Israel’s Gaza Campaign Endangers US Security: Why Obama & Kerry are Furious

By Juan Cole

The United States as a great Power is facing a large number of challenges in the Muslim world, and Israel’s Gaza campaign is endangering both American diplomacy there and the very security of the US. Given the series of setbacks for the US in the Middle East, in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Egypt, Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu could scarcely have chosen a worst time to kill hundreds of Palestinian civilians in the full light of world media.

The ability of an al-Qaeda offshoot, the so-called “Islamic State,” to take substantial territory in Syria and northern Iraq has alarmed Washington. The US embassy in Baghdad is in as much danger as the capital itself from IS violence. IS recruiting, and the radicalization of Muslim youth, is given enormous help by the scenes of Israeli munitions killing Palestinian civilians.

As security deteriorates to unprecedented lows in Libya, the US has had to pull its ambassador and her staff from Tripoli. Fundamentalist radicals in Benghazi and elsewhere, already suspicious of the US, are seeing blood because of America’s statements in support of the Israeli military campaign. The radicals already despise the US, but one doesn’t want to give them recruitment tools among the general population, most of which had been grateful for the help with overthrowing Gaddafi.

Even long-term allies of the US in the region are disturbed by the Israeli campaign. Turkey is a member of NATO, which the US is actually pledged to defend from attack. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been scathing about the Israeli attack on Gaza, calling it a “genocide.” There is even a possibility that Turkey will send another Mavi Marmara-style aid ship to Gaza, this time flanked by Turkish destroyers. For the US, few dilemmas are more foreboding than a military conflict between its two most important Middle East allies.

Many Egyptians, both civilian and military, blame the US for having supported the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012-2013. In fact, the US was simply dealing with the government then in power. Egyptian anchors speak darkly of a plot by the US to impose fundamentalist rule and to partition Egypt. Many Egyptians deeply dislike Hamas, but virtually the entire population of Egypt wants to see the Israeli attacks on Gaza stop. To have high US officials defend it is distasteful to them.

There have been big pro-Gaza demonstrations in Afghanistan, where the US is trying to draw down its troops. But as the US contingent there shrinks, it because more vulnerable to attack. The Taliban are making a comeback, and public anger over Gaza helps Taliban recruiting and esprit de corps.

In many parts of the Middle East, Israel’s war on Gaza’s non-combatants could easily provoke an anti-American reaction. In some places, including Iraq and Afghanistan, it could result in American troop deaths. Even in countries allied to the US, the public anger over American backing for Israel is palpable.

The Obama administration has long hoped that a regularized political Islam that participates in democratic elections could take strength away from al-Qaeda and its satellites. If Muslims can achieve dignity and prosperity toward elections, they might not, Washington seems to reason, turn to terrorism and join Ayman al-Zawahiri. Hamas participated in the 2006 elections and has a strong civil wing, and so Obama and Kerry do not share Netanyahu’s hopes of eradicating it. A Pentagon figure recently said that if Hamas were eradicated, something worse (the Islamic State?) would take its place.

Secretary of State John Kerry turned to Qatar and Turkey for advice on how to tamp down the violence. They are backers of Hamas and through them Kerry could unofficially engage with Hamas and its demands. The peace proposal he showed the Israelis on Friday evening was a non-starter for Israeli hawks on the cabinet, since it was fair to the Palestinians.

The Israeli cabinet, in contrast, was outraged that Kerry would bring them what was essentially a Hamas plan.

On Sunday, Obama called Netanyahu and twisted his arm to cease the attack on Gaza, given the high casualty rates among non-combatants and the consequent deteriorating security climate for American interests in the Middle East. Then the UN security council voted for a ceasefire, which couldn’t have happened without US collusion.

Around 9:30 pm Gaza time on Sunday, Israel stopped its shelling of Gaza. Whether the ceasefire will hold has yet to be seen. But unless there is a political deal and an end to the blockade of Gaza, one can be assured that the war will begin again sometime soon.

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Related video:

UN Calls for Immediate Ceasefire

37 Responses

  1. Re: “virtually the entire population of Egypt wants to see the Israeli attacks on Gaza stop. To have high US officials defend it is distasteful to them.” To that I would add that many Americans feel the same way. And to your list of reasons, I would add moral outrage, human compassion, and justice. As an American, it is distressing to know that my elected leaders have for so long enabled, defended, and financed the oppression of the Palestinian people.

    • I feel the same way Bob. Even more mortifying is reading the post on The Times of Israel and seeing how Christian Zionist scream Go Israel. I am deeply ashamed of these people.

  2. IS will be the future home of Palestinians of Gaza. And this will happen when the US takes Syria. Obama is running behind schedule in Syria. Assad’s removal is two years overdue.

    IS is in position. Saudi’s armed forces is in position. Assads army will be ambushed.

    All we are waiting for now is another “shock and awe” false flag amidst the slaughter taking place in Gaza. Assad will be blamed.

  3. Just one question – is the US supply chain replacing Israeli munitions as fast as they are being dropped on civilians?
    That would be a more accurate way of knowing the degree of pressure being applied to stop this killing than any public statement.

    • Cynicism aside, judging by past Israeli behavior, supply chain issues could lead to a cease-fire on their part, as stocks will need to be replenished. But prompt US replenishment is an absolute given. You will note that ground-operations are proceeding, assuring a nominal amount of Hamas rockets in response. Once fully re-suppled, Israel can resume full-scale ops, blaming it on those dinner-party-interrupting Hamas rockets (“there, see, what have we been telling you?…its all THEIR fault”).

      But speaking practically, this operation has been planned for a long time, and Israel started it now with certain set objectives. When those objectives are met, which may include shaking down some amount of money/resources, or other concessions from the US, they will allow a cease-fire of some description. Their behavior in these regards has been very consistent,

    • CNN reporting that #Israel has asked #US to resupply 120mm mortars and 40mm grenade ammunition. Says White House has OK’d request. #Gaza

  4. It is long past time for the POTUS to marginalize the Israel hawks in congress by pitting US internal needs against the huge drain by Israel. The after neutralizing congress, the POTUS should publish a full peace proposal for the ME including defined borders for Israel, then point blank tell Israel to remove their citizen from the territory that isn’t theirs and follow up with a UNSC resolution.

    The hawks in Israel could scream all they want, but if the US backed sanctions, Israel would have to cave.. Israel is not self sufficient in energy and food and can not survive for long without free trade.

    It is very doubtful that China, Russia or any of the usual suspects would tray to get around sanctions because most countries view Israel as a loose cannon.

    Until the US directly confronts Israel, it will be a festering wound that will make the US less and less able to function in the world.

    • A wise and benevolent, term-limited dictator is what this vision would take, and the case could be made that’s what the US Presidency is turning into, but we aren’t there yet. Being practical, this is just not a reasonable scenario.

      It’ll take Israel doing something that looses them all the support they’ve bought and paid for, and that’s beyond my ability to imagine. But as you’ve pointed out before, forever is a long time, and at some point fate will catch up with them

      • No, it wouldn’t require that.

        All it would require is for Obama to stand up alongside some US soldiers in uniform, and then state that Israel’s actions are putting those brave boys in danger, and he won’t stand for that.

        Followed by a media blitz of a carefully selected cross-section of Our Boys In Uniform pointing out that they are put in danger of blow-back every time Israel goes Whammer-Jammer! on poor defenceless civilians.

        Get THAT campaign going and let’s see how much traction the Israeli Lobby can manage.

        After all, in the face of THAT campaign there wouldn’t be a single member of Congress willing to stand up and say “F**k our soldiers, Israel is far more important that the lives of OUR men in uniform!”

  5. “For the US, few dilemmas are more foreboding than a military conflict between its two most important Middle East allies.” What I find most worrisome is that the United States government can’t afford to do much of anything vis-a-vis either of these “allies” that would offend the petromonarchy in Saudi Arabia.

    • It’s no accident that the current Israeli attacks are occurring during an election year. The Israeli far-right wants the US far-right back in power…

  6. Frankly, I think you’re underestimating the negative ramifications on US interests in the region. With a broader and deeper analysis, I suspect it’d look even uglier than you suggest.

    A good degree of Erdoğan’s posturing is theatre, but even amongst educated, secular folk, there is a growing and perhaps even boiling contempt for Israeli actions. There were student demonstrations in support of Palestine last week, from the people most opposed to him. Recep is a populist, and Turkey’s alliance history with Israel runs deep, but the I’m wondering where Israel really may be screwing their own pooch this time around. They are unleashing an awful, awful lot of bad karma here.

    But we always come back to the question of what Obama/Kerry can do about the situation, given how Israel effectively owns the US Congress? (And their direct influence on the executive branch, to be fair). Is it really just a matter of Obama/Kerry growing a backbone? I don’t mean that rhetorically: I’m just trying to imagine how the US might possibly, at some point, manage to get itself out of this corner, given the above.

  7. The US has never held a plan to manufacture peace in the ME one one hand, and support anything Israel does on the other. And, of course, the Bush invasions made everything that much worse. Obama’s doctrine has been to attempt the possible and discuss the improbable. But, his hands are tied by our Israel First commitment. All while militants grow stronger, US support weakens, and American politics are at rock bottom. Nothing portends particularly well.

    • ‘Obama’s doctrine has been to attempt the possible and discuss the improbable.’ This is a great line. Is it original?

      • Kerry’s “discussions” with the Netanyahu bunch on Gaza were certainly improbable, as were Kerry’s attempted settlement to begin with. My poor theory is Obama wants actors in any particular region to step up first, prior to the USA jumping in. The problem is I don’t see this working anywhere but the Korean Peninsula. I support him on this anyway.

  8. This particular ‘threat to US security’ is also a symptom of the broader changing attitude the world has to the US and its role as arbiter of global affairs. By extension it is also a ‘threat’ is to the Western world, to its less fundamental moral concepts, assumptions, standards of living and expectations. Similar symptoms heralded the disintegration of Rome; ruthless social division, financial constraint, endemic corruption, powerful enemies encroaching on overstretched borders, and the melting away of moral authority until, like a cloud illusion, Rome just wasn’t there any more; it remained an echo, a variously regretted memory, for a generation or so and then a subject for historical dialectic.

    The stand-off between the US and Russia seems to me more immediately significant than the horrors perpetrated by Israel in Palestine because if the US pushes the people of Europe too far towards another goddam war they could detach from it like a vast ice-flow in a warming sea. That would shake the kaleidoscope and, should it happen, Israel would be doomed, without a supporter left on earth, and the peoples of our world could find themselves sufficiently united to view the present as one helluva near miss and, contemplating how close we were to disaster look to establishing the more federal global structure I suspect younger generations dream of already. It seems to me doubtful Russia, China, India, or any group of nations would be seek take up the moth eaten mantle of US imperial ambition. Maybe it is Israel’s destiny to bring us to the brink so we turn towards a new horizon where our exponential scientific abilities are applied to our common humanity and the care of our fragile environment rather than the mindless and soulless destruction of both.

    • Some things to think about . . .

      – Except for a 200 year period out of over 5000 years of history, China was a MAJOR regional power and in less that 50 years, China has completely caught up with the “west.” Israel has no resources that China can not “borrow,” improve and make for much less than Israel. Israelis are no more intelligent than Chinese and there are a LOT MORE Chinese.

      – To lesser extent, India is very similar to China (if the Himalayas hadn’t made conquest by either an extremely difficult adventure, they might have fought more).. Again, Israel has nothing India needs that it can’t make itself or buy for very low cost from China.

      – Russia has few resources (oil and wood mainly), minimal to marginal infrastructure and a very small population. While Putin has delusions of grandeur, he has done nothing to ensure a long term future for Russia. While Israel might be able to make an alliance with Russia, it would gain almost nothing.

      – Like all large groups of humans, Americans are primarily focused on what is “good for them.” Eventually Israel is going to do something that causes Americans to throw them over board. I can guarantee this because Israelis have no clue about the psychology of other humans and even it they understood are so egotistical that they just do not care.
      Over the next 25 years, I think Israel is going to suffer greatly for their “sins” of the last 100 years (the Zionist movement started in the the late 1800s).

      I have no desire to see more humans killed in the ME, but I think that is what it is going to take to unwind the huge mess created by the Brits, French and Americans. Just like the Europeans , Chinese and Indians had to go through many long wars before they learned how to live together, I think the ME will also have to suffer and unfortunately I suspect the Israelis will suffer the most because they have inflicted so much suffering on others.

  9. All the negative feedback will soon cause Netanyahu to end his criminal war against the Palestinians in Gaza. By that time, there won’t be many places left to bomb.

    The focus of the United States will shift to Ukraine, Russia and Vladimir Putin. Yesterday, our State Dept. released intelligence maps showing blast marks of missiles fired from Russia and craters in Ukraine.Did those Rooskie missiles cause those craters in Ukraine?

    We don’t know, but they aren’t Ukrainian sinkholes.

    The slaughter of innocent Palestinian, especially women and children, gets a sympathetic response. NOT GOOD FOR THESE NEVER ENDING WARS. “Vlad the Bad” ain’t a good guy, so the U.S. govt. and media will transition from Gaza to Ukraine soon enough.

  10. With our military might, our long suit is to create absences (with a little help from our friends):Hussein, Gaddafi, The Taliban (temporarily), bin Ladin. But we don’t have the tools or power to fill the absences with the the indigenous Thomas Jefferson’s whom we assume are waiting in the wings. In the case of bin Ladin we assumed that al Qaeda couldn’t possibly function without his brain. For a while we had our sights on Assad, but someone in the Administration took a good look at out wake, and counseled against it.

    Israel, on the other hand, functions like the dictators we deposed, with regard to the occupied territories. And we are politically incapable of accepting that view of Israel.

    • The “key human” theory has been WELL DOCUMENTED to be completely false.

      Every humans is replaceable.

      Sure the replacement will have different skills and may not be as effective in a particular area of expertise, but they will do OK any way.

      Note that if the “key human” theory was valid, the US would fall apart after we replaced the POTUS after a 4 or 8 year period of absolute rule. Notice that the US continues to muddle on.

      This is why, unless Israel kills all 1.5 million humans in Gaza, they will continue to have resistance. In addition, the more Gazans they kill the worse the resistance will become because Israel can not kill its way to peace and security.

  11. This is when I continue to deplore another one of the classic George Bushisms, “We can’t reward ‘bad behavior'”, which so memorably crystalizes thought… in the worst way possible.

    I’ve heard this argument from Netanyahoo and other Israeli officials. It’s the all-purpose excuse: when your adversary is so desperate that he does uncivil things, this negates the need to address any of the problems that motivated those actions. He was ‘bad.” He gets nothing. End of story.

    The United States needs to stop buying into this pathetic excuse to avoid talking with Hamas, or the PLO, or the PA, or indeed, any Palestinian. I’m with spyguy: the US needs to lay out, in detail, a plan for peace, and then insist it be followed. The two parties will never arrive at an agreement, since it’s near-impossible to ever even get them together.

    To make the situation clearer, the $3.2B destined for Israel should immediately be rebudgeted to the Veterans Administration. This should make the deficit hawks happy.

  12. Obama and Kerry could not resist the deep state that controls “our” government, even if they wanted to.

    Juan, you make some unequivocal statements about public opinion in Egypt being very much anti-hamas. I am curious what your source is. I am sure the elites in Egypt who benefit from the current Kleptocracy that Sisi represents are very much anti Hamas, just as they are very much anti-democracy. But my understanding is measuring the public opinion of the bottom 70 percent of the public in Egypt is very difficult. Many are in fear that telling the truth could damage their careers or even land them in jail to be tortured. They are also constantly barraged by propaganda by the Egyptian media which is owned by the Kleptocracy. Under those circumstances, how can you be so sure of what they actually think? As opposed to what they are forced to say by the circumstances?

  13. This is a cycle: we have been here before, we should recognize the pattern. This is the “shoot” phase of the “shoot and cry” policy that Israel has been following for years. Cast lead, the Intifadas, are previous iterations of this cycle. When the shoot phase is over they will crank up the hasbra machine and begin the “cry” phase. Then all will be well in their world and they will prepare for the next cycle.

    Will we fall for it this time? Almost certainly, it has worked every other time. The hasbra is not working so well in the rest of the world but the Israelis don’t care. Perhaps one of these times it will stop working in the US but I am not hopeful.

  14. You know, the US has sacrificed its own security interests to those of Israel for a long time. The question becomes when will the cost become so high that it will outweigh the combination of carrots and sticks the congress has brought to heel with. And that could be quite a bit. As other commenters have suggested, if American priorities change, in-line with more genuinely compelling interests, Israel’s status would shift, but there’s a lot of history for their continued domination of US policy.

    Back in the Yom Kippur War, the US stripped a full wing of F4’s from Europe and allowed them to be flown directly into combat after a quick repaint. Those were front line aircraft and the backbone of our European defenses. OK, Israel needed them badly, but were they the 51rst state?

    Then there was Desert Storm, where Schwarzkopf’s planning was hamstrung by the need to hunt scuds far beyond the point of diminishing returns, due to Israel’s power to make their needs (in this case, psychological) come first. A number of more recent US generals have voiced how the US relationship with Israel has endangered troops operating in the area, as well as hugely complicated their overall missions, due to the politics of guilt by association (if not the reality of it).

    No, how Israel has managed to compromise true US national security interests is a problem that goes far deeper, and its been with us for some time.

    • The cost will come, in due time.
      The world is very complicated, even more so with all the nuclear weapons out there.
      The key is to try and maintain some veneer of civilization out there.
      There are no easy solutions.

  15. Well since Congress gives a great impression of having been bought hook line and sinker by AIPAC, and US presidents have never had the courage truly to sanction Israel, this is what I predict:

    –Israel will continue its rinse-lather-repeat cycle of ‘mowing the grass’ in Gaza ever 2 years or so
    –Insodoing it will become even more of a pariah state than it is now
    –Life will be hell in Palestine and fraught in Israel
    –The US will remain Israel’s only friend and ally (a rather one-sided friendship, it must be said)
    –US financial and military aid to Israel will continue, thus helping to increase the deficit and hasten the US’s economic decline.

    All in all, not a very pretty picture.

  16. Usually Professor Cole gets the nuances of the Middle East better than this article.

    From the Jerusalem Post, “Palestinian officials in Ramallah on Sunday launched scathing attacks on US Secretary of State John Kerry and accused him of working to appease Qatar and Turkey at the expense of Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.

    The officials also criticized Kerry for failing to invite representatives of Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to last weekend’s meeting in Paris to discuss a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

    Protesting against the participation of Qatar and Turkey in the Paris parley, senior Palestinian officials warned against attempts to ‘bypass the PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.’

    Walid Assaf, a former PA minister, pointed out that ‘this was the first meeting to discuss a Palestinian issue without Palestinian participation.’

    Qatar has become the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, Assaf said with a tone of sarcasm.’

    ‘This was the conference of the friends of Israel.’

    PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction said in a statement: ‘Those who want Qatar or Turkey to represent them should leave and go live there.’ The statement is directed against Hamas.

  17. Aside from destroying the little remaining standing the US has in the ME, this fiasco detracts from the self righteous positioning the US is striving for in Europe. How can the US criticize Russia for arming the rebels when our rockets and bombs fall on Palestinians.? Additionally, this crisis is taking up valuable media real estate in the propaganda war against our eternal Slavic enemies.

  18. Obama may or may not be furious. but he is still blabbing about “Israel’s right to defend itself” and still calling Hamas a “terrorist” group and even using Israel’s pet phrase. “Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure”.

    Anyone who thinks Obama is progressive on this issue should think again.

    Obama supports everything Israel is doing, he just want to keep the killing of Gazans down to a more manageable number.

    • That map looks like the prelude for a protracted tunnel search & destroy campaign. Ugh.

  19. Mr President in his speeches always about freedom and justice for all ,,,, bla bla ..bla …..,now his lost the oppressed occupied people are terrorists not freedom fighters .when I see kids killed like that as proud American I feel I am not doing anything to stop the war crimes and some how my tax money is in it via the mafia congress and AIPAC.
    Obama policy has made us more vulnerable and radicalizing millions of Muslims oh sorry he didn’t know that he promised them peace in Egypt now his wanted them all dead .
    He turned out to be a horrible President in and out the Beltway al the way to Gaza and Israel,
    Most of American don’t know the truth of this conflict some them even Israel is in Europe ,but the good news is most of us are waking up to this subject , FORCE AIPAC TO REGISTER AS FOREIGN ANTITY AND REPLACE THE CONGRESS ONE BY ONE ,so we can start helping our people here in the USA and rebuild our infrastructure etc…it is our money we should be the first to take advantage of it not Israel or Egypt ..
    God bless AMERICA

  20. Well, Obama and Kerry aren’t so “furious”, seeing as how CNN is reporting that the USA has agreed to an Israeli request to restock their ammo supplies by drawing it from the USA’s own “strategic stockpile” in the region.

    Isn’t that just the dictionary-definition of “gutless wonders”.

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