ECONOMY

Israel and US Military Operations in the Middle East Going Wobbly Under Multi-Front Pressure

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Simplicius the Thinker has an important post up giving evidence that the Israel war against the Palestinians and the US operations in the Middle East are buckling, to the degree that US-friendly sources and even officials are acknowledging setbacks and stresses. Early on, Simplicius describes how the ne plus ultra of neocon strategy, the Institute for Study of War, is reporting that Israel has lost ground to Hamas in North Gaza, an area it maintained it had so firmly under its control that it could pull out ground forces.

The Cradle confirms Simplicius’ overall assessment in Israel loses control of its borders:

For the first time in its 76-year history, Israel’s entire security calculations have been turned upside down: the occupation state is today grappling with buffer zones inside Israel. In past wars, it was Tel Aviv that established these “security zones” inside enemy territory — advancing Israel’s strategic geography, evacuating Arab populations near their state border areas, and fortifying its own borders….

Today, Israel is horrified to find itself retreating from direct confrontation lines with its arch-enemies in Gaza and Lebanon. The formidable capabilities of the resistance now include drones, rockets, targeted projectiles, tunnels, and spanking new shock tactics, casting doubt on the feasibility of Israeli settlers remaining safe in any of Israel’s border perimeters.

There is a big sour note in Simplicius’ otherwise informative piece, in that he follows the US official trope that “Iran” is driving the multi-front military operations against Israel. As others on Simplicius’ beat have pointed out, he is very good on military analysis but weak on politics. Hamas launched October 7 without giving Iran a head’s up. The Houthis and Hezbollah get support from Iran and no doubt share intel, but they are independent actors.

The Axis of Resistance, as some like to call it, has been increasing the intensity of its pressure on Israel as the slaughter in Gaza continues, and importantly, they have likely already detected plenty of evidence of Israeli poor performance, which Simplicius describes in detail as it is becoming more visible and widespread. Experts abroad were inferring poor Israel performance merely from knowledge and press coverage. Very early on after the Hamas attack, Scott Ritter, who had considerable experience in Israel in the 1990s, depicted the IDF as a third-rate army, proficient at ops like breaking the arms of Palestinian teenagers. He also called out the bombing of Gaza as a major mistake, assuming the objective was to get Hamas, as opposed to exterminating Gazans. All that rubble, in combination with the vast Hamas tunnel network, results in a much more defender-favorable environment. John Mearsheimer and Alastair Crooke pointed out the inability of Israel to point to any successes, such as freeing hostages or more than isolated kills of the Hamas leadership. Crooke also said the Hebrew press would report on a high (by Israeli standards) IDF death count in Gaza, only to have those stories quickly yanked by the censors.

Israel, or at least the rabid right wingers running its show, may be running up against the conflict between how they have presented the war to the world and their citizens versus what, based on a cold look at their actions, is the real intent. The scale and sheer destructiveness of the Gaza assault make clear that Israel wanted to clear Gaza, not of Hamas but of Gazans (and the persistent demonization of all Gazans as in cahoots with Hamas is part of a deeply offensive rationalization).

Israel, clearly naively, assumed it could push the Gazans into Egypt. When Egypt resisted fiercely, the next Israel move was to increase the punishment of the Gaza population, based at best the idea that it would increase pressure on Arab states to relent and accept Palestinians, and at worse, regarding extermination as a perfectly acceptable way to get rid of the Gazans. So a plan for ethnic cleansing on a massive scale has become genocide. In case you harbor any doubts about the real war aims:

But the cost to Israel and now the US is spiraling out of control. In Israel, citizens have a good sense that the IDF losses are high, yet an end to the war is nowhere in sight. Families with hostages are successfully creating an uproar over priorities, demanding a cease-fire to secure their return, while Netanyahu and the hardliners insist that Hamas must be defeated first, and the release of the hostages will follow. 1

Another source of political and economic pressure is that Israel is now housing nearly 90,000 citizens evacuated from the Lebanon border. Those settlers insist that there must be no Lebanese visible from their homes for them to be willing to return. That would require taken Southern Lebanon up to the Litani River, as in dispossessing Lebanese families for the psychological comfort of these border dwellers. Netanyahu has promised to take that territory if Lebanon won’t surrender it, which is clearly not in the cards. But quite a few experts opine that if Israel were to try to seize southern Lebanon, that the odds favor Hezbollah occupying Israel up to Galilee.

The Cradle describes how the northern Israel border situation is worse than generally depicted in Western media:

The Israeli Defense Ministry, which pledged a swift and decisive war to safeguard its settlers over 100 days ago, is now actively devising plans to shelter approximately 100,000 people along the northern border, deeper inside its territory. This measure could involve evacuating settlements that may come under fire during any future military escalation with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

This situation implies three critical outcomes: any immediate return of settlers remains unlikely, additional evacuations are anticipated, and numerous Israeli families – in the interim – may establish permanent settlements in other, more secure locations at a much further distance from the borders with southern Lebanon and the Gaza envelope.

Preliminary reports from settler councils in the north assessed settler “displacement” to be around 70,000 in the initial weeks of the conflict. Subsequent reports, however, suggest a vastly higher figure of approximately 230,000.

Recall we already have the US’ supposedly vaunted Navy being unable to provide for the safety of seaborne commerce, and the US now in an attempt to restore its manhood, making illegal and ineffective missile strikes on Yemen. And recall the US is supposed to be a sea and air power!

In the meantime, most non-Chinese and Russian cargo ships are avoiding the Red Sea. While the rise in shipping costs is not all that bad by historical standards, the US looks and is powerless. And the Houthis are succeeding in their main aim, of choking sea transport in and out of Israel.

Indicators of the state of play:

But bear in mind one reason the US can faff around is that we don’t much bear the cost of longer transit times and supply chain uncertainty. It’s Europe. And the fallout has started:

Now to Simplicius’ on-the-ground sightings, first from Gaza:

As we now know, Israel has withdrawn many of its brigades from the north, citing ‘rest and rotation’ when in reality it appears to be ‘reconstitution’, as the brigades took major attritional losses. Now in the wake of that, the latest bombshell reports state that resistance fighters have re-infiltrated the entire north, leaving the map looking like that of below:

I myself was skeptical—could Israel really have abandoned the entire north after “claiming” to have captured it?

But here’s the double bombshell: even ISW admitted it:

After more examples of Israel doing badly in Gaza, Simplicius adds:

Recall that just last month Kirby admitted that Hamas had not been attrited at all, and an Israeli reserve colonel gave a tearful account of piled up IDF bodies which seemed to imply that they are taking far heavier losses than they’re admitting to.

Later in the piece, Simplicius turns to how US bases in Syria and Iraq are under attack. Oddly he does not mention that the US is in Syria illegally, stealing Syrian oil on a big scale and the Iraqis told us to leave but we refused. Suddenly our position is looking tenuous just when Israel (or at least Netanyahu) is acting like escalating is a great idea to make sure we having to get deeply involved and come to their aid. Again from his post:

And quelle surprise, Simplicius found a story in Al-Monitor that suddenly had the US wanting our buddies the Kurds to “partner” with our former super enemy Assad….which looked like a plan to cut and run, which was confirmed by Foreign Policy headlining that he Pentagon is planning to exit Syria. From its account:

And with such a complex regional crisis playing out, it should not come as a surprise that the Biden administration is reconsidering its military priorities in the region.

It should be cause for significant concern, however, that this could involve a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. While no definitive decision has been made to leave, four sources within the Defense and State departments said the White House is no longer invested in sustaining a mission that it perceives as unnecessary. Active internal discussions are now underway to determine how and when a withdrawal may take place.

The Daily Sabah reports Türkiye is somewhat skeptical of the story, which it depicts as a rumor, but also lays out some implications if true.

And to round out this remarkable picture, Simplicius includes two stories, one from Reuters, the other from CNN, that the US is negotiating its departure from Iraq.

Simplicius points out:

The US claims these are long-planned talks and have nothing to do with the recent attacks, but that is clearly not the case. The Reuters article above provides one key line:

In doing so, the U.S. had dropped preconditions that attacks against it by Iran-backed Iraqi militant groups in Iraq first stop, three of the sources said.

You see, the US previously had preconditions for talks of ending its occupation; one of the conditions being that Iran-backed Iraqi groups first had to stop bombing US bases. But now, the US has apparently dropped this significant precondition, as per the Reuters report. That tells us that US is making concessions out of desperation.

So the US looks to be engaging in a full bore retreat. We don’t begin to have enough weapons, particularly after having depleted our and our allies’ stocks in Ukraine, to wage much of a war, even before getting to that we also can’t land or protect anywhere near enough ground forces and keep them supplied given how the Houthis, and if needed, Hezbollah, have plenty of cheap drones, and the Hezbollah and the Iranians have higher tech, more powerful, longer range precision missiles too.

Given that this is utterly embarrassing, and in an election year to boot, the last thing the US needs is further attention being drawn to its debilities by Israel escalating in a way that necessitates our trying to come to its rescue.

So a nefarious thought: Norman Finkelstein, Ray McGovern, Larry Johnson, and no doubt others, have assumed that the US would join Israel in providing as much pressure as could be mustered on the International Court of Justice judges, and their home countries, to secure a ruling against “provisional measures” to stop what sure looks like genocide. But what if the US has come to realize that both it and Israel are hopelessly overextended, and the best way to limit the fallout is to get Israel that it is risking losing even the US, and not just over time? What if the US has only been going through the motions, recognizing that the press coverage of a South Africa win on some provision measures (South Africa is extremely unlikely to get the court to call for Israel to stop military operations unilaterally) might be loud enough to finally penetrate Israel’s self-delusion and force it to start figuring out how to back out of its Gaza/West Bank overreach?

Now as we all know in reality, no one in the Biden Administration has the sense or even the self preservation instincts that it needs to create some daylight between the US and Israel. In keeping, the only idea for a way out from both the US and UN isabsolute non-starter of a two-state solution (please see our recent post for details). If someone had a more realistic de-escalatory path, perhaps the horrible hostilities could go from a full boil to a simmer. But as a friend saids, if you want a happy ending, watch a Disney movie.

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1 Alastair Crooke recounted that a row in the cabinet the weekend before last included that 80 aid trucks a day were getting in, a level deemed to be too high to stave out Hamas. By way of contrast, before October 7, about 500 trucks of supplies went into Gaza daily. And in a remarkable show of chutzpah, one of the lawyers presenting for Israel at the International Court of Justice on January 12 claimed that supplies had increased over the last two weeks to 109 trucks…as if that were a good number.

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