Hamas Changes the Trajectory of Global Diplomacy
US international relations in nearly irreparable tatters
Two months after its savage attack on Israeli noncombatants, which killed 1,400, with the entire length and breadth of Gaza in ruins and fully expected to sustain even more damage, its leaders in hiding and its guerrilla fighters dramatically outgunned by the Israeli Defense Force, Hamas can nonetheless claim to have changed the trajectory of world politics and diplomacy beyond their wildest dreams. They have largely stopped the march of American diplomacy, not only in the Middle East but in Europe and Asia as well.
Prior to October 7, with the Trump administration-negotiated Abraham Accords providing a major breakthrough on normalizing Israel’s relationship with the Arab world, and with a strong team in place in Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Central Intelligence Agency head William J Burns, the Biden administration had largely cleared away the diplomatic wreckage left behind by Trump in other areas and begun to rebuild US influence not only in the Middle East but across the world including in Asia, where Washington was erecting Southeast Asian alliances designed to contain a bellicose China which had overstepped in its attempts to turn the South China Sea into a Chinese lake, frightening some of the littoral nations into a closer US embrace.
Today all that lies in ruins. The events of October 7 look likely to have an enormous global impact. Not only do the Abraham Accords appear dead but Israel’s unrelenting destruction of Gaza, with more than 17,700 people reported killed, including more than 7,000 children, against 98 Israelis at the time of writing, demonstrates the US’s utter inability to control its client state while frantically trying to head off a wider war. As an indication of America’s alienation from the region, the White House was forced to cancel a stop in mid-October in Amman, to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose organization anyway has been thoroughly discredited as corrupt and ineffective.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had been facing long-running corruption charges prior to the attack and was blamed for Israel’s unpreparedness, now appears to have survived at least momentarily while remaining implacable in his determination to make sure the Palestinian presence in Gaza is obliterated, a determination apparently deeply resonating at home if nowhere else. America’s longstanding pledge to defend democracy globally, revived by the Biden administration’s diplomatic triumph in coordinating western aid for Ukraine, has also been obliterated, joining the rubble of Gaza’s streets.
The attack has split the American public so severely that it threatens President Biden’s already tenuous prospects for reelection and increases the chance that voters will return former President Donald Trump to office. The subsequent events reveal an administration at odds with itself and with a Republican-dominated House of Representatives in the hands of a cabal of rebels refusing to listen to their own congressional leaders and ignoring the once-effective adage that politics stops at the water’s edge. Should Trump return to office, his public statements make it appear he is determined to end US support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s attempts to fend off the two-year-old invasion by Russia.
The United States had been relatively successful in ending direct involvement in Middle Eastern wars and moving military assets out of the region. “Yet, the Middle East continues to occupy an incommensurate and possibly unsustainable share of American bandwidth given the scale of challenges faced elsewhere,” according to Henry Storey, writing for the think tank Lowy Institute. “Cases in point are the itineraries of key officials, composition of US military financing, and the presence of up to 60,000 US troops.”
Events, Storey wrote, “keep frustrating the realization of a more enduring shift.” US officials had hoped normalization of Saudi-Israeli relations would allow Israel to play a greater role in providing for Saudi Arabia’s security – much as it has done with the UAE – through initiatives including regional air defense integration. Added to that is renewed receptivity on the part of the Gulf states to China’s quest to establish regional bases. Iran, isolated if the US was able to build on the Abrahim Accords, now has been given breathing room and the moral high ground.
The chain of events following the October 7 attack has already stalled the west’s attempt to renew aid to Ukraine and emboldened Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Its summer offensive stalled and with the Republicans in the US Congress refusing to appropriate additional funds, Ukraine is instead attempting to harden its defensive fortifications and girding for a renewed Russian onslaught.
Both Russia, which had confirmed losses of as many as 300,000 troops and with an economy crippled with sanctions, and China, with a faltering economy and an apparent leadership squabble, as Asia Sentinel reported on Dec.5, had increasingly appeared on the back foot with problems of their own before the Gaza blowup, which now gives them breathing room to cause mischief, as China has been doing across the South China Sea with water cannon and laser attacks on Filipino naval personnel seeking to defend islets the Chinese are attempting to seize. A Taiwan invasion, previously thought unthinkable, is increasingly on the cards, many strategists are writing although that may be overblown.
The US has done itself no good with a Dec. 8 veto of a United Nations resolution calling for an additional cease-fire in Gaza. Instead, human rights organizations are accusing the US of risking complicity in war crimes, with a callous disregard for human suffering. The Israelis daily are proving the human rights organizations right, with reports of indiscriminate slaughter. Musicians, poets, comedians, human rights lawyers, and journalists are noted to be dying at a frightening pace. The International Federation of Journalists said 68 have been killed covering the Israeli-Hamas war, accounting for 72 percent of media deaths worldwide this year. While the overwhelming majority are Palestinians, western news organizations including Reuters said their reporters have been deliberately targeted by IDF forces.
There appears no way out politically in the US for the Biden administration. A major part of the Democratic Party apparatus is propped up by wealthy Jews from the financial industry in New York to the entertainment industry in California. They are driven by the situation themselves, with many feeling that Israel, with its theft of historic Palestinian lands by fundamentalist settlers, is the aggressor. Others back the fundamentalist nationalists. The progressive wing of the party and Muslims in the Midwest are outraged by Biden’s stance. The administration, facing a tight reelection, can’t afford to alienate either side. So it is temporizing in both directions, weakly calling for a ceasefire, condemning Israeli determination to wipe out the Palestinians, and continuing to give them money and munitions, pleasing nobody but Donald Trump.
While Hamas has largely abandoned governance in Gaza, according to the New York Times, remnants of its police force still work in the south, and medics in hospitals overseen by the Health Ministry struggle to treat floods of wounded patients. Of the 17,700 dead, 7,000 are fighters from Hamas and other groups. But Hamas says its fighters total 30,000. Its leaders are mostly alive, some of them living in comfort overseas and what the Israelis are doing will give birth to new ones as surely as the dragon’s teeth sowed in the ground by Cadmus in Greek myth rose to become fighting men. If Biden and his team can find a way out of this, it won’t be a miracle unless there really is divine intervention.