Above photo: The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group and USS USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike groups in the Eastern Mediterranean amid the 2023 American–Middle East conflict, Nov. 3. U.S. Navy, Wikimedia Commons.
An analysis of developments in the past few days.
Including the U.S. announcement that it is deploying a huge nuclear submarine near the war zone.
The announcement late Sunday night by the U.S. Central Command headquartered in Doha about the arrival of an Ohio-class U.S. nuclear submarine in its “area of responsibility” presages a significant escalation of the Palestine-Israel conflict.
It is very rare that the use of these submarines is publicized. CENTCOM provided no additional details but it posted an image that apparently showed an Ohio-class submarine in Egypt’s Suez Canal Bridge. Interestingly, CENTCOM also separately shared an image of a nuclear-capable B-1 bomber operating in the Middle East.
Taken together, these U.S. deployments, coming on top of the formidable presence of two aircraft carriers and warships and hundreds of advanced jet fighters in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea respectively, have an eye on “the other side of the equation,” as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken quaintly described Hamas, Hezbullah and Iran during his latest visit to Tel Aviv on Friday.
In a related development, perhaps, C.I.A. Director William Burns arrived in Israel on Sunday for urgent consultations. The New York Times reported that the US is “looking to expand its intelligence sharing with Israel.”
Arguably, the most charitable explanation for the deployment of a U.S. nuclear submarine, which forms part of the Pentagon’s “nuclear triad” — Ohio-class boats are the largest submarines ever built for the U.S. Navy — near the war zone is that the Biden administration is preparing for an escalation of the war into Lebanon to draw out Hezbollah, which may in turn trigger an Iranian reaction.
In his speech on Friday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah seemed to anticipate precisely such a turn of events when he explicitly warned Washington of consequences that couldn’t be any different from the catastrophic U.S. involvement in Lebanon’s civil war in the early 1980s.
Ironically, this is also the 40th anniversary year of the suicide bombing of the barracks that housed U.S. forces in Beirut International Airport in October 1983 in which 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers were killed forcing a U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon. (See my blog Hezbollah takes to the high ground.)
Clearly, the locus of the U.S. strategy may be shifting from diplomacy, which has anyway lost traction. Blinken’s desperate attempts to address the mounting international criticism of Israel’s horrific war crimes by diverting attention to a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting was unceremoniously shot down by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The point is, after pounding Gaza and its people with artillery and bombs, the Israeli army moved in on Friday. So far, it has reportedly advanced to the outskirts of Gaza City but has not entered the Hamas stronghold. Fierce urban fighting is expected when it does.
Arab Ministers Demand Ceasefire
Equally, the Biden administration’s hurried attempt to promote a vague outline for a post-war Gaza that might include a combination of a revitalised Palestinian Authority, a peacekeeping force was met by a distinct lack of enthusiasm at Blinken’s meeting in the weekend in Amman with the Arab foreign ministers —from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. They instead demanded an immediate ceasefire, for which Blinken said Washington would not push.
Blinken traveled to Ramallah from Amman where the head of the Palestine Authority Mahmoud Abbas also gave him short shrift, saying that the PA would only be ready to shoulder full responsibility for the Gaza Strip in the framework of a “comprehensive political solution” that would include the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
He added that security and peace can only be achieved by ending the occupation of the territories of the “state of Palestine” and by recognising East Jerusalem as its capital. The meeting lasted for less than an hour and ended without public statements.
Meanwhile, China and the U.A.E. have since called for a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council in another attempt to seek an immediate ceasefire, which the Biden administration will certainly oppose. The Biden administration feels boxed in and the only way out is by something giving way through coercive means.
The U.S. is watching with frustration as new regional equations are appearing among Muslim nations. The foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia held another phone conversation on Monday. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation later announced that an extraordinary summit will be held in Riyadh on Nov. 12 at the request of its current chairman, Saudi Arabia, to discuss Israel’s attacks on the Palestinian people.
Certainly, the Iran-Saudi rapprochement, mediated by Beijing, has profoundly transformed the regional security environment with regional states distinctly preferring to find solutions to their problems without outside interference. The old schisms and xenophobia promoted by the U.S. to perpetuate its dominance no longer have any takers.
As the death toll in Gaza crosses 10,000, feelings are indeed running high in the Muslim world. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said Monday that “all the evidence and indications show the direct involvement of the Americans in running the war” in Gaza. Khamenei added that as the war goes on, the reasons behind the U.S. direct role would become more explicit.
Iran’s ‘Permanent Policy’
The Fars News Agency, which is close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, also disclosed that Khamenei held a “recent meeting in Tehran” with Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, in which he told Haniyeh that Tehran’s support for the resistance groups is its “permanent policy.”
Evidently, Tehran no longer sees a problem in acknowledging its fraternal links with the resistance groups. This is a paradigm shift indicative of the new power dynamic, which the U.S. and Israel are compelled to counter through use of force, Washington’s diplomacy having failed to to isolate Iran.
The chief of the Israeli General Staff, Herzi Halevi, said on Sunday during a meeting in the Northern Command,
“We are ready to strike in the north at any moment. We understand that it can happen… We have a clear goal of restoring a significantly better security situation at the borders, not only in the Gaza Strip.”
No power on Earth can stop Israel in its tracks now. Its stability and defence is inextricably linked to this war, which will also ensure the abiding U.S. commitment to its security as a key template of Washington’s global strategy for the foreseeable future.
Therefore, Israel’s best chance of survival lies in expanding the scope of the war in Gaza into Lebanon — and possibly even into Syria — shoulder-to-shoulder with the Americans.
There is no question that the location of the U.S. nuclear submarine to the east of Suez is an attempt to intimidate Iran from intervening, while Israel, with US backing, proceeds to open a second front in Lebanon. The Israeli authorities have announced the evacuation of people from settlements located in a zone up to five kilometers from the border with Lebanon.
A war of an indeterminate timeline is set to begin in the Middle East. As the call of the jihad begins, inevitably, there is no knowing how the 80-year old U.S. president will respond.
No, this won’t turn into a world war. It will be fought in the Middle East only, but its outcome will significantly impact the making of a new multipolar world order. The past month has shown the precipitous decline of U.S. influence and the highly volatile global environment since the war began in Ukraine in February last year.