Trouble in America & Europe, Gaza’s Impact and More

A confluence of negative influences suggests continuing conflict

Robert Bruce Adolph
Strains on the trans-Atlantic relationship are growing, given both the ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza. Also, Iran is likely influencing ‘proxies’ in the Middle East, nuclear war is a genuine possibility and American leaders could be indicted by the International Criminal Court for enabling Israeli war crimes and there is continuing danger of an expanded conflict over Palestine.

A positive trans-Atlantic relationship has secured general peace in Europe for well over a half century. Tragically, it is currently under significant pressure. Recent comments by US presidential candidate Donald Trump suggest that under his possible second administration, NATO allies should not expect America’s support under NATO’s Article 5 were Russia to attack a delinquent member state. It is true that some allied nations have been slow to meet the long-agreed-to 2% of GDP mark for defense spending. Still, significant blame must also be laid at the feet of repetitive US presidential administrations and an American electorate that has grown more isolationist, xenophobic, irrational, and transactionally minded over time. What is abundantly clear is that Trump has no idea what the term ‘collective security’ means.


Moreover, the conduct of international affairs, once thought to be Washington’s premier playground, looks quite different following the ‘indispensable nation’s’ humiliating military losses in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Adding to his already substantial problems, President Biden’s support of the State of Israel against Hamas in the Gazan War is also beginning to fray. The deaths of so many women and children are horrific. America is slowly recognizing that it no longer holds the moral high ground, serving to further erode its global influence. The US Congress so fears the possibility of another Trump presidency that they passed a bi-partisan bill ensuring that any future chief executive can only withdraw from NATO if a two-thirds majority is achieved. And, lest we forget, Putin’s Russia, at massive cost in lost lives, still hopes to carve-off a huge slice of Ukraine, while keeping a choke hold on the Crimea. Still more, the US debt now exceeds an unsustainable thirty-one trillion dollars. There is too much going on, heaping trouble on an already overburdened trans-Atlantic relationship. Uncertainties are multiplying. Dangers abound.


The Gaza War

The UN Secretary General is right. The conflict in Gaza “did not occur in a vacuum.” Palestinians have suffered much at the hands of consecutive Israeli governments, but none so much as now. Dependent upon the source quoted, women and children make-up anywhere between 50% to as high as 75% of those killed by the Israeli military. The current number exceeds 30,000, with over 70,000 wounded. Of course, the surprise attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians on 7 October was reprehensible. Their taking of hostages is disgraceful. However, such tactics are predictable. Terrorist acts remain the tactic of the weak. By way of comparison with the military power of the State of Israel, Hamas is feeble. Hamas cannot win a military contest with Israel. However, they can, and are, keeping the conflict alive.


Also, the International Criminal Court will eventually indict the leadership of Hamas and Israel. Until and unless common ground can be forged between these antagonists, any sort of peace will remain elusive. America once again finds itself betwixt and between with no clear avenue ahead toward a resolution to the conflict. The negative impact on Europe is evident. Continuing American military support to Ukraine became a domestic political football within Congress, competing with Israel, and Taiwan for military funding. Putin may simply choose to keep what he has, while hoping that Trump keeps his promise to halt military support to Ukraine if elected.


An Expanding Regional Conflict

The Muslim World, although unable historically to “drive the Jews into the sea,” share a common heritage. It is understandable that they would express considerable sympathy toward their long-suffering Palestinian brethren. So, it should come as little surprise that American unconditional support of Israel in the early war led to reactionary military responses from southern Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen – all of which are heavily influenced by a regime in Tehran that literally defines itself in opposition to both Israel and the US. Houthi drone and missile attacks on shipping in the 16-mile-wide Bab al Mandab Strait have made their presence felt internationally.


The American and British militaries responded by attacking Houthi bases. The Houthis feel justified in their attacks because of committed US support of the State of Israel in their war on Hamas. Houthi feelings mirror those of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Both groups are thought to be Iranian proxies. No matter if true or not, the war in Gaza seems ever-expanding. The dangers are clear and present. Iran supplies the Houthis the military means for such attacks, currently and primarily missiles and drones. Hezbollah is also beholden to Iran for arms. Iran, Hezbollah, and the Houthis – all members of the Shia variant of Islam – share common cause, hatred of the Jewish State that was thrust upon a Muslim majority geographic area by Western powers following the end of WWII, often described by Middle East scholars as ‘the last gasp of European-style colonialism.’ Nothing in the greater region has been the same since.


Despite Tehran’s protestations to the contrary, Iran likely remains on a path to create an atomic device. The deal brokered by the Obama Administration and European Union that was signed in 2015 to forestall such an event was unilaterally cast aside by a Trump White House in 2018. If such an Ayatollah-controlled nuclear weapon nears becoming a reality, radical-right politicians in Jerusalem might feel the need to use their own nuclear capability against a Tehran that has sworn to “wipe Israel off the map.” Everyone is rightly horrified by what a nuclear war in the Middle East might mean. Fevered shuttle diplomacy conducted by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is demonstrative of the very real fear within the DC Beltway that an ever more expansive conflict is possible, one that could drag America into another disastrous war, where the loser is usually the US, proving yet once again that military force has distinct limitations.


Is a Founding Member of NATO Complicit in Enabling War Crimes?

The International Court of Justice has spoken. It is probable that the State of Israel has committed war crimes. Per Amnesty International, the judges have identified six ‘provisional measures’ to ensure that all-out genocide is prevented. It now appears that the once badly abused have themselves become abusers. It is no secret, most of the military support to Israel comes from the US. America is enabling and therefore complicit in the conduct of these crimes. Making matters even worse, the Oval Office cut off financial support to the primary humanitarian support agency in Gaza, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Other nations followed suit. This decision made starvation a weapon, another war crime. Such action could hardly come at a worse time. The overwhelming majority of UNRWA employees are Palestinian, twelve thousand at last count. Contrary to multiple mistaken news sources, the Palestinian employees of UNRWA, who are also refugees, are not UN staff members.


However, it should come as little surprise that a few of these refugee-employees within the pressure cooker of Gaza might be complicit in the 7 October attack. But the collective punishment of over two million Gazans for the acts of a few is also clearly illegal under international humanitarian law. The International Criminal Court, which prosecutes individuals for crimes against humanity, is already collecting evidence and preparing briefs. If America, a founding member of NATO, is now complicit in enabling war crimes, how should NATO and the EU respond?


A Confluence of Negative Influences

The continuing war in Ukraine is an expense that the EU can ill-afford. Still, it is far cheaper than the alternative. Citizens of Ukraine are the ones fighting and dying to halt Moscow’s absurd dream of an expanded “Mother Russia,” and not EU citizens. President Zelenskyy said recently that “31,000 Ukrainians” have been killed in combat. CNBC suggests that as many as 315,000 Russians are estimated to have been killed or wounded,” per “U.S. defense officials.” Nobody outside of Putin’s inner circle knows the precise figure. It is axiomatic, the first casualty of war is always the truth. I suspect that the death tolls could be higher in both cases. To provide some comparative figures regarding the staggering losses suffered by Moscow and Kyiv, fewer than 2,000 American soldiers died because of combat action in Afghanistan over a period of over two decades. 24 February marked the second anniversary of the Russian invasion. Regrettably, Putin’s war-making machine has proven more resilient than expected. The recent reported death of the courageous Alex Navalny in a Russian prison north of the Arctic Circle, merely punctuates the Kremlin’s well-known cruelty.


Looking further south, much of Europe has been driven into the Palestinian camp, based on humanitarianism. Germany continues to support Israel, but only because of the collective guilt of the nation most responsible for the horrors of the Holocaust. The southern tier migrant crisis continues unabated, with Hungary often leading the parade against. Sweden follows Finland and is finally on its way to NATO membership, adding to Moscow’s worries. Ukraine and Georgia remain waiting in the wings. Putin badly miscalculated Europe’s response to his invasion of Ukraine. Further south, what will the fragile government of Lebanon do if Israel once again invades their territory? Egypt is currently fortifying its border with Gaza. What is the likely Egyptian response if Gazans are unable to return to their now destroyed homes, driven to ‘voluntarily resettlement,’ as currently defined by the prime minister and the extremist religious zealots in his war cabinet – the same extremists that keep him in power, and some suggest, out of prison.


Voluntary resettlement is of course a euphemism for ethnic cleansing. Jordan and France are air-dropping food to starving Gazans. Samantha Power, the head of USAID, announced on 27 February on her Twitter feed that the Americans would provide “$53M” for humanitarian assistance, but where have they been? What will Netanyahu do if unsuccessful in “eradicating” Hamas, his stated objective and definition of victory? It should be remembered that with considerable military might at its disposal, supported by loyal ally NATO, the US failed to defeat the Taliban in over twenty years of conflict. Has Israel, like America, selected an unattainable objective? Will Syria be dragged into the conflict at the Golan Heights? What happens if one of the non-state variants of Al Qaeda conducts a major terror attack on a US target asymmetrically, meaning anywhere in the world? What would the Biden Administration do? The only time that NATO’s Article 5 was activated followed immediately behind the 9/11 attack in support of NATO member, America. Could it happen again?


A Troubling Conclusion

As the number of what statistician’s call ‘independent variables’ increases, the potential for mistakes proliferates. If America is dragged into another war, will NATO be obliged to come along? If Israel comes to believe that Iran is near to creating a nuclear device, will they unilaterally employ one or more of their atomic bombs preemptively? Nobody knows how such an act might impact the trans-Atlantic relationship, or for that matter, the world at large. And, if that wasn’t enough, with much of the Western world focused on Israel and Ukraine, might China see this as a golden opportunity to make a grab for Taiwan? All the while, America’s debt bomb continues ticking. How long can the US continue to spend as if there were no tomorrows? Adding insult to injury, the unpredictable and often criminally indicted Donald Trump continues to enjoy the position of front-runner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. Finally, can the US continue to support the Netanyahu war cabinet when it is crystal clear that crimes against humanity are the result? There is a confluence of negative influences at work that make political, diplomatic, economic, and military decision-making far more difficult for all concerned parties. There are a host of pressing questions in desperate need of address, but with damn few good answers evident. One thing seems certain, there is continued conflict on the horizon.

Header photo: Flickr.com / U.S. Department of State

Robert Bruce Adolph is a retired US Army senior Special Forces officer and military strategist. He is also a former UN Chief of the Middle East and North Africa. He once lived and worked in both Israel and Palestine, serving as head of security for UNRWA. Adolph has also served as a university lecturer on American History, US Government and World Politics. He is author of the book ‘Surviving the United Nations’. His new book, due out later this year, is focused on the themes of American leadership, war, politics, and society.