Death Spiral, by Michael Brenner

The multilayered tragedy unfolding in Israel/Palestine has us all transfixed. But not inert. Our emotions and minds are roiled in an effort to make sense of what happened, what is happening at the moment and what the chain of repercussions will be. A deliberate thinking through of this maelstrom requires a rare discipline that is not characteristic of our leaders even under less trying conditions. Moreover, they are in danger of being swept up in the swirling passions of the political class and the media.

The imperative, it seems to me, is to prevent a rapid, potentially fatal, degeneration of the crisis into a series of confrontations that will produce irreparable divisions on a global scale. Let’s spell out what the worst-case scenario might look like.

1. The Israeli government spurred by the rhetoric of Bibi Netanyahu unleashes an unbridled campaign of revenge against Gaza. It holds nothing back in the stated plan to root out Hamas. That entails a massive operation of bombing and shelling followed by a ground assault to achieve total control of Gaza – in other words, doing what the United States did in its ruthless assaults on Mosul, Raqqa and Falluja as it stove to liquidate the Islamic State. Civilian casualties will be enormous and the physical destruction will make large swaths of Gaza uninhabitable. The Israelis, too, will incur very serious losses in house-to-house fighting.

2. The United States will provide unlimited, unqualified support – material, diplomatic and morale. Europe will follow obediently in its train as always. The all-out strategy of both Israel and the U.S. will gain extra impetus from domestic political considerations. Netanyahu sees the crisis as a deus ex machina to escape from the perilous position he is in as head of a government dominated by religious and nationalist ultras, as hoisted on the petard of his audacious scheme to denature the judiciary in order to stay out of prison, by massive street protests. And now as culpable for an historic failure to anticipate, avert and respond to the Hamas incursion. Biden, for his part, badly needs a distraction from the Ukraine debacle and generous campaign contributions from the Israeli lobby.

3. The humanitarian crisis within Gaza quickly will come center stage in debates at the U.N. Security Council and in barrages of declarations by governments around the globe. The collective West will seek to mobilize opinion in support of their position a la Ukraine. They will meet resistance, and sharp opposition, from four places: the Arab states whose leaders will be forced to a take a hardline by inflamed sentiment among their populace, by the wider Islamic world, by Russia and China who will stress a cease-fire and mediation while denouncing in heated language the toll of death and destruction in Gaza, most of the countries in the Global South whose interpretation of events will be colored in part by the post-colonial lens.

4. That division will become all the deeper and antagonistic were other parties to enter the fray. That may be Hezbollah, Israel’s Arab neighbors, or the United States which could assume a role similar to that in Yemen and Ukraine.

5. The net result will be a sharp cleavage between the collective West and the rest. More specifically, between the West and the Sino-Russian partnership/bloc which already has been designated publicly by Washington and the Europeans as an ‘enemy’ that threatens their national security and their international interests. American officials speak openly about a coming war with China by the end of the decade and the necessity to plan for it – now inscribed in official documents.

6. An embryonic war of civilizations, thereby, can grow and solidify as an outcome of a clash centered on the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Sadly, there is no evidence of Western statesmen (or their domestic constituencies) being alert to the risk of such an historic rupture with enduring, deleterious implications for all aspects of world affairs.

Michael Brenner