Why Is Israel Isolated On the World Stage?

The symbolic move comes in the wake of the devastation of Gaza and a growing feeling among observers of the conflict that the only path for peace is the revival of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

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People stand among the rubble after an Israeli attack in the Al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, on June 5, 2024. (Photo by Marwan Daoud/Xinhua)

ISRAELI ISOLATION ON THE WORLD STAGE

An article in The Washington Post has reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government are finding themselves increasingly boxed into a corner. Netanyahu is waging a devastating war in the Gaza Strip that has riled global public opinion and placed him and his government before two of the world’s most significant courts. Needless to say, a report by The Washington Post attracts global attention and perhaps molds readers’ opinions. It is surprising that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to sacrifice his country and the future of the lone backer of the Jews in the world, namely the USA, for the far-right support of his government to stay in power and push his country towards an uncertain future. President Joe Biden is reportedly fed up with Netanyahu’s recalcitrant attitude and the fruitless attempts by his Secretary of State to Israel to bring the Israeli Prime Minister to listen to reason.

At a time when his political fortunes have begun to improve, Netanyahu has edged out his chief political rival Benny Gantz as the preferred choice for prime minister for Israelis, 36% to 30%, according to a Channel 12 survey last week. A smattering of recent polls has shown Gantz’s National Unity party faltering, while Netanyahu’s Likud is making modest gains. National Unity would still win a plurality of seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, but the party’s 19-seat advantage over Likud in December has dropped to a four-seat advantage in last week’s Channel 12 poll. The improvement in Netanyahu’s political standing coincided with a surge of international condemnation of Israel’s war effort in Gaza and the International Criminal Court’s decision to seek an arrest warrant against Netanyahu, all of which have positioned Netanyahu domestically as Israel’s defender, a familiar and comfortable role for Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

Meanwhile, Gantz’s threat to leave the war cabinet over Netanyahu’s lack of a long-term strategy in Gaza appears to be the cause of his drop in support. A poll by Israel’s Channel 11 put the Israeli public’s support for the ceasefire deal currently on the table at 40%, with 27% opposed and 33% unsure. But if Netanyahu is now contemplating whether there is more upside to continuing the war than reaching a ceasefire deal, Biden’s speech last week didn’t just force Netanyahu to confront that choice – it was also aimed at countering the pressure Netanyahu is now facing to abandon his own government’s proposal. “I know there are those in Israel who will not agree with this plan and will call for the war to continue indefinitely. Some are even in the government coalition,” Biden said. “Well, I’ve urged the leadership in Israel to stand behind this deal, despite whatever pressure comes.” But one key question remains.

RUSSIAN THREAT TO USE NUCLEAR WEAPONS IN UKRAINE

Recently, Moscow revived an oft-repeated threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Their use, of course, requires a few important things: they must be deliverable and have a valuable target worth delivering to, ideally one that would inflict little collateral damage on untargeted or otherwise friendly cities. More importantly, they require a high degree of confidence in the attacking nation that its adversary cannot or will not retaliate with nukes of its own.

The great unknowns are what the attacked country might do, the ability of the attacker to survive a response, and whether the initial strike would be sufficiently devastating. This uncertainty is precisely why there has not been a nuclear strike since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Russia’s threats, then, belie other intentions. Its primary intent is to raise the potential price of war in Ukraine beyond what the U.S. is prepared to risk. But given all the unknowns, Moscow has so far declined to execute a nuclear attack. Perhaps more interesting was China’s response. Beijing’s position on Ukraine has been measured. It abstained on the first U.N. vote to condemn the war, rather than voting with Russia. But as the conflict progressed, China’s position changed thanks to deteriorating relations with the United States and the need for an allied nation and a new economic partner.

Enter Russia, which by then realized that not only would it not overrun Ukraine quickly but it might not win the war at all. As with China, Russia’s main obstacle was the United States. An alliance is far more than a press release and a handshake, although it is frequently mistaken as such. An alliance is the process of material cooperation and creating complementary weapons and forces to defeat an enemy. There are non-military alliances, but all alliances assume that both sides have or can acquire the tools needed to wage war successfully and at the right time. An alliance has a common goal: to establish the capability to significantly strengthen a joint force. There has long been an assumption that Russia and China would create an alliance designed to break or at least weaken the United States. It has not happened.

The U.S., aided by its own alliance in the North Atlantic, posed a land challenge to Russia. In theory, Russia could have used Chinese troops in the Ukraine war, but the distance posed logistical problems. Also, Beijing’s interests were in keeping the U.S. from blockading its ports or creating a line of islands for protection. Besides, China and Russia have had an unhappy history sprinkled with numerous invasions and incursions. After an attack on the Ussuri River, China formed an anti-Russian agreement with the United States in the 1970s that included an intelligence gathering post for the U.S. in China. Additional tension between them is why it was surprising when, after Russia raised the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons, China said that their use against the U.S. was reasonable to consider, creating a merely spoken alliance between the two countries without committing to anything.

China is a known nuclear power, and U.S. intelligence monitors the situation accordingly. Beijing’s statement, then, changes nothing. If we speculate on the purpose, it would be that Russia is facing peace talks that President Vladimir Putin has already publicly discussed, and China does not want to be facing an emboldened United States. By aligning temporarily with Russia and laying the nuclear card on the table, Beijing hoped to combine a spoken alliance with Russia with the perception that it does not take the U.S. capability as gospel. But China is as likely to go nuclear as the U.S., so there is nothing pressing the U.S. to an alliance.

Washington is content to let the war in Ukraine drain Russia and to let China be obsessed over its own economic problems. The U.S. has alliances in Europe and Asia, so it does not need the complexity of former alliances. Russia and China can wish they had the resources to build an alliance, but the most they can do is raise the specter of an implausible nuclear strike.

INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE ORDERS ISRAEL TO CEASE MILITARY OPERATIONS

The International Court of Justice is expected to deliver a ruling on a request to order Israel to cease military operations in Gaza, including its offensive on the southernmost city of Rafah. Israeli officials snarled defiance ahead of the ruling, vowing to keep on their fight, but the legal pressure is mounting as the ICJ weighs a case brought by South Africa that accuses Israel of the crime of genocide. Earlier this week, Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, announced that he had applied for arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in addition to three top leaders of the Hamas militant group, due to their roles in the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Netanyahu and myriad other Israeli officials cast the developments as scandalous.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN EXPRESSES OUTRAGE OVER THE MOVE

President Biden and a host of other U.S. lawmakers expressed outrage at the seeming equivalence drawn by the prosecutor between the alleged crimes of Hamas’s leadership and those of Israel. The weight of the evidence incriminating Netanyahu and Gallant, as briefly outlined in Khan’s statement, surrounds Israel’s alleged use of starvation as a weapon of war, its documented obstruction of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and Israel’s conduct during the war, which has inflicted widespread and indiscriminate harm on civilians. “Notwithstanding any military goals they may have, the means Israel chose to achieve them in Gaza — namely, intentionally causing death, starvation, great suffering, and serious injury to the body or health of the civilian population — are criminal,”.

Should the ICC’s pretrial chamber issue arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant, the court’s 124-member states would have a treaty-bound obligation to apprehend the Israelis should they set foot on their soil. The United States and Israel are not signatories of the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding document. But other Western powers are; a host of European countries have expressed support for the ICC’s independence. When asked this week whether his government would comply in the event that it has to act on an arrest warrant for an Israeli official, a spokesperson for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, “Yes, we abide by the law.”

NON-US COUNTRIES RECOGNIZE PALESTINE STATE

Norway, Ireland, and Spain recognize the Palestinian state. The Spanish, Irish, and Norwegian governments announced on May 22 that they would recognize a Palestinian state and encouraged a two-state solution. The last shoe to drop this week was the most expected, and perhaps most ephemeral. Spain, Ireland, and Norway joined 140 other member states of the United Nations in formally recognizing a Palestinian state, no matter that on the ground, a viable Palestinian state appears nowhere in sight.

The symbolic move comes in the wake of the devastation of Gaza and a growing feeling among observers of the conflict that the only path for peace is the revival of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Spain’s foreign minister recently emphasized that Israel’s right-wing government, led by Netanyahu and backed by ultranationalists to his right, fundamentally opposes talk of Palestinian statehood. This stance has prompted Western countries to wake up to the need to bolster the principle of two states however they can. The United States has long opposed any formal recognition of a Palestinian state that would precede a negotiated agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

WHITE HOUSE ACKNOWLEDGES ISRAEL’S ISOLATION INTERNATIONALLY

The White House acknowledged this week that Israel is increasingly at odds with the bulk of the international community. “As a country that stands strong in defence of Israel in international forums like the United Nations, we certainly have seen a growing chorus of voices, including those that had previously been supportive of Israel, drift in another direction,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. “That is of concern to us because we do not believe that that contributes to Israel’s long-term security or vitality. … So that’s something we have discussed with the Israeli government.” This growing isolation, on one hand, could strengthen an embattled Netanyahu. Along with his allies, the prime minister has long derided the supposed anti-Israel bias of agencies within the United Nations and portrayed Israel as a victim of global antisemitism.

PRESENT SITUATION COULD ALSO BE HELPFUL TO ISRAEL

“This really strengthens the narrative which we have been hearing since day one of this war that in the end, we can only depend on ourselves,” Yonatan Freeman, an international relations specialist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told reporters. “And I think that this can even assist the Israeli government’s explanation and description of what it’s doing in this war.” But it also reflects a certain myopia within Israel’s political establishment and perhaps its broader society, which has failed to grasp the depth of outrage over their country’s actions in Gaza.

It isn’t just a “matter of squandering the international credit Israel was afforded after being cruelly attacked on October 7, with its leaders possibly finding themselves criminally indicted for war crimes,” wrote Haaretz newspaper. “The unfolding of events illustrates the global standing and diplomatic skills of Netanyahu himself. The man with pretensions of being an uber-statesman is incapable of advancing the strategic goals he set for this war, embroiling Israel in trouble that will haunt the state and its citizens for many years, beyond the direct corollaries of the massacre perpetrated by Hamas.”

ISRAELI DEFINITION OF ITS SECURITY NEEDS

“In the seven months since the horrific attacks of October 7, the gulf between how Israel defines its security needs and how the world defines those same needs has grown like never before,” Andrew Exum, a former defence official in the Obama administration, wrote in the Atlantic. “My conversations with Israeli friends — almost all of whom believe that their country has basically done the right thing in Gaza, even as they now demand a strategy for concluding the campaign — are invariably tense. Israel is waging a war of punishment against the people of Gaza, and Israelis have been largely shielded from the images of the suffering and destruction that the rest of us see.” For its part, the Biden administration is eager for Israel to use the complex off-ramp it’s trying to build: A tripartite agreement between Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US that would see the Jewish state normalize relations with the influential Arab kingdom, in a package that would include major defence and security incentives from Washington.

The Saudis and other regional partners would support reconstruction in Gaza and whatever interim authority is brought in to administer the territory. But all of this is contingent on Israel committing to the revival of even a process that could lead to a two-state solution — something that Netanyahu seems utterly unwilling to do. “The Saudis have been clear that [normalization] would require calm in Gaza and it would require a credible pathway to a Palestinian state,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. “It may well be … that in this moment Israel isn’t able or willing to proceed down that pathway.”

CONCLUSION

George Friedman of Project Syndicate, in a report on Russia and China Nukes and Alliances (June 4, 2024), reported on the recent oft-repeated threat by Russia to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Recently, Moscow revived an oft-repeated threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Their use, of course, requires a few important things: they must be deliverable and have a valuable target worth delivering to, ideally one that would inflict little collateral damage on untargeted or otherwise friendly cities. More importantly, they require a high degree of confidence in the attacking nation that its adversary cannot or will not retaliate with nukes of its own.

The great unknowns are what the attacked country might do, the ability of the attacker to survive a response, and whether the initial strike would be sufficiently devastating. This uncertainty is precisely why there has not been a nuclear strike since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Russia’s threats, then, belie other intentions. Its primary intent is to raise the potential price of war in Ukraine beyond what the U.S. is prepared to risk. But given all the unknowns, Moscow has so far declined to execute a nuclear attack. Perhaps more interesting was China’s response. Beijing’s position on Ukraine has been measured. It abstained on the first U.N. vote to condemn the war, rather than voting with Russia.

But as the conflict progressed, China’s position changed thanks to deteriorating relations with the United States and the need for an allied nation and a new economic partner. Enter Russia, which by then realized that not only would it not overrun Ukraine quickly but it might not win the war at all. As with China, Russia’s main obstacle was the United States.

An alliance is far more than a press release and a handshake, although it is frequently mistaken as such. An alliance is the process of material cooperation and creating complementary weapons and forces to defeat an enemy. There are non-military alliances, but all alliances assume that both sides have or can acquire the tools needed to wage war successfully and at the right time. An alliance has a common goal: to establish the capability to significantly strengthen a joint force. There has long been an assumption that Russia and China would create an alliance designed to break or at least weaken the United States. It has not happened.

The U.S., aided by its own alliance in the North Atlantic, posed a land challenge to Russia. In theory, Russia could have used Chinese troops in the Ukraine war, but the distance posed logistical problems. Also, Beijing’s interests were in keeping the U.S. from blockading its ports or creating a line of islands for protection. Besides, China and Russia have had an unhappy history sprinkled with numerous invasions and incursions. After an attack on the Ussuri River, China formed an anti-Russian agreement with the United States in the 1970s that included an intelligence gathering post for the U.S. in China.

Additional tension between them is why it was surprising when, after Russia raised the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons, China said that their use against the U.S. was reasonable to consider, creating a merely spoken alliance between the two countries without committing to anything. China is a known nuclear power, and U.S. intelligence monitors the situation accordingly. Beijing’s statement, then, changes nothing. If we speculate on the purpose, it would be that Russia is facing peace talks that President Vladimir Putin has already publicly discussed, and China does not want to be facing an emboldened United States.

By aligning temporarily with Russia and laying the nuclear card on the table, Beijing hoped to combine a spoken alliance with Russia with the perception that it does not take the U.S. capability as gospel. But China is as likely to go nuclear as the U.S., so there is nothing pressing the U.S. to an alliance. Washington is content to let the war in Ukraine drain Russia and to let China be obsessed over its own economic problems. The U.S. has alliances in Europe and Asia, so it does not need the complexity of former alliances. Russia and China can wish they had the resources to build an alliance, but the most they can do is raise the specter of an implausible nuclear strike.

Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a retired Bangladeshi diplomat. During his tenure, he worked in several countries as the ambassador of Bangladesh including Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Germany

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