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U.S. diplomacy lost traction in Middle East

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If Israel gets bogged down in Gaza, which by no means cannot be ruled out, there is a high possibility that Hezbollah may open a second front. And that, in turn, can trigger a chain reaction that may spin out of control. Herein lies the danger if a ceasefire is not agreed upon early enough in the conflict, writes M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer.

Biden’s motivation lies in the US’ desperate need to reclaim its leadership role in the Muslim Middle East. The two most compelling realities rejecting the American leadership are: one, a strong united regional solidarity cutting across sectarian divides to seek a settlement on Palestine, like at no time before, and, two, the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement.

The latest developments involving Hamas and Israel undermined the US efforts to persuade Saudi Arabia to recognise Israel. No doubt, the Saudi stance on the Palestine problem has hardened.

This profound disagreement is also reflected in the UN Security Council where the United Arab Emirates supported the Russian draft resolution, which called for “an immediate, durable and fully respected humanitarian ceasefire”, but opposed the US draft resolution, which was evasive on ending the fighting and instead harped on Israel’s right to self-defence.

Looking ahead, the big question is about American intention. Is it muscle-flexing or a hidden plot to create facts on the ground that can be seized as casus belli to launch an offensive against Iran, which has been a longstanding project of the neoconservatives dominating the US foreign policy discourses?

Biden declared at a press conference in the White House on Wednesday that he had warned Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that if Tehran continued to “move against” US forces in the region, Washington would respond.

To quote Biden, “My warning to the Ayatollah was that if they continue to move against those troops, we will respond. And he should be prepared. It has nothing to do with Israel.” (Biden was referring to growing attacks on American bases in Iraq and Syria.)

The political deputy at the Iranian president’s office, Mohammad Jamshidi has since countered Biden’s remark, saying, “The US messages were neither directed to the leader of the Islamic Revolution nor were they anything but requests from the Iranian side. If Biden thinks he has warned Iran, he should ask his team to show him the text of the messages.”

Conceivably, the recent attacks by militant groups in Syria and Iraq pose a headache to Biden in domestic politics. Reportedly, some two dozen US servicemen have been injured and one military contractor killed so far. There are roughly 2,500 American troops in Iraq and some 900 in Syria.

That said, while the US still has unrivalled power in the Middle East, its influence has diminished, as new realities emerged:

  • Israel has grown more powerful militarily and economically vis-a-vis Palestinians, but no longer enjoys regional dominance.
  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two dominant powers in the Middle East, are increasingly asserting their own interests.
  • China, although a relatively new player, is no longer confining itself to economic diplomacy.
  • US has lost the capacity to leverage the world oil market, as Russia works closely with Saudi Arabia within the ambit of OPEC+ to calibrate oil production level and prices.
  • Consequently, petrodollar is weakening.
  • The Abraham Accords have been shelved practically.
  • The Arab-Israeli conflict has assumed new dimensions in the recent years, thanks to the ascendance of the axis of resistance, which require new postures and operational thinking on the part of the US.
  • Israeli politics has swung sharply to extreme right.
  • The global environment is highly complicated; the peace process can no longer be under US mentorship.

Russia hosted a trilateral meeting in Moscow with Iran’s deputy foreign minister  and a Hamas delegation. Later, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who is also Special Presidential Envoy for the Middle East and Africa, announced that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas “will soon arrive on an official visit” to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In an all-out war with Iran, the US will take heavy casualties and the state of Israel may face destruction. Indeed, Iran may opt for nuclear deterrent capability. It is a near-certainty that a US-Iran war will turn into a world war.

Clearly, war is not an option, stresses M.K. Bhadrakumar.