The announcement late Sunday (November 5) night by US Central Command [CENTCOM] headquartered in Doha about the arrival of a Ohio-class American nuclear submarine in its “area of responsibility” presages a significant escalation of the situation around the Palestine-Israel conflict.
The use of these submarines is rarely publicised. CENTCOM posted an image apparently showing an Ohio-class submarine in Egypt’s Suez Canal Bridge. Interestingly, CENTCOM also separately shared an image of a nuclear-capable B-1 bomber operating in West Asia.
These US deployments, on top of two aircraft carriers and warships and hundreds of jet fighters in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea, are with an eye on “the other side of the equation,” as Secretary of State Antony Blinken quaintly described Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.
In a related development, CIA Director William Burns arrived in Israel on Sunday for urgent consultations. The New York Times reported that the US is “looking to expand its intelligence-sharing with Israel.”
The most charitable explanation for the deployment of a US nuclear submarine, part of the Pentagon’s “nuclear triad” — Ohio-class boats are the biggest ever built for the US Navy — near the war zone is that the Biden administration is preparing for an escalation of the war into Lebanon to draw out Hezbollah, which may in turn trigger an Iranian reaction.
On Friday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrullah seemed to anticipate this when he explicitly warned the US of consequences that couldn’t be any different from the catastrophic American involvement in Lebanon’s civil war in the early 1980s. Ironically, this is also the 40th anniversary year of the suicide bombing of the barracks housing US forces in Beirut International Airport in October 1983 in which 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers were killed, forcing a US withdrawal from Lebanon.
The locus of US strategy in West Asia may be shifting from diplomacy, which has anyway lost traction. Blinken’s desperate attempts to address mounting international criticism of Israel’s horrific war crimes by diverting attention to a “humanitarian pause” has been unceremoniously shot down by Netanyahu.
After pounding Gaza, the Israeli army moved in on Friday. It has reportedly advanced to the outskirts of Gaza City but not entered the Hamas stronghold. Fierce urban fighting is expected when it does.
Equally, the Biden administration’s hurried attempt to promote a vague outline for a postwar Gaza that might include a combination of a revitalised Palestinian Authority, a peacekeeping force, etc, has been met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm at Blinken’s meeting on the weekend in Amman with Arab foreign ministers ― from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE ― who instead demanded an immediate ceasefire, while Blinken said Washington wouldn’t push for one.
Blinken travelled to Ramallah from Amman, where the head of the Palestine Authority Mahmoud Abbas also gave him short shrift, saying that it would only take full responsibility for the Gaza Strip in the framework of a “comprehensive political solution” including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza — and, furthermore, that security and peace can only be achieved by ending the occupation of territories of the “State of Palestine”, and by recognising East Jerusalem as its capital. The meeting lasted for less than an hour and ended without public statements.
Meanwhile, China and the UAE have called for a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council in another attempt to seek an immediate ceasefire, which the Biden administration will certainly oppose. It feels boxed in and the only way out is by something giving way.
The US is watching with frustration as new regional equations appear among Muslim nations. The foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia spoke on the phone again today. The OIC later announced that an extraordinary summit will be held in Riyadh on November 12 at the request of current chair Saudi Arabia to discuss Israel’s attacks on the Palestinian people.
Certainly, the Iran-Saudi rapprochement, mediated by Beijing, has profoundly transformed the regional security environment with regional states preferring to find solutions without outside interference. Old schisms and xenophobia promoted by the US to perpetuate its dominance has no takers.
As the death toll in Gaza crosses 10,000, feelings are running high in the Muslim world. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said today that “all the evidence and indications show the direct involvement of the Americans in running the war” in Gaza. Khamenei added that as the war goes on, the reasons behind the US’s direct role would become more explicit.
The Fars News Agency, which is close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, also disclosed that in a “recent meeting in Tehran” with the Head of Hamas political bureau Ismail Haniyeh, Khameini told him that Tehran’s support for the resistance groups is its “permanent policy.”
Evidently, Tehran no longer sees a problem in acknowledging fraternal links with the resistance groups. This is a paradigm shift indicating the shift in the power dynamic, which the US and Israel are compelled to counter through the use of force, Washington’s diplomacy having failed to isolate Iran.
Chief of Israeli General Staff Herzi Halevi said on Sunday during a meeting at the Northern Command, “We are ready to strike in the north at any moment. We understand that it can happen… We have a clear goal of restoring a significantly better security situation at the borders, not only in the Gaza Strip.”
No power on earth can stop Israel. Its stability and defence are inextricably linked to this war, which will also ensure abiding US commitment to its security as a key template of American global strategies. Therefore, Israel’s best chance of survival lies in expanding the scope of the war in Gaza into Lebanon — and even Syria — shoulder to shoulder with the Americans.
There is no question that locating the US nuclear submarine east of Suez is to intimidate Iran from intervening, while Israel, with US backing, opens a second front in Lebanon. The Israeli authorities have announced the evacuation of people from settlements up to 5 km from the border with Lebanon.
A war with an indeterminate timeline is set to begin in West Asia. There is no knowing how the 80-year old American president will respond to the inevitable call of jihad.
No, this won’t turn into a world war. It will be fought in West Asia only, but its outcome will significantly impact the making of a new multipolar world order, after the precipitous decline of US influence and the volatile global environment since the Ukraine war began.
M.K. Bhadrakumar is a retired diplomat.
The above, excerpted from Indianpunchline.com, with the permission of the author, was published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been updated and republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.