In the company of weak yet mighty players

In the company of weak yet mighty players

A man walks past destroyed buildings in Khan Younis in the Southern Gaza Strip. Apr. 22, 2024 (AFP)
A man walks past destroyed buildings in Khan Younis in the Southern Gaza Strip. Apr. 22, 2024 (AFP)
Short Url

The most dangerous thing about the blaze engulfing the Middle East today is that the powerful players are also weak. They have the ability to launch and wage a war but lack the ability to end it with a knockout blow or a viable settlement.

The extent of the crisis demonstrates that sedatives are useless. They have been tested before and only brought fiercer wars. The real solutions demand painful and unpopular decisions that the parties seem incapable of taking. So, the region appears stuck in a dangerous trap and open conflict, regardless of how intense it is.

The people of the Middle East are watching the painful developments unfold. The US does not need to demonstrate its might. Amid the collapses in the Middle East, Russia’s role appears limited and China is far away. No one is vying for America’s place in the driver’s seat. The US is a major force that should not be antagonized. It is a source of concern — to various degrees — for its allies and enemies alike.

In wake of the Al-Aqsa Flood operation, the US dispatched its fleet to the region to prevent the war from spilling over and harming the security and economy of the world. It succeeded, but it could not stop the accompanying wars that erupted in the Red Sea and southern Lebanon. It also could not stop the drones launched by the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq or the “messages” delivered across the Golan.

As in the rest of the world, the American military machine cannot be ignored in the Middle East. It is alert on land, at sea and in the skies. It boasts an extraordinary ability to prevent and deter. The US may not have been able to prevent Tehran from retaliating to the Israeli attack on its consulate in Damascus, but it managed to prevent the Iranian rockets and drones from dealing a painful blow to Israel.

Iran does not want to slip into a full-scale direct war with Israel, in which the US would not remain on the sidelines

Ghassan Charbel

Iran itself understood the American message. It announced the timing of its attack and agreed that it would be a light one. The US could not prevent the Iranian attack on Israel or persuade the latter against responding. It did, however, make the Isfahan strike a limited one in scope, if not in meaning. It prevented the two sides from dealing major blows but did not succeed in preventing them from exchanging heated messages.

Russia is preoccupied with its war in Ukraine. Its military presence in Syria did not guarantee the rise of a “Russian Syria” or neutralize the Syrian scene. China has complex and long-term calculations. It has one eye set on the economy and the other on Taiwan. It is in no rush to duel with the US.

So, the people of the Middle East have found themselves confronted with one large looming shadow: America. But the mighty US is also weak when it comes to the essence of the conflict in the Middle East. Whenever it approaches the issue of a Palestinian state, wars are launched in Congress given the fact the Israeli lobby runs deep in its institutions.

Benjamin Netanyahu has never hesitated in defying previous American presidents. And he has not hesitated in defying the current one. He boasts that Israel is not an American state run by the White House and that the Israeli army, which always relies on its American arsenal, is not an American militia whose rules of engagement and red lines are imposed by Washington.

Iran is a large and powerful country in the region. It is experienced in strategic patience and infiltration. It has changed the features of some parts of the Middle East. It can mobilize in four Arab countries, which it has been running and deciding their choices for years. It can approach Israel from several fronts. Its small roaming armies can engage in long, low-intensity wars. But this strong Iran does not want to slip into a full-scale direct war with Israel, in which the US would not remain on the sidelines. Harassing the US is a practice that has been adopted for decades, but waging a direct war with it is out of the question because its outcome would already be a foregone conclusion.

The strong Iran is also weak. The territories it controls are turbulent and divided. It has no solution to the problems in these areas and does not have a model it can promote there. Moreover, the parallel wars that have preoccupied Israel are costly and have not altered the fate of Gaza.

Iran is also weak when it comes to a solution that guarantees the establishment of a Palestinian state, which the West is hinging on an uncategorical recognition of Israel. The Iranian revolution cannot relinquish the most important card it has held since its victory: uprooting the cancerous tumor called Israel.

Hamas is strong but the horizon is bleak. The hostages card is not enough and saving Rafah seems impossible

Ghassan Charbel

Israel is a powerful country that boasts a superior military arsenal. Its army has committed a massacre that is unprecedented in the post-Second World War world. Its jets are running rampant across the skies of the Middle East. They chase proxies and bloody the Lebanese and Syrian maps. Iran came close to Israel’s nuclear facilities, so it came close to the nuclear facilities in Isfahan. The West criticizes its atrocities, but it cannot abandon Israel.

Israel is weak too. The piles of bodies in Gaza have deepened the world’s conviction of the need to establish an independent Palestinian state. America has been pumping weapons, ammunition and billions of dollars into Israel’s veins but it is unable to decide the conflict in its favor. The Palestinians are being killed but their cause refuses to die. Israel is evading the moment of truth but it cannot keep running away forever.

Hamas is strong. It dealt Israel an unprecedented blow on Oct. 7. It reimposed the Palestinian cause on the world’s agenda. For months, Hamas has fought with extraordinary fierceness, but this has led to Israel committing a new Nakba against the people of Gaza. Hamas is strong but the price is high and the horizon is bleak. The hostages card is not enough and saving Rafah seems impossible. Moreover, the establishment of a Palestinian state hinges on the recognition of an Israeli state and providing more international guarantees to it. Yahya Sinwar did not launch the Al-Aqsa Flood to abandon the dream of eliminating Israel.

Hezbollah is strong. In the wake of the flood, it launched a war to harass Israel but it also stopped short of engaging in a full-scale conflict. It boasts an advanced arsenal that can harm Israel’s army, institutions and economy. But Hezbollah is also weak. Lebanon is divided, fragmented and broke. The majority of the Lebanese people do not want an open war with Israel. A beleaguered Lebanon cannot withstand large-scale destruction in Beirut, similar to the devastation seen in Gaza.

There is no point in waiting for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The keys lie in the strong/weak America, which is deep in its long election season. Can Secretary of State Antony Blinken come up with the formula to douse the flames and pave the way to a solution? Can he weave a web where profits, losses and guarantees are distributed and the limit of roles and arsenals in the region are drawn?

  • Ghassan Charbel is editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. X: @GhasanCharbel

This article first appeared in Asharq Al-Awsat.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view