11.02.2024 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

The divergence of Israeli and US approaches on the settlement of the Palestinian question

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, as reported by The Times of Israel, said the IDF will soon enter the fray near the northern border with Lebanon to suppress Hezbollah. In recent weeks, Israel has been rushing significant forces and military equipment to the border with Lebanon as pro-Iranian Hezbollah supports Hamas militarily. Last December, it became known that the Israel Defence Forces General Staff was preparing a plan to invade southern Lebanon.

In turn, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed the withdrawal of the army from the Gaza Strip and ruled out the possibility of releasing Palestinians from prisons. In particular, he said: “I hear statements about various kinds of deals, so I want to make it clear: we will not end this war until we achieve all its goals, which means the destruction of Hamas, the return of all our hostages and a guarantee that there will be no more threats to Israel from Gaza”.

Meanwhile, Israel’s main allies, the US and the UK, have been holding fairly intensive talks with the leaders and diplomatic departments of Turkey and friendly countries in the Arab East to resolve the crisis in the Gaza Strip with a compromise approach. The main compromise is the admissibility of recognising the independence of a Palestinian state and developing an international legal mechanism to guarantee security in the Middle East.

Naturally, the leaders of the collective West expect to bring the international security mandate under their control and include their Middle Eastern allies and partners (i.e. those countries with whom such a shaky prospect is being discussed). Obviously, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, Egypt and Qatar could be considered as such candidates for an international peacekeeping force with coordinated participation of US and UK forces.

The US admits the possibility of localising the Palestinian-Israeli military conflict through formal recognition of Palestinian independence. The UK has expressed a similar position. In particular, British Foreign Minister David Cameron said that London may consider the possibility of recognising a Palestinian state. In principle, the idea of establishing a Palestinian state earlier belonged to England itself.

However, neither Washington nor London have yet made unambiguous proposals regarding the recognition of Palestinian independence. To promise, as they say, does not mean to marry (as well as can, but will not). And even if they do not rule out such a possibility, the borders of a Palestinian state remain unclear. The Turkish initiative to recognise a Palestine centred on East Jerusalem and based on the 1967 borders remains at the level of ideas, with which Israel fundamentally disagrees.

Tel Aviv is using the military support of its allies to continue the war and achieve the above-mentioned goals. Another occupation of the Gaza Strip, maximum deportation (ethnic cleansing) of the Arab population and military and political disarmament of the Palestinians is presented to Israel as an option for a new “freezing” of the Palestinian issue. However, no one (including the U.S. and Britain) will guarantee Israel a lasting peace after the destruction of Hamas because the Palestinian issue is broader, and if the problem persists, a new Hamas may emerge in the future.

At the same time, no matter how the Anglo-Saxon leaders try to persuade their partners in the form of Turkey and key Arab countries in favour of their plan to recognise Palestine and a security guarantee mechanism, other regional and global players (primarily Iran, China and Russia) may disagree with them. Accordingly, the US is not ready for a major war in the Middle East.

The latest attack on a US military base on the border of Jordan and Syria by the pro-Iranian group “Islamic Resistance of Iraq” caused serious concern in the US. President J. Biden promised to strike back with a high probability against Iran, as the Americans suspect Tehran of organising this and other actions against the USA in the Middle East (in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, the Red Sea).

It is clear that Biden does not want to tie the US into an unknown war with Iran, which would require at least a million-man army and a large amount of military equipment and weapons. That’s why the American leader said, “I don’t think we need a larger war in the Middle East. That’s not what I’m looking for.” At the same time, the presidential elections in November 2024 in the atmosphere of tough confrontation between Democrats and Republicans leave no chance for Joseph Biden to rule out a forceful action, otherwise the silent tactics of his administration will be regarded by his rivals as a manifestation of weakness. It is no coincidence that Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, is the main mouthpiece of the US army’s immediate and powerful strikes against Iran.

Without disclosing the details of a possible operation against Iran, Biden announced the retaliatory strike itself. Experts are at a loss to guess where and when the US will retaliate for its losses in Jordan. Some believe a strike on Iranian facilities (particularly the IRGC) in Syria, Iraq or Lebanon is likely, while others do not rule out an attack on Iran’s naval forces in the Persian Gulf. No one guarantees a series of strikes on the entire geography of Iranian military facilities in the Middle East.

Iran has put its army and navy on high alert. In turn, the IRGC warned that Iran would respond to any US attack, including a symmetrical strike against the US Navy in the Persian Gulf. The fact that Washington, through diplomatic channels in Bern (Switzerland), urged Tehran “not to take any further action after the US retaliation” indicates an imminent escalation of military tensions in the Middle East and does not at all rule out inaction on the Iranian side.

The expansion of the zone of military conflict in the Middle East (for example, in Lebanon and, even more so, Iran) today is in the interests of Israeli Prime Minister B. Netanyahu and his team. The US involvement in a large-scale war with Iran will allow Tel Aviv: a) to destroy the power of the Iranian state by American hands and localise the military threat to Israel; b) to shift Washington’s attention from the Gaza Strip to Iran and exclude the resolution of the Palestinian issue by recognising another Arab state.

Meanwhile, the US achieved for itself some kind of breakthrough in relations with Turkey on the settlement of the Swedish issue. In response, Washington approved a deal to sell Ankara 40 modernised F-16 fighter jets. However, the list of US-Turkish agreements may not end with this. Leading Armenian Turkologist Ruben Safrastyan believes that the ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership by the Turkish parliament was a condition for the sale of American fighter jets to Turkey. According to the orientalist, Washington obviously stipulated a number of conditions before Ankara on this military deal (for example, the non-use of F-16s against Greece, Cyprus, Syrian Kurds and Armenia).

“The Swedish case, meanwhile, has created new realities for a full-fledged restart of U.S.-Turkish relations after they cooled due to NATO member Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 Triumf S-400 air defence system.” US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland made a working visit to Ankara at the end of January and, as CNN Türk notes, offered Turkey to give up the use of the Russian S-400 system, which would be a condition for Turkey’s return to the programme of production of the F-35 multifunctional fighter of the fifth generation and supplies of the US Patriot air defence system.

Obviously, the next US initiative on the Turkish track will be an offer of large and favourable loans for the recovery of the Turkish economy in exchange for Ankara’s refusal from active trade cooperation with Moscow and strict compliance with the sanctions regime against Russia.

Such targeted US diplomacy towards Turkey clearly includes the “Israeli-Palestinian case”. And in this regard, Washington will have to make a difficult decision on the choice between Netanyahu and Israel. This is probably why Turkish President Recep Erdogan has been so confident and consistent in insulting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling him a “war criminal” and a candidate for resignation. The US can present the restoration of peace in the Gaza Strip with the recognition of Palestinian independence as its key achievement in the Middle East in order to preserve American interests and positions in Turkey and key countries of the Arab East.


Alexander SVARANTS – PhD of Political Science, Professor, especially for the online magazine «New Eastern Outlook»

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