THE Israel-Palestine crisis has brought to the fore the fact that no other foreign policy issue impacts the US more, with the entire body politic seemingly going into overdrive. The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who is of Jewish extraction, has already visited the region, including Israel, multiple times since the current outbreak of hostilities.
With its military and economic prowess, the US is the most influential and determining external force in West Asia. Ever since the Ukraine war was triggered by the Russian invasion in February 2022, the US has been the principal military as well as financial backer of Ukraine; earlier this month, the Joe Biden administration approved additional security assistance to meet Ukraine’s critical security and defence needs. Without US military and financial support, Ukraine couldn’t have withstood the Russian onslaught. However, the Gaza crisis, triggered by the Hamas terror attack, holds a distinct significance for the US in terms of scope and impact. This is because of an array of factors, which need to be studied closely as they directly affect other parts of the world.
Various international initiatives that are linked with West Asia, some of which relate to India as well, were principally piloted by the US. For instance, the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor was announced by President Biden and his team during the G20 summit in New Delhi. The corridor involves collaboration between the US, India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Germany, Italy and the EU. The US aim may have been to check the growing influence of China in the region, but it is a continuing reflection of the importance of West Asia for the US. In the same vein, other initiatives such as efforts to normalise bilateral ties between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Israel are not possible without US handholding, given its interests in both countries. The present crisis may have paused some of these US-led or facilitated initiatives. This is because the Arab states, including rich countries in the Gulf like the KSA, have to cater to the prevailing sentiment in the Arab street because of the civilian casualties in Gaza.
The Israel-Palestine conflict has been highly exploited by violent religious extremists, rendering the West vulnerable as its role is being microscopically scrutinised. The US has borne the brunt of this trend. For instance, among the 19 September 11 attackers, 15 were from the KSA, and they cited the purported partial US role in West Asia, including the Israel-Palestine conflict, as the reason for carrying out the suicide attacks. The attacks demonstrate the intricate linkage that can be drawn about the US role in the present conflict. That is why the US establishment is walking a tightrope in ensuring that its role in the ongoing crisis doesn’t give any fresh ammunition to the violent extremists working against it. This explains the extensive and exhaustive diplomatic outreach of the US in the region and repeated words of caution by Biden to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urging him not to be blinded by rage.
No other country outside West Asia has similar societal resonance of the situation in the region like the US. This relates to the US status as a leading power in the international system, unique experiences of the immigrant population, including Jewish and Muslim communities, as compared to Europe and its current political landscape. The Jewish community in the US, many of whose families have been in the country for over a century, is so assimilated and integrated that there is hardly any comparison with any European country, where there is a baggage of centuries of mistreatment, including the Nazi-orchestrated Jewish genocide during World War II. A corpus of literature reflects the enormous influence of the Jewish community in the US. For instance, no graduate international affairs programme of the US is complete without the work of academic John Mearsheimer — The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy — which outlines how varied Jewish organisations in the US have skewed the American foreign policy in favour of Israel. However, to see the role of the Jews in the Israel-Palestine conflict through a binary lens would be a disservice to the intellectual prowess of the
Apart from being among the highest per capita members of US society, with solid achievements in all fields, the Jews’ identity for many in the US is more of a cultural identity rather than a ritualistic or religious one. Also, many members of progressive J Street, a non-profit liberal Jewish American advocacy group, are supportive of the two-state solution and are empathetic to the plight of Palestinians. At the same time, within the American-Muslim community, a large number, many of whom are of Arab extraction and reside in various swing states, desires a more proactive US role in the ongoing conflict. The Muslim immigrant experience in the US is different from that in many European countries due to tight US immigration controls as many came to America with high educational qualifications or specific skills. The segregated ghettos in Europe of Asian communities, including Muslim immigrants, are a lot less in the US. In addition, the left-liberal constituency that forms the backbone of the Democratic Party, particularly Gen Z (born after 1990), is overwhelmingly against the Biden administration’s subtle silence over the large-scale civilian casualties in Gaza.
Unlike other parts of the world, where the US has directly or indirectly intervened in recent years/decades, including Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israel-Palestine conflict is viscerally important for the US. To make a complete assessment of the future American role in the region, one must continue to pay attention to a gamut of vectors that are unique to the US.
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