The Middle East Crisis Remains the Same in 2023 (as posted originally in 2009 and updated)

This commentary was prepared during the Israeli war on Lebanon in the summer, 2006 and updated in 2009. Its portrait of the main actors in the tragic circumstances of Middle East peoples remains unchanged today in  2023.

The commentary hints at the fundamental role the United States has played in the Israel/Palestine conflict, the Israeli vision of a “Greater Israel” empire, and the need for a movement of progressives to mobilize to end US complicity with Israel’s violent policies which victimize the Palestinians while continuing to expose Israeli citizens to terrorist retribution. Unfortunately, none of these core features of the Middle East catastrophe have changed for many years.

This time the peace movement must expand its militancy demanding that the Biden administration end its support of Israeli militarism and promote the liberation of the Palestinian people.


The Crisis is Upon Us


The current Middle East crisis has emerged with  rapidity. We have seen a seemingly unending escalation of violence against expanding civilian targets in Gaza, Lebanon, the West Bank and Israel. Also Muslims and Jews have been increasingly threatened within the United States. However, spokespersons of both parties proclaim that the United States needs to exert military power regionally and globally.

Key Actors in the Middle East Drama

To better understand the immediate causes of this Middle East crisis and its relationship to United States foreign policy the major actors in the tense drama must be examined.

First, the Israeli government is driven by a vision of regional hegemony and the elimination of the Palestinian people as a political force. As Noam Chomsky has argued, Israeli governments (and the United States) have always envisioned a region based on a “Greater Israel,” that is Israeli control of the politics and economics of Southern Lebanon, Western Syria, and Palestine. Crushing the growing popularity of Hamas and Hezbollah is a necessity from the vantage point of this vision and ultimately as well destroying their base of support in Syria and Iran. The brutal assault on Israelis on October 7, 2023 provided an excuse to indiscriminately target Palestinians living in Gaza.

Second, the Middle East crisis has profound consequences for the United States and the Biden administration. President Biden by word and deed has given the green light to Israel to expand its violence in Gaza and Lebanon. He has forestalled diplomatic activity to bring a halt to the violence despite cosmetic visits by Secretary of State Blinken and others to the region. He even has been slow to remove US citizens trapped in the war zones of Gaza. Further, the continued tension between the United States and Iran suggests that the former would not oppose an Israeli strike on the latter. The US would get its war on Iran without having to carry out the war itself. In the end, this Middle East crisis could give renewed intellectual justification for the neoconservative vision of a globalization of American power.

Third, this administration seems to be increasing support for militarism in the face of growing danger of war in virtually every region of the world: the Korean Peninsula,  East and South Asia, Central Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean. The Biden administration, as with most administrations since World War II, seems wedded to the unlimited use of military force as opposed to diplomacy.

Fourth, “Political Islam” refers to those movements, primarily in the Middle East, the Gulf, North Africa, and Asia that fuse the drive for political power with religious fundamentalism.  Paradoxically, Political Islam drew much of its initial support from US global policy. For example, the United States provided massive aid and training to rebels fighting against the pro-Soviet government of Afghanistan in the 1980s, including the 9/11 enemy icon, Osama Bin Laden. In fact, President Carter began funding the creation of Political Islam in Afghanistan before the Soviet Union sent troops to that country.

Hamas and Hezbollah, allied with outside actors Syria and Iran, formed in the 1980s. They sought to capture the support of Palestinians and their allies in response to growing Israeli brutality against the Palestinian people and the corruption of the Palestine Liberation Organization. There is much evidence that Israel gave financial support to Hamas to weaken the secular Palestine Liberation Organization. While these two formations have supported what is called terrorism and religious fundamentalism they at the same time have provided significant social services and a political voice for the repressed Palestinian population.

Finally, we need to reflect more systematically on Syria and Iran as regional political actors sympathetic to the Palestinian people and opposed by the state of Israel. It is clear that both Syria and Iran are targets of the US. Israel receives huge military  support from the United States in part to “balance” the influence of other state actors in the region. The US wants to control the flow of oil, and Israel wants  to control territory and people.

It remains to be seen whether the growing worldwide protest against the Israeli war on Gaza and US acquiescence to it will bring a desperately needed ceasefire soon, and in the future, and whether anti-war candidates can win victories in 2024 US elections. The enormous increase in anti-war and free Palestine movements in the United States and growing opposition to the United States and Israel in the Global South suggest the emergence of a “second global power,” the power of the people against militaristic governments.



By Harry Targ