Biden’s high wire act – Afghanistan, Ukraine, now Israel-Palestine

Hours after a hospital explosion in Gaza, in which at least 500 were killed – one of the most blatant, in-your-face violations since the start of the latest round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas – Joe Biden arrived in Israel on what was undoubtedly the most complex and knotty diplomatic visits for him as President.

Even before his arrival in the region for a series of meetings, the explosion at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza had reordered his visit. Jordan refused to host Biden after his Tel Aviv visit.

Israel and Hamas traded blame on who struck the hospital, believed to have been sheltering thousands from the ongoing Israeli offensive in retaliation to the October 7.

During his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden said, “And based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you. But there’s a lot of people out there who’re not sure.”

This, even as American news outlet CNN reported that a US official told them no conclusion had been drawn on the source of the rocket strike on the hospital and that the official did not confirm if they had any more information than what Israel had provided them.

The killing of hundreds of Palestinians have sparked protests in the Arab world. A direct attack on a hospital is among the six grave violations recognised by the UN Security Council.

Biden’s visit to Israel during an active war and his backing for Netanyahu, even in the face of the Gaza siege and bombardment, has left many questioning whether the US can have the confidence of the Muslim world that is backing Palestine to be able to defuse the crisis.

For the Biden administration, this may not be an option though. For the US, a lot rides on the current West Asia flare-up.

Since the start of his tenure in 2021, Biden has been faced with strategic, geopolitical setbacks. The withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan in 2021 was not just chaotic but a virtual failure for the US after 16 years, with the Taliban taking full control of the country.

This was followed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Russia has continued its offensive for more than a year now and the West has failed to either stop the war or isolate Russia.

This is the third successive year of Biden’s tenure that is seeing an offensive that threatens to engulf the Gulf region.

Biden may not have been able to douse the fire yet, but the visit has been characterised a “success” because he got Israel to agree to allow humanitarian aid to Gaza. The Rafah crossing has been opened for allowing limited humanitarian aid from Egypt to Gaza Strip.

According to news agency AFP, Biden called the Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi from Air Force One and then told reporters that Egypt will allow 20 trucks to begin with. The news agency added that Biden told reporters he was “very blunt with Israelis” on the need to allow humanitarian aid for Gaza.

Many have already announced the demise of the US-backed Abraham Accord. The agreement that recognizes “the importance of maintaining and strengthening peace in the Middle East and around the world based on mutual understanding and coexistence, as well as respect for human dignity and freedom, including religious freedom.”

It says it encourages efforts to “promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue to advance a culture of peace among the three Abrahamic religions and all humanity.” The test of the accord is not in its mere signing but how the agreement is taken forward to help tide over crises.

The American handling of the crisis could also determine the fate of groupings like I2U2- a trade set-up between India, Israel, UAE and US. UAE’s Trade Minister has, for the time being, said they won’t mix politics and trade, when asked particularly about the deal between UAE and Israel. However, a recent example of a trade setback over a political issue – Khalistan – has been witnessed between Canada and India.

A bigger crisis in the region will also gravely impact oil prices. LNG prices have already increased by more than 40 per cent and Brent crude by two per cent since the Israel-Hamas hostilities started. Biden seeks re-election next year and even if international geopolitical matters do not influence voters, any issue that hits their pocket will certainly do so.

The White House acknowledges it needs to better explain Biden’s Israel policy at home.

Biden will give a prime time White House address on Thursday, to “discuss our response to Hamas’ terrorist attacks against Israel and Russia’s ongoing brutal war against Ukraine,” the White House said on Wednesday.

The Israel-Hamas conflict threatens to unravel years of American diplomacy courting partners in the Arab and Muslim world, from Turkey to Saudi Arabia and Egypt to Qatar.

Biden now has to try and check a spiraling crisis from engulfing the Middle East


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Chronicle’s stance.


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