Three Scenarios Where The U.S., China Or Russia Winds Up Stronger After The Gaza War
Washington, Moscow and Beijing can all, in different ways, emerge stronger from the war in Gaza war, says French geopolitical expert Dominique Moïsi. The U.S. has been more present in the Middle East since Oct. 7 — but so has Russia, while China is keeping relatively quiet.
PARIS — The Great Power Triangle: Washington, Moscow, Peking — this was the title of an excellent book published in 1972 by Michel Tatu, a specialist of the USSR and a journalist for French daily Le Monde.
Looking back at this title today, we can wonder what effect the war in Gaza will have on this particular triangle. The conflict between Hamas and Israel is a zero-sum game: Israel can only come out a victor if it puts Hamas out of contention for good. But this is not the case for Washington, Moscow and Beijing, which can — in different ways — all emerge stronger from the conflict.
Since Oct. 7, the U.S. has returned to the Middle East. Its military commitment, symbolized by the presence of two aircraft carriers, is simply spectacular.
Barack Obama's hesitations in September 2013, when he decided not to enforce the red line that he himself had drawn in Syria, are all but forgotten. Of course, Israel is the United States’ last major ally left in the region. Washington can’t afford to “lose” Jerusalem, as neither Cairo nor Riyadh are fully reliable partners.
Israel, the leading regional military power — much more vulnerable than it thought — needs the United States as much as the U.S. needs it. Joe Biden is drawing double lessons from the guilt of the country’s failure to act in Syria in 2013 and the strategically and symbolically catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.
Washington on Israel’s side
As an internationalist, in the tradition of the Democratic Party post World War II, Joe Biden could only react with determination and emotion after Oct. 7.
The day after the 9/11 attacks, France’s then President Jacques Chirac immediately traveled to New York, without the slightest political calculation in mind. Joe Biden did the same the day after Israel's own 9/11. Of course, it was also for him a way of deterring Iran from joining the conflict (a successful bet so far). But above all, the U.S. president intended to demonstrate to the Israelis that they were not alone and that the world's leading military and economic power was at their side — like in 1948, when the State of Israel was created.
A far-left fringe could abstain
The paradox is that by behaving the way he was supposed to, the Democrats’ candidate may have weakened his chances of being re-elected in 2024. There is, within the Democratic Party, a far-left fringe (whose sensitivities are close to those of the La France insoumise party in France) who could abstain from voting for him in November.
This could have a catastrophic effect for Ukraine and the world in general, but not necessarily for Israel, as the Republican Party strongly supports the Jewish state.
If the U.S. is more present in the Middle East since Oct. 7, so is Russia. We can even say, with some confidence, that Moscow is the big winner (so far at least) of the war of Gaza.
Not only have the images from Israel almost completely replaced those of the conflict in Ukraine, but Putin's Russia is de facto conducting a form of implicit blackmail on the Western world.
The blackmail could be summed up like this: “You need me in the Middle East, because I’m the only one who has access to Iran (not to mention Syria of course). But I won't help you for free. This involves less commitment on your part on Ukraine’s side. Besides, look at public opinion in your countries: people are much more passionate (divided) by what is happening in the Middle East than by what has been unfolding in Ukraine for almost two years.”
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the border of Gaza hosted by men and women of the Israel Defense Forces
Russia’s destabilization strategy
Along with calculations and innuendoes, Russia isn’t hesitant (most probably) to carry out campaigns of disinformation and destabilization on our territories. The Stars of David which have multiplied on the walls of certain districts of Paris and the capital’s suburbs in recent days are the most spectacular illustration of this. It is of course up to the Western world to make these dirty maneuvers fail.
A victory for Russia would be a terrible defeat for democracy.
Our support to Kyiv must remain unwavering. What is happening in eastern Europe perhaps affects our public opinions less emotionally speaking, but it concerns us just as much, if not more. A victory for Russia would be a terrible defeat for the side of democracy and a direct threat to the values we defend and the way of life we are attached to.
Then there’s the more complex case of China. The country has remained relatively discreet since the start of the war in Gaza. What is happening shows the fragility of the rapprochement that was first initiated in Beijing between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but may also, in the end, turn up to be a window of opportunity for China.
More than ever, Riyadh and Tehran are rivals in the region. Right at the moment when Iran, through Hezbollah, declared its pride in what has been accomplished by Hamas, Saudi Arabia’s naval forces destroyed in mid-air the missiles sent from Yemen to Israel by the Houthis (Iran's allies and protégés).
But beyond these details, China is looking further and may be thinking that the U.S. can’t fight on three fronts at the same time: Ukraine, the Middle East and Asia.
Proving that the country can actually do so was the goal of Antony Blinken's latest trip to Asia. The day after the G7 foreign ministers' summit in Tokyo, the secretary of state made the effort to stop at Seoul to ease South Koreans. The U.S. can renew its commitments in Europe and the Middle East while remaining a balancing power in Asia. China must not foster any dangerous illusions.
There will be a before and after Oct. 7, 2023
In the history of Israel and the Middle East in general, there will be a before and after Oct. 7, 2023. But the war in Gaza also gives Washington, Moscow and Beijing the opportunity to test their respective strengths and intentions.
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