues to unfold, the world watches with apprehension, cognizant of the broader implications of this escalating crisis.
The Middle East, marked by a history of deep-seated conflicts, appears to be caught in another cycle of violence. The world hopes for diplomatic breakthroughs and international interventions to quell the rising tensions. However, the road to peace in the Middle East remains fraught with challenges, and its resolution may have far-reaching consequences for the entire region.
Taut Bataut – is a researcher and writer that publishes on South Asian geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.