The current actions of the United States in the Middle East can be characterized as a series of missteps. Overnight, the Washington-promoted illusion of invincibility as an unassailable superpower was shattered. Over the past 70 years, American administrations, instead of adopting clear political approaches, often resorted to a form of bullying. This stands in stark contrast to Britain’s approach during its 80-year occupation of various Arab countries, where it adeptly adapted political and military tools to its interests without excessive use of force.
Examining the period since the events of October 7 and the eruption of the Gaza war, the US has committed a series of complex mistakes, making it vulnerable. The decision to deploy fleets to the shores of Gaza and Israel to protect and support the latter has not only positioned the US in a difficult situation but has also made it an easy target for adversaries.
Israel, perceiving the unprecedented American support as an opportunity, swiftly sought to eliminate its arch-enemy, Hezbollah, or at least limit Hassan Nasrallah’s forces indefinitely. Within a month, Israel violated the 2006 limited strikes agreement, conducting over 7 assassinations in southern Lebanon. Despite Nasrallah’s adherence to the agreement, Israel continued its violations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to commit to limiting the conflict in southern Lebanon, despite pressure from US President Joe Biden, highlighted the disproportionate influence of Israel in managing the situation.
The confrontations between Israel and Hezbollah, along with the potential for a broader war, demand careful consideration. Netanyahu’s government aims to leverage the issue of displaced people from northern settlements as internal pressure, alongside the matter of prisoners held by Hamas. Israel also seeks the “safe” return of displaced people, linking it to achieving security on the Lebanon border. However, Tel Aviv strives to avoid appearing blackmailed by Hezbollah and prefers a military fait accompli for the settlers’ return, fearing Hezbollah’s provocations and potential attacks on Israeli territory.
Amid the crisis, statements by the “resistance axis” about “support fronts” appear designed for media consumption. The current Iranian behaviour in the region, seemingly unrelated to the Gaza conflict, reveals a defensive-offensive attempt to adjust the balance of power or preserve pre-October 7, 2023, achievements. The situation, therefore, underscores the need for a nuanced understanding of the complex dynamics in the Middle East.
**Navigating the Complexities: Recent Developments in the Middle East**
Against the backdrop of an escalating humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, external interventions have taken place, ostensibly in support of the Palestinian cause. However, these actions also reflect the strategic manoeuvring of regional powers, aiming to safeguard their nuclear ambitions and reinstate themselves as regional influencers. The Houthis, for instance, launched missiles and drones into Israel, signalling their alignment with Tehran, a key player controlling over 30% of global trade.
This drew attention to Washington, where forces in the Gulf and the Mediterranean aimed to safeguard vital global trade routes. Regrettably, despite the deployment of advanced technology by American, British, and Australian forces, they failed to intercept Houthi missiles, denting American prestige for the second time.
Subsequently, drones targeted three American bases in Syria, Iraq, and Jordan, resulting in three American deaths and numerous injuries. The attacks, claimed by the Iraqi Hezbollah group, initially pointed fingers at Iran. This presented an opportunity for Republicans in the US Congress to pressure President Biden into direct military strikes against Iran. However, Tehran swiftly denied any involvement, leading to a perplexing situation where the Iraqi Hezbollah group declared a suspension of its operations against American forces.
This marks the third instance where the US administration finds itself at a critical juncture, wary of direct involvement akin to the situation in Afghanistan that forced a sudden American retreat.
For over eight years, the US has maintained a military presence in northeastern Syria, playing a crucial role in training and supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in dismantling ISIS’s territorial control.
The protracted conflict in the Gaza Strip has transformed into a strategic struggle between Israel and Iran. Both nations seek gains with far-reaching implications for the region’s power balance, making the ongoing conflict a pivotal moment for the entire region.
Turning our attention to Washington’s military discussions with Baghdad, aiming to end its military presence in Iraq, this move, while rectifying internal matters, leaves Iran exposed without cover in the country.
The current gains by Washington reflect the outcome of over four decades of political and military confusion. This confusion has led to increased regional chaos, spawning new interest groups with divergent visions. The historical missteps of American administrations, including supporting political and military Islamist movements, have eroded confidence in their efficacy in the Middle East. Despite some countries officially expressing concern about an American withdrawal, the same nations see the American presence as an opportunity for leverage and embarrassment when needed.
Hatem Sadek is a Professor at Helwan University