Could Saudi Arabia and Israel Draw the U.S. Into a Regional War?

Over the weekend, I wrote about the drone attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities and how they are likely to set off a regional war involving the United States. That’s not a happy thought, but by this morning it appeared even more likely as the Trump team is now accusing Iran of carrying out the strikes. Unfortunately, this administration isn’t even reliable about the weather, so we’re going to need to see plenty of proof and independent corroboration before we can take their word for it.  Even then, there will still be plenty to debate over how best to respond.

A different kind of match has been lit near the armory in Israel, where Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political life. The last polling before Tuesday’s election showed Bibi coming up just short of obtaining a majority-forming coalition. If that is the election result, he will probably be out as the leader of the Likud Party regardless of what else happens. The main competitor to Likud, the Blue and White Party, has already stated that they will only consider an alliance with Likud if Netanyahu is gone.

So, Netanyahu has every incentive to throw Hail Marys here at the end of the campaign. He doesn’t need the polls to be off by much to prevail, and if he can move public sentiment at the last moment, then he could survive that way, too.  Here, per the Associated Press, is what he came up with:

“I intend to extend sovereignty on all the settlements and the (settlement) blocs,” including “sites that have security importance or are important to Israel’s heritage,” Netanyahu said in an interview with Israeli Army Radio, part of an eleventh-hour media blitz.

Asked if that included the hundreds of Jews who live under heavy military guard amid tens of thousands of Palestinians in the volatile city of Hebron, Netanyahu responded “of course.”

In other words, Netanyahu is promising to unilaterally annex all the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. He’s hoping this will win him some extra votes. If that were to happen, I can’t really imagine what concessions would be left to offer the Arab world in any kind of peace settlement with the Palestinians.

Any resulting violence would have a good chance of blowing back on American citizens, especially because Trump has been openly attempting to help Bibi in the election. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the American president offered Israel on Saturday a mutual defense pact. The timing makes the motive obvious, but it isn’t universally popular in Israel:

The latest polls do not predict a clear winner between Netanyahu and Gen. Benny Gantz, who openly opposes the joint defense treaty. “This is not what we want,” Gantz said in response to Trump’s declaration. “We haven’t asked anyone to be killed for our sakes, we haven’t asked anyone to fight for us, and we haven’t asked anyone for the right to defend the state of Israel.”

Whether a pact ever becomes a reality or not, we can be sure that our government will be seen as a partner in Netanyahu’s plan to annex huge chunks of the West Bank, and thus our country could become a logical target for revenge strikes.

Perhaps the solitary thing Trump has done that merits praise is demonstrate some reluctance to casually escalate matters militarily in the Middle East. His policies have been horrible and have, in many ways, led to the point we find ourselves in now, but at least he hasn’t been starting new wars or putting more American soldiers in harm’s way. I think that is about to change.

He’s positioned us on the Sunni side of a region-wide sectarian civil war and has come down so heavily on Israel’s side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that we’re no longer even theoretically a neutral mediator. This is exactly what Barack Obama was willing to take so much criticism to avoid.

There are now forces moving nations to war that may overwhelm any resistance from political leaders. Since America looks like it will be a participant in this war and cannot be confronted too directly with conventional arms, that means more asymmetrical warfare: cyber attacks, Improvised Explosive Devices, car bombs, terror attacks, missile launches at economic targets, and now drone strikes.

The world energy supply will certainly be disrupted with serious economic and political consequences.

I’m not sure anything can stop what has started here, but if the Israeli voters take Netanyahu out of the equation on Tuesday, that will definitely be a step in the right direction.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com