Israel, Hamas, and the USA: Who’s playing their cards right?

| Updated: 27 November, 2023 10:56 am IST

Israel, Hamas, and the USA: Who’s Playing Their Cards Right?

Binyamin Netanyahu had a tightrope to balance once he decided on a war against Hamas. At the one end was prudence. It called for putting all his weight to prevent the conflict from spreading out. Times have changed; a lot of what went on in the 60s does not stand much of a chance now in this era of social media and internet democratisation. A conflict carefully contained within Gaza, with minimal effect on the West Bank and nothing worth speaking about in Lebanon or Syria, would have been a good arrangement. There are speculations about hydrocarbon reserves around Gaza, besides this whisper about the proposed Ben Gurion Canal that Israel wants to build as an alternative to the Suez. Therefore, a sustained, low-profile, local surgical movement against Hamas would have been a practical way forward.

At the other end was the compulsion to drag the USA back into the Middle East. Because he knew the moment Hamas saw the IDF coming, they would turn this into a propaganda battle. Women, children, hospital and patients in them, or residential areas fly remarkably well as collateral damage, both with the woke mainstream as well as the pro-China progressive media, and Hamas – on this occasion – would enjoy the rare distinction of the backing of both. The impact that the media would create on the ummah would compel some actors like Iran or Hezbollah to make a move – and only an American presence could create the necessary deterrence in the region.

A month and a half down, the warlike wars usually are – has gotten slower and uglier. The media, as expected, has flipped the narrative. The horrors of 7th October have now become ‘debatable’. The beheadings, the gutting of pregnant women, babies in baking ovens, or the parading of dead naked women remain largely redacted; the Hamas terror attack is now being labelled as an ‘offensive’ against Israel. American aircraft carriers – Israel’s answer to the uproar caused in the Arab world due to media spin – remain stationed in the region to act as a deterrent for Iran and Hezbollah. The Gulf monarchies have so far maintained their noncommittal attitude towards both the warring parties. There is also the matter of a temporary ceasefire and prisoner exchange between the Israeli authority and Hamas.

It looks like Bibi has maintained his balance as of now. What happens to his larger ambition (I’m guessing here) of a two-state solution minus Gaza – Palestine being restricted to the West Bank only, remains to be seen.

As far as Hamas is concerned (considering they were not prompted by anyone and were acting on their own), they had to take this along one way only: turn this into a propaganda battle. They had to prepare and launch a terror attack horrific enough to elicit a disproportionate response from Israel, which they did. A disproportionate Israeli response would mean a military strike. Hamas did not have the power to take on the IDF. What they had were underground tunnels to hide with civilians above them on the streets as cover. And they had the media.

They have utilized all these quite well. The IDF strikes, unlike the painstakingly careful Russian SMO in Ukraine, have caused a lot of deaths. The media has sprung into action. The Palestinian issue, which was being slowly forgotten, is back in focus, and everyone these days is talking about the old two-state solution. Israel has lost a fair amount of goodwill within the Global South. Binyamin Netanyahu announced that he would stop only after the complete ‘defeat’ of Hamas. That seems unlikely. Hamas would survive.

Would it help them achieve their goal? Complete elimination of all the Jews? Palestine, from the ‘river to the sea’ as per their charter? It wouldn’t. On the contrary, with a two-state solution now back on the table, it would be Mahmoud Abbas as the preferred face. That adds one more point to my last article where I mentioned that the Hamas probably “Saddamed” themselves.

This brings us to the final point: Who has an agenda that is larger than Hamas or Israel, and how does it look for them?

The American overarching mission of maintaining global supremacy saw it pivot towards crucial geographies at crucial moments in history. Taking a page from Mearsheimer here, when the zeitgeist dictated America to pivot towards Europe because Germany had stopped toeing the West-dictated line, America did that and emerged victorious at the end of the two World Wars. When the Soviet Union threatened the global balance with its massive geography and a collective vision of ‘setting the East ablaze’, Uncle Sam pivoted towards Eurasia, sustained through the Cold War, and emerged victorious again.

Perhaps too confident about the permanence of a unipolar future, America lost its sense of priority and probably its intelligence too. As a result, now when it faces in China an existential threat, instead of pivoting towards Asia, it is bent on squandering its resources away focusing on a non-enemy like Russia that would like nothing more than to integrate with Europe or a regional conflict like the one in Gaza – one that doesn’t need unrestricted firepower and nuclear submarines but a restrained military operation combined with high-level statecraft and diplomacy.

Netanyahu might be bruised, but if there is a two-state, Israel-West Bank solution as a consequence of this war, he would emerge a hero and people would remember him for a long time. Hamas never had the bandwidth to actualize their vision of a Jewish genocide and/or River-to-Sea Palestine. So, if they have been nudged by an actor, the pro-Hamas protests in the UK/US aren’t glitzy enough to hide their inability to read the tea leaves.

Ditto for Uncle Sam. No two states in the present day can hope or expect a complete alignment of vision and purpose. Israel or Ukraine isn’t the USA. But looking at the moves made by the Americans so far, one would think, a) they are clueless about who their real threat is, or b) American leaders are hand-in-gloves with China – the rest of it is all optics.

Arindam Mukherjee is a geopolitical analyst and the author of JourneyDog Tales, The Puppeteer, and A Matter of Greed.

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