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Why is Washington seeking to prevent Tel Aviv from expanding the conflict?

Why is Washington seeking to prevent Tel Aviv from expanding the conflict?

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Politics History The Truth

Thursday 11 January 202405:36 pm
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Border clashes between the Israeli military and Hezbollah have heightened American concerns of a comprehensive war. These concerns further increased after Israel assassinated Saleh al-Arouri, Deputy Head of the Political Bureau of Hamas, in the southern suburbs of Beirut, the stronghold of Hezbollah, along with two leaders of the Qassam Brigades.

This assassination comes amid signs of tension in US-Israeli relations, according to the Middle East Institute. According to Firas Maksad, an expert on Lebanese affairs at the institute, it is “hard to believe that the US was not given advance notice of the strike” but if that were the case “it would signal that the differences [between the US and Israel] have only grown, especially when it comes to opening a second front in Lebanon.”

A senior advisor to US President Joe Biden was sent to Israel in order to reach a diplomatic agreement to ease tensions between the two sides. This has been the approach of US officials for weeks without significant progress. Today, according to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant the “window of time” for a political solution, preferred by Israel, is short.

Gallant previously indicated that once the fighting in Gaza is complete, “military effort will be directed mainly towards the north,” adding, “We cannot persuade the residents [Israeli settlers] of the north to return to their homes along the border unless we make sure that 'al-Radwan' (a Hezbollah elite operations unit), which is stronger, better trained and equipped than Hamas’ Nukhba force, is not there to endanger our population.” Similarly, Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said, the “aggression and increased attacks by Iranian-backed Hezbollah demand of Israel to remove such a threat to the civilian population of northern Israel.”

Therefore, the “possibility of Israeli jets bombing Beirut and Hezbollah’s precision-guided missiles hitting Tel Aviv will never be wholly avoidable,” according to Adnan Nasser in The National Interest. Washington is trying to defuse tension and mediate between the two sides to “escape this nightmare scenario”, as the US “wants to reduce the probability of a regional war erupting and is using all its leverage to make it happen.” However, its success depends on the war in Gaza, where Hezbollah finds itself “trapped within its own ideological rhetoric and the current reality. By not displaying the totality of its strength, it risks losing its image as a resistance movement for the liberation of historic Palestine.” However, on the other hand, showing more strength will “not serve its long-term political agenda in Lebanon.”

US concerns of an all-out war in the region have heightened especially after Israel assassinated a Hamas leader in Beirut. It's hard to believe the US wasn't given advance notice of the strike, but if that's the case, it indicates growing US-Israeli differences

Wrong bet

Reducing the size of the US naval force in the region (the return of the US aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford to American shores) is not good news for Israel, according to Amos Harel, a writer for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. He pointed out that the “possibility that this might be accompanied by a separate signal to Tehran not to escalate the already tense situation. But it is a wrong American bet that may encourage Hezbollah to take more risks.” Elie Kossaifi writes in Majalla that the departure of USS Gerald Ford “indicates, according to American logic, the disappearance of the reason for its arrival, which is deterring Iran and its arms from expanding the scope of the war. However, its departure raises questions about whether it is a result of specific arrangements between Tehran and Washington in the coming stage, or as a remote assessment of the 'finality' of the lack of desire by Iran and its arms to expand the scope of the war.”

Groups within the Biden administration are still convinced that reviving the nuclear deal with Iran should be done before the end of his term, according to the director of the American Mideast Coalition for Democracy, Tom Harb. However, other groups in the administration see any nuclear deal with Iran as being in Iran's interest, suggesting that the deal should not be concluded at the present time, and to wait for the results of the upcoming US elections. By then, the war in Gaza would have ended, and the outcome of the situation on Israel's northern borders would become clear.

Speaking with Raseef22, Harb says, “There is a prevailing opinion in the US Congress that what the Hamas movement, which is classified as a terrorist movement by US standards, has done is an act of sabotage aimed at undermining the Saudi-Israeli peace agreement, which was expected to be concluded next March. Most members of Congress see Hamas' operation as Iranian in origin and preparation, with all its components being Iranian-made and executed by Hamas. Accordingly, they demand that the Biden administration escalate militarily and destroy Iran's oil facilities to force it to stop supporting militias in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.”

The war in Gaza broke out amid Washington's ability to reach an implicit agreement with Iran, whereby Iran would stop supplying Russia with drones and missiles, and reduce the pace of its nuclear program, in exchange for a prisoner exchange and the release of $6 billion from Iranian funds frozen in South Korean banks. While Operation Al-Aqsa Storm, carried out by Hamas on October 7, drew global attention to Iran's support for proxy groups, raising “concerns about a potential expansion of the conflict based on Tehran's calculations,” which confirms, according to the Atlantic Council, that “the nuclear program should not be the sole issue of concern when dealing with Iran,” given the ability of Iranian-backed proxy groups to escalate conflicts, with impacts that affect “energy security issues, migration crises, and humanitarian disasters.”

“If Washington is genuinely serious about ending the conflict, it will realize that this region must witness a ceasefire in Gaza,” according to foreign policy analyst and a journalist specializing in Middle East affairs Adnan Nasser. Nasser tells Raseef22, “President Biden will send Secretary of State Antony Blinken on a diplomatic mission to the Middle East. During this visit, if Blinken does not mention a ceasefire, I doubt that there will be peace. Without it, Washington is greatly mistaken if it believes it can contain violence in Gaza and not see it expand.”

"Biden will send Blinken on a diplomatic mission to the Middle East. If Blinken doesn't mention a ceasefire during his visit, I doubt there'll be peace. Without it, Washington is greatly mistaken if it thinks it can contain violence in Gaza and not see it expand"

Pandora's Box

With the exception of the George W. Bush administration, US administrations have tried to reach a temporary settlement with the Islamic Republic, according to Bilal Saab at Chatham House. He says the temporary settlement was met with rejection by Iranian leaders, except for the elements that suited them. Tehran has no interest in reconciling with Washington, believing that the latter hinders Iranian aspirations. Therefore, it sought to expel it from the Middle East, rather than reconcile and coexist with it. On the other hand, all US presidents since Jimmy Carter have avoided war with Iran, believing that military confrontation between the two sides might open Pandora's Box in the Middle East, unleashing a wave of terrorism across the region and possibly against American soil.

According to Saab, imposing harsher punishment on Iran due to its destabilizing regional behavior may force Washington into a costly and unlimited military intervention, which is the last thing Washington wants after the disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially with its geopolitical priorities shifting towards the European and Indo-Pacific arenas. However, Israel pulling the trigger will push Washington to engage in battle, something it is trying to avoid. This is the same conclusion reached by Alexander Langlois in The National Interest as a result of Washington defending its citizens and forces present in the region, in addition to internal political pressures during the elections and Biden's closeness to Israel.

Within the US administration, according to Harb, opinions regarding the war on Gaza differ: “The State Department, along with the National Security Advisor, sees the need to calm the situation and avoid military and field escalation on the northern front of Israel with Hezbollah, or against the Iranian agenda in Syria. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense sees the need to respond to violations against US military bases in Syria, Iraq, and the Red Sea. In the same context, Congress demands that a clear message be sent to the 'mastermind' by striking oil facilities in Iran.”

However, everyone agrees on ending Hamas' rule in Gaza, despite the US State Department, due to domestic pressures and some countries supporting the Palestinian cause, pressuring Israel to ease its military strikes in Gaza. This leaves Israel with two options: either easing its strikes, allowing Hamas's influence to continue and its “suffering” prolongs, or completing its operation, facing criticism from US groups concerned about all the innocent casualties. Therefore, Israel faces a problem: should it end Hamas, or not? Of course, Israel has chosen to end Hamas, and US Congress supports it in that. Meanwhile, the State Department is trying to play a policy of status quo, soften the blows, according to Tom Harb.

Langlois also states, “Washington must avoid this slippery slope by continuously declaring that the United States does not want an expanded conflict and will not engage in one. If Israeli officials continue to hint at an impending war with Hezbollah, Washington must gradually distance itself from Israel, pressuring to prevent any Israeli operation in that direction, including public criticism, reducing diplomatic cover, and adjusting or freezing arms sales.”

For his part, Nasser points out that Washington is dissatisfied with the mass slaughter and genocide of innocent civilians in Gaza, “but so far, it has not been forced to demand and enforce a ceasefire.” In his opinion, “the attack launched by Hamas on Israel on October 7th last year has limited America's commitment to the war efforts carried out by Israel. It will not change its position until there is a serious peace plan that destroys Hamas's ability to wage war and the existence of a new movement governing Gaza. This is what the Biden administration is thinking and hoping for.”

The assassination of Al-Arouri

Many of the complex dynamics of the ongoing war converge with the assassination of Al-Arouri, which involved intricate and complex calculations for everyone involved. However, the fiery exchanges, indicators, and political messages between the sides, especially the United States, suggest that an expansion of the war between Israel and Hezbollah is inevitable, according to Majalla. However, Israel seems more motivated than Hezbollah to launch a preemptive strike, making the likelihood of the conflict expanding in the near future greater, especially considering Israel's insistence on implementing Resolution 1701, which calls for Hezbollah's withdrawal to the area north of the Litani River, either diplomatically or by force.

All the complex dynamics of the ongoing war converge in the assassination of Al-Arouri. Fiery exchanges, indicators, and political messages between the sides, especially the US, suggest that an expansion of the war between Israel and Hezbollah is inevitable

“So far, Israel has not officially adopted the killing of Al-Arouri," according to Nasser, which suggests that it does not want escalation. As for the assassination operation, it is a point that Netanyahu made to show the people of Israel that he is capable of protecting them. It also sends a message to Hamas leaders that they are no longer safe anywhere.”

The assassination of Al-Arouri sends a series of messages, according to Amwaj Media, including that Israel has advanced to striking high-profile targets and expanding its locations from Syria to Lebanon. Accordingly, “this calls for more security measures and precautions by the ‘Axis of Resistance’, and additionally paves the way for the expansion of military operations in terms of geography, in depth, and types of arms that are deployed.” Israel views the assassinations as another stage in the ongoing war, prompting expectations of a shift in plans and means of confrontation by the ‘Axis of Resistance’ on various fronts. With the absence of a political solution on the horizon, questions arise about the steps this axis might take, along with the question of whether or not the expansion of the battlefield and its scope has just become a matter of time.

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