The United States and the war in the Middle East

The novelty is represented by the situation in the Middle East with the war in the Gaza Strip under the direction of Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm of the Israeli government.

The American elections next November present particularities from the point of view of the current candidates. Joe Biden, at the age of 81, is considered elderly and also has memory problems. On the other hand, his contender, Donald Trump, is presenting himself for a second presidential term after the defeat suffered in the last presidential elections – a circumstance that has not occurred since the end of the 19th century.

The two candidacies will be decided in July. But the fact remains that the new president, regardless of their opposing ideals, will have to face new and particularly complex situations. In Taiwan the presidential elections were won by William Lai of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a candidate favourable to American policies, but with a result of just 40 per cent, well below that of the previous democratic leader, when the elections were won with an absolute majority of votes. In other words, Taiwan, just over a hundred miles from mainland China, opens a new chapter in the relations with the US.

In relation to the war in Ukraine, the American government hoped to oust Vladimir Putin, but this did not happen. And the Republican Party is, in any case, opposed to an additional 60 billion  dollar in funding the war, essentially eliminating support for Ukraine. A position that contrasts with the European Commission's decision to finance Ukraine to the tune of fifty billion over the next four years: an amount that pales in comparison with American military spending in the last two years in favor of Ukraine.​

The conflict in Gaza

Beyond these differences, the absolute novelty is represented by the situation in the Middle East with the war in the Gaza Strip under the direction of Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm of the Israeli government. A war that has already led to the substantial destruction of the city of Gaza and other places with over one and a half million Palestinians who, having lost their homes, live in tents, mostly on the shores of the Mediterranean. This, after moreover 30.000 Palestinians have been killed, and tens of thousands injured, mostly young people and children with an average age of less than 18 years.

Biden, in light of the American elections, wanted to stop the Israeli attack but without success. Not surprisingly, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has raveled tirelessly among the states of the Middle East looking for alliances that would favor a truce.

For Netanyahu, the objective of the attack against Gaza – essentially against unarmed adversaries - is not only the liberation of around 150 Israelis still hostages of Hamas. The objective is the definitive isolation of Gaza (which has approximately 2 million three hundred thousand inhabitants) from the West Bank, where approximately three million Palestinians live under the government of Abu Mazen, substantially subordinated to Israel. 

Netanyahu’s politics

In other words, for Netanyahu the fragmentation of Palestine has to be radical and definitive in the context of Greater Israel. An option, in fact, not new, but cultivated by Netanyahu since he first assumed the leadership of the Israeli government in 1996.

In the years immediately preceding, the possibility of a new chapter in Israeli-Palestinian history had clearly emerged. Yitzhak Rabin, for the second time head of the Israeli government, had signed an agreement with Yasser Arafat under the patronage of US President Bill Clinton, as seen in a famous photograph of them together.

It was such a significant and unique occurrence that it could have changed the history of the Middle East. But Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a young man belonging to the Israeli right. With the rise to government of Netanyahu the political process of a new configuration of Israel was interrupted. And the result after almost thirty years is the ongoing war.

A world conflict

The Palestinian question has taken on a global dimension. Saudi Arabia has renewed collaborative relations with Iran, its traditional adversary, with the mediation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who had come to Riyad in December  to meet  princeps Salman head of the  government of South Arabia . On December 15 the delegation of the tree countries (including Iran which had a previous agreement with China) met in Peking, establishing a Saudi-Chinese-Iranian tripartite Committee that in the final text declared the need for an immediate cessation of the military campaign in Gaza and the recognition of an independent Palestinian State. Anew important alliance that decided a new meeting in June 2024 in Saudi Arabia. 


The new alliances were not the only important change in the Middle Eastern scenario. Iran strengthened relations with the Russian Federation with which it shares a stretch of border on the shores of the Caspian Sea - an important alliance considering that Iran is the main supporter of Lebanese Hezbollah militants on Israel's borders.

Around the same time, Iraqi President Mohammed al-Sudan travelled to Moscow and was received by Putin consolidating and extending Iraq's relations with Russia.

In this new framework of alliances, it has to be underlined that the Houthis, who were the effective government of Yemen, after a ten-year war, established collaborative relations with Saudi Arabia in the spring of 2023. In this new framework, Yemen has acquired a strategic position on the route between the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal with the possibility of blocking ships headed towards Europe and the Near East. In reality, the American bombing of Yemen had no significant effect.

In this context, the planned deployment of part of the Italian fleet in the Gulf of Aden will not have any substantial effect, since the merchant fleets, to escape attacks have decided to circumnavigate Africa to reach the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands.  A choice that requires navigation for at least two weeks longer and which increases the price level of goods exported to Europe.

The change of scenery

Europe is particularly suffering from the consequences of the conflict. Germany records growth below zero, France and Italy around 0.5 percent. And the forecast is no better for 2024.

The position of the United States is markedly different, having closed  the year with the highest growth in the Western world of 3.3 percent. But the democratic American government is unable to regain traditional control of the Middle East. While, in addition to the invasion and subjugation of the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu aims to strengthen control over the West Bank, governed by Abu Mazen for almost twenty years, and east Jerusalem.

For Netanyahu, the conflict must definitively resolve the relationship between Israel and Palestine that must remain divided and disarmed under the full and definitive control of Israel – one, it should be remembered, of just eight countries worldwide that possess nuclear weapons. A position that clearly distinguishes Israel in the Middle Eastern and global context.

From a quantitative point of view the two populations are equivalent. Half of all Palestinians (over seven million) live in old Palestine – including around two million in Israel and East Jerusalem – and an equivalent number outside, mostly in surrounding countries. A total number of Palestinians, over 14 million, substantially equal to that of Israelis, of whom around half live in Israel and the others mainly between the United States (around five million) and Europe.

The difficulties of the United States are evident. The elections next November will take place in a context marked by the impotence of the United States in stopping the aggression on the territory of Gaza and in starting a new phase in the relationship between Israel and Palestine. A circumstance that places the United States in complete contrast with the Middle East also supported by China and Russia.

America for the first time, after more than seventy years of collaboration with Israel, is in an unprecedented Middle Eastern situation. Hamas may be defeated by Israeli military power but, for the first time, it has taken on an international role. And the United States, whatever the outcome of the November elections, will have to face an unprecedented situation that sees the Middle East and the main global powers aligned in favour of Palestine.

The future is uncertain. But the change in scenario worldwide is evident. Only European governments, or most of them, are the main adversaries of Hamas which, in the current circumstances, albeit in difficult conditions, remains at the center of the conflict and the future of Palestine.

Antonio Lettieri

Editor of Insight and President of CISS - Center for International Social Studies (Roma). He was National Secretary of CGIL; Member of ILO Governing Body and Advisor for European policy of Labour Minister. (