INT’L DIALOGUE: Is America not the final arbiter in the Israel-Hamas showdown?

He was asked a simple question about whether he would take full responsibility for the Saturday, October 7, attack that swept Israel off its feet. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to that question was equally simple and straightforward.

“We’re going to answer all these questions. Right now, I think what we have to do is unite the country for one purpose; to achieve victory,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash on Saturday, November 11, 2023.

Israel had suffered a humiliating attack on that Saturday by Hamas militants, the group-branded terrorists who self-govern the Gaza strip in Palestine, and CNN would quiz Mr. Netanyahu on how it all happened. That day of the attack was supposed to be a solemn Sabbath observation in Israel. However, the Hamas militants, through a complex operation, infiltrated Israel’s much-plauded “smart fence” that was supposed to ward off the militants. They brutally killed over 1,200 Israelis and took away more than 200 hostages, we are told.

In 2021, then-Defence Minister Benny Gantz announced to the world the completion of the said fence. He said that the fence was to serve as an “iron wall” directly between the militants and southern Israel’s residents.

In fact, according to AP’s December 7, 2021, report on the fence’s completion announcement, “the 65-kilometre (40-mile) barrier includes radar systems, maritime sensors, and a network of underground sensors to detect militant tunnels. Existing fencing was replaced with a 6-metre (6.5-yard) high ‘smart fence’ with sensors and cameras.”

An iron wall indeed!

With a quick look through the historical window, one understands and appreciates Israel spending $1.1 billion to construct its iron wall, which took 3.5 years to build, for that matter. Exactly 50 years ago, in October 1973, Egypt and Syria launched separate but coordinated attacks on Israel.

The strategy was for Egypt to attack Israel from the south and Syria from the north to reclaim both the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights, respectively. It is worthy of note that these lands were captured by the Israelis in the 1967 Six-Day War. And just as Israel was taken by surprise in the October 7 Hamas attack, so was the October 1973 attack.

The Hamas attack occurred on Saturday—Sabbath day—and so did the October 1973 attack. As a matter of fact, the latter occurred not only on a Sabbath but on the Sabbath of Sabbaths, a solemn Jewish day known in Hebrew as Yom Kippur. It was this important Jewish day that became the name given to the war: the Yom Kippur War. For some, they call it the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the October War, or better yet, the Ramadan War (because it also occurred on Ramadan), and the element of surprise in this war probably informed Israel’s decision to build the iron wall. No more surprise attacks.

Yet, Hamas was able to breach this sophisticated barrier of a fence almost two years after its completion. “Using commercial drones, Hamas bombed Israeli observation towers, communications infrastructure and weapons systems along the border,” reports The Washington Post.

“Israel said Hamas fired more than 3,000 rockets into the country, with some reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Militants on fan-powered hang gliders flew across the border,” it said. We are also told that militants further blew up sections of the fence and men on motorbikes drove through the gaps.

So, what might have gone wrong for this sophisticated security fence to be seemingly easily breached by Hamas? Do you think you have an answer to this question? No? Then we will all wait on Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel, for that matter, to provide us answers after curtains are drawn on the raging war.

But when will this Israel-Hamas War come to an end after all, as innocent civilians (women and children in particular) have died in both Israel and Gaza? With the showdown now primarily in Gaza, the death toll is suffocating. It is unimaginable to think that over 14,000 people have lost their lives in Gaza alone.

Summitries have been organised, and speeches upon speeches have been given to find a “fire extinguisher” to douse the fire violently brewing between Israel and Hamas. On October 21, 2023, Egypt called and hosted the Cairo Peace Summit. It was attended by Arab leaders such as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah, together with other leaders from Italy, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Turkey, among others.

When Israel absented itself and America failed to field senior officials for the meeting, it was as predictable as sunrise that the meeting would definitely rise in momentum in calling for a ceasefire but would eventually fall flat to achieve its purpose. Yes, it generally failed.

More so, on Wednesday, November 15, 2023, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been calling for a ceasefire, spoke in Ankara, labelling Israel a “terror state,” his wife, the first lady, Emine Erdogan, also simultaneously called and chaired the “United for Peace in Palestine” summit in Turkey’s metropolis, Istanbul.

“What critical threshold of death are you waiting for to stop this ferocity [in Gaza]?” she asked, as quoted by TRTWorld. Many of the other first ladies who attended the summit also poured out their anger. “We cannot remain silent spectators to the horrifying events occurring in Palestinian territories,” said the first lady of Uzbekistan, Ziroat Mirziyoyeva.

We unequivocally condemn the horrendous attacks and murders on both sides of Hamas and Israel. We also commend all those calling for a ceasefire, especially Emine Erdogan’s summit. Unfortunately, however, her call will yield no positive results, just like her husband’s. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s constant branding of Israel as a terror state, among other strident views, makes him not a suitable candidate to mediate the war as he had wanted to. On Friday, November 17, 2023, when Mr. Erdogan made a state visit to Berlin, Germany, he and his host, the German Chancellor Olaf Sholz, locked horns over Israel.

Who then is a suitable candidate to mediate the Israel-Hamas War? The United Nations (UN)? No! The UN and its Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, are ruled out of any meaningful mediation. As it stands, Israel and Mr. Guterres are at loggerheads following his comment on the war that seemed to suggest that Hamas was right in its October 7 attack.

Antonio Guterres had said, as captured by The Times of Israel, “It is important to also recognise that the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.” This infuriated Israel, with the country’s top diplomats calling on the UN Secretary-General to immediately resign.

The truth is, though America partly plays the role of an ally in the war supporting Israel, it is still by far the only entity that could stop the war. We have seen US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken “blinking” on a shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East since the war began. His role and the ally role being played by his country are but history repeating itself. In the Yom Kippur War, America threw its weight behind Israel (with the Soviet Union supporting the other side), and Mr. Blinken’s predecessor, Henry Kissinger, also assumed the same role as he (Blinken) is doing in the Middle East. It was Mr. Kissinger’s frequenting the Middle East at the time that birthed the term “shuttle diplomacy.”

The bottom line is that America has done it before by bringing a ceasefire in the Yom Kippur War, and it can do it again. But America did not achieve this ceasefire on a silver platter as it faced a huge stumbling block. The oil embargo!

In the context of the Yom Kippur War, an oil embargo was deployed as a strategic tool by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), mainly Arab countries, to paralyze the American economy. In the ensuing catastrophic showdown between Israel and Hamas, will oil sanctions against America and its collaborators be effective enough to push America to the brink of securing an immediate ceasefire to save innocent lives?

The oil embargo crippled the American economy and led to a spike in gasoline prices. It worked magic for the Arab nations to succeed in their quest to end the Yom Kippur War. Subsequently, America created the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) in 1975 in order to withstand shocks that may emerge in the future due to similar events.

Strategically, America has positioned itself to successfully overcome oil shocks that have the tendency to derail its economy. However, as of March 2023, Reuters reported that the SPR currently holds about 372 million barrels of oil, the lowest since 1983. Meanwhile, as of November 10, 2023, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve Stocks held 351.27 million barrels, a figure that has been described as inadequate and cause for worry for many analysts.

The multi-dollar question that remains on the minds of many industry players and interested parties in the American economy is: how long would the SPR last in the country in a situation of a full drawdown? According to a 2019 US Congressional Research Service report, in an emergency situation where the US President orders the sale of SPR oil, it can be pumped at a maximum rate of 4.4 million barrels per day (bpd) for 90 days. The drawdown then reduces to 3.8 million barrels per day for 30 more days.

Then, the rate of the drawdown declines for up to about 180 days until the stock is depleted. As of October 14, 2022, the total amount of oil in the SPR was 405.1 million barrels, a reserve that, if the US President decides to order the release of one million barrels per day, will last for just more than a year. Given that the current stock is lower than the October 2022 reserve used in the above analyses, America certainly does not have enough reserve to withstand a long-term catastrophic scenario. America’s total petroleum consumption, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), is forecast to rise by 200, 000 bpd to 20.5 million bpd in 2023 and 2024, respectively.

President Joe Biden’s administration’s decision to conduct the biggest ever sale from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve with the sale of 180 million barrels was a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which led to a spike in petroleum prices at the pump.

Monthly data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration on October 31, 2023, indicated that in August 2023, America imported about 81% of its crude oil from five countries, with Canada emerging as the leading exporter of total petroleum products to America. It exports 4.6 million b/d. The second largest exporter of total petroleum to America was Mexico (727,000 b/d), Saudi Arabia (396,000 b/d), Colombia (267,000 b/d), and Iraq (252,000 b/d) in that order.

Recent data published by the EIA reveals that the top fifteen (15) countries where America imports its crude oil have four Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, and Libya. Though America’s oil exportation reached a record high in the first half of 2023, averaging 3.99 million barrels per day, the US remains a net importer of crude oil, according to the EIA. In the first half of 2023, crude oil exports by America were up 650,000 b/d (19%) compared with the first half of 2022. Unlike 1973, today, America is no longer an “oil beggar,” thanks to its 1975-adopted Strategic Petroleum Reserve plan, hatched after the Arab nations’ oil embargo. With the numbers not looking so bad for America in terms of its energy security, a similar oil embargo by Arab nations is not likely to change the face of the Israel-Hamas War.

To put it more succinctly, in the short term, America may be able to surmount any oil “blackmail” that may come from the Arab nations in pressuring her to call for a ceasefire in the war. Nevertheless, with a cursory look at the geopolitical dynamics in the Middle East, America would not like to lose more ground to its competitors, Russia and China. Both nations (Russia and China) are visibly present in the region and are working tirelessly to win many more allies. They are also positioning themselves as better alternatives to America in terms of peace, security and economic partnership.

In fact, on Tuesday, November 21, ministers from the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation made a trip to Moscow, Russia, to rally Vladimir Putin’s support to get a ceasefire deal in the war. Some of these Arab and Muslim foreign ministers had visited Beijing, China, a day before the Moscow meeting. Their agenda in China was not different from what they stated in Russia.

This geopolitical reality in the Middle East poses a greater threat to America’s interest in the region than, perhaps, an oil embargo. It is, therefore, incumbent on America to demonstrate top-notch diplomatic prowess to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas to further cement its diplomatic relations in the region.

The signs are becoming clearer, and pressure is mounting on the Arab leaders to take drastic action against Israel and its allies with a series of demonstrations across the Arab nations. Jordan cancelled a summit it was to host in Amman with U.S. President Joe Biden, the Egyptian President and the Palestinian leader in an effort to find a solution to the ongoing war. The Jordanian leadership cancelled the summit, arguing that it would come on when the parties agreed on a ceasefire. Is this not enough signal to prompt America to double-up its effort for a diplomatic solution to the war in Gaza?

The Wall Street Journal reported on March 8, 2022, that the White House made several unsuccessful attempts to arrange calls between U.S. President Joe Biden and the de facto leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The desperate move by America was to rally international support, especially from its Persian Gulf allies, for Ukraine and then contain the surge in oil prices. It is a clear indication that America has a trust deficit to address in the region, though in July 2022, President Biden visited Saudi Arabia and subsequently held a summit with nine heads of state from the region, assuring them of America’s commitment to them.

America must not run away from mediating the Israel-Hamas War, for, with all the personalities and nations that have tried or attempted to broker a ceasefire, it remains, to a large extent, the final arbiter. An arbiter that Israel will listen to.

The writers, Solomon Mensah and Solomon Annan, are Ghanaian journalists who have an interest in the world’s politics with an unflinching eye. Views expressed here are solely theirs and do not, in any way, reflect the editorial policy of this media organisation.


X: @aniwaba & @abisolo7

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