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COMMENTARY
The War in Gaza: Consequences for Israel and the US

  Amit Gupta

What are the consequences of this conflict, as the war between Israel and Hamas comes close to its third month?  There are several short to medium consequences for the Israelis and Israel’s primary sponsor - the United States.

The end of Israeli aura of invincibility and the free pass 
First and foremost, the October 7 attack signals the end of the Israeli aura of invincibility that prevailed for nearly a decade.  Benjamin Netanyahu has been on record saying that Israel’s primary export is security since it has shown the rest of the how to secure its society from terror attacks.  That boast got dealt a permanent and grievous blow when Hamas proved that there is no such a thing as an impenetrable defense.  

The consequences for Israel of this attack are going to be long-term and negative since its enemies now know that the state can be successfully attacked and that the damage it causes to the Israeli psyche is considerable.  With the myth of invulnerability gone, several negative possibilities may arise for the Israeli state.  

One problem may be the commitment of Israelis with dual citizenship to remain in Israel giving the brutality of the Hamas attack. It is estimated that close to a million Israelis have dual citizenship in countries as varied as the United States, Canada, and several nations of the European Union.  In the coming year, it will be interesting to see how many of them opt to move to more secure nations rather than live in a state of permanent insecurity in Israel.  

Unlike in the past, Israel is not getting a free pass from the international community of nations.  While Israel was undoubtedly the victim of a terror attack, its unwillingness to deal with the Palestinian issue and its brutal response to Hamas, which has led to the death of civilians, is putting Jerusalem at odds with the international community.  

Back to the Two-State debate
A post-war Israel will have to come up with a comprehensive and acceptable plan towards a two-state solution or find that it is on the wrong side of the international community which has made it clear that it will not allow Israel to carry on with business as usual and the marginalization of the Palestinians.  

This will require a series of hard choices by Israel because an acceptable two-state solution will require true sovereignty, equitable access to water, free and open communications and flights with the rest of the world, and a Palestinian security force that goes beyond being a glorified militia.  To make this work, the United States will have to exert pressure on Jerusalem, and that may be problematic.  

The changing debate in the US
Given the electoral logic of the United States, both older Democrats and the Republicans are staunchly supporting Israel and seeking to give both military and economic support to that country.  The problem for Joe Biden, however, is the demographic divide in the United States on the Israel-Palestine issue.  Given the changing demography of the United States—both in terms of growth in minorities and a younger generation that had different views from the previous generation—future American policy would be less sympathetic to Israel and the relationship between the two countries would be normalized.  We are starting to see this shift as 70 per cent of the younger generation of Democrats disapprove of Biden’s approach to the crisis and want a more even-handed treatment of the Palestinians.

Further, the problem for the United States is that the Middle East crisis has resulted in what no one in Washington policy circles wanted to happen: to drag the US back into the cesspool of the Middle East.  This change in focus can only come at the expense of concentrating American policy and resources on deterring China.  

From the time of George Bush Jr, the US has sought to make China the principal focus of American strategy, but both Bush and Obama were forced to concentrate on the Middle East.  Trump was able to lower the American footprint in the Middle East and concentrate on China, and Biden had reaped the benefit of this reorientation by allowing his administration to apply greater pressure on China. Now, the Biden Administration has to deal with Ukraine, the Middle East, and China; so the principal threat to American unipolarity has been put on the back burner.  

It would be in the interests of the United States to actually bring about positive movement in the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but given the structural constraints within American politics, it is unlikely that Biden will put pressure on the Israelis, especially given that 2024 is an election year and he needs the votes of different interest groups.  The US may, therefore, squander this moment where imaginative diplomacy could reshape the future of the Middle East along a more peaceful path.  

To sum up, it is unlikely that anyone is willing to take the bold steps needed to resolve this conflict. What will follow is an escalation of combat and a significant increase in the number of casualties on both sides.  Worse, the US grand strategy vis-à-vis China will again take a backseat to intractable disputes prevalent in the Middle East.


About the author

Amit Gupta is an international security analyst based in the United States.  

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