In the last 50 years, three events in October have been strategic turning points for the Muslim World, upsetting old calculations and spawning new realities.
On October 6, 1973, the Ramzan Arab-Israeli War, launched by Egypt and Syria under the sponsorship of the great Saudi Monarch, King Faisal, shattered the post-1967 Israeli occupation status quo, resulting in the courageous Saudi oil embargo against Western supporters of Israel and put Palestine on the global agenda. On October 7, 2001, the US-led War on Terror launched Operation Enduring Freedom with the attack on Afghanistan, which later led to the attack on Iraq and the destabilization of Libya and Syria, marking the beginning of the end of the "American Century".
20 years later, after squandering $ 6.5 trillion in the War on Terror, the United States signed the Doha Accords to facilitate the same Afghan Taliban’s return to power, whom the US had ousted from power in 2001!
On October 7, 2023, Operation Al Aqsa Storm launched by the Palestinians in Israeli-occupied Gaza had broader strategic implications for Israel and the U.S., whose hubris, supreme over-confidence, and carefully laid down plans for maintaining an iniquitous status quo now lie buried under the rubble in Gaza.
Therefore, it is imperative to understand the context and consequences of Al Aqsa Storm, a remarkable military operation, superbly executed with a creative movie script's precision, combining surprise, audacity, and ingenuity, which has succeeded in reshaping the Middle East.
Basically, to counter the Iran-led Axis of Resistance and its determination to alter an inequitable status quo, the United States cobbled the Axis of Repression to create a new status quo, freezing disputes like Palestine and Kashmir to combat the “real enemy”, China. Washington was endeavoring to connect an Israel-centered Middle East with an India-focused “Indo-Pacific”, to supplement and support the American-led New Cold War against China and, to a lesser extent, Russia. Essentially, India is replicating Israeli policies of repression in Occupied Kashmir, with American complicity, so US regional strategy would rest on “twin pillars”, Israel in the Middle East and India in South Asia.
Just a fortnight before the launch of the Al Aqsa Storm, three separate but related developments corroborate this view. First, on 26 September, Netanyahu proudly unfolded the map of the “New Middle East” at the United Nations General Assembly, where the Palestinians were conspicuously absent.
Then, on 20 September, following the G-20 Summit in New Delhi, the India-Israel Middle East European Union Corridor (IMEC) was launched with much fanfare, touted as the West's copycat response to China's highly successful Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).
Earlier, in May 2023, President Biden's National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, personally took his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, to meet Saudi Arabia's Prime Minister and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to “advance their shared vision of a more secure and prosperous Middle East region interconnected with India and the world”. And on October 2, Jake Sullivan wrote in the influential Foreign Affairs magazine that “the Middle East has never been so calm before as it is today”.
5 days later, Al Aqsa Storm shattered that calm! The Biden Administration is the first US Administration in 50 years that even dispensed with the fig-leaf or formality of initiating a “peace process” for the Middle East, content with the Israeli-propped status quo of a coercive occupation!
Six strategic implications of a reshaped Middle East are noteworthy.
First, Israel and the United States were trying to “stage Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark”, in other words, build a “New Middle East” minus Palestine: promote Israeli ties with Arab and Muslim countries bypassing the Palestinians, as if the Palestine issue is no longer relevant. That policy is now in tatters: no durable peace or stability is possible in the Middle East without an independent Palestinian State.
Second, a myth had been created about the invincibility of the Israeli army and intelligence, that the Israeli Army and Mossad are the “best, brightest and strongest” in the Middle East, and Israel is an impregnable fortress whose security can never be breached as it is supposedly foolproof. 1400 determined Palestinian fighters blew up that myth through the Al Aqsa Storm on October 7.
Third, Israel presented itself as a safe haven, an “island of peace and tranquility in a sea of a turbulent, volatile and weak Muslim World”, the safest, the most secure place in the Middle East. Now they say they have suffered the biggest casualties since the Holocaust and almost a third of their latest, '5th Generation', Merkava tanks have been destroyed!
Fourth, the Axis of Resistance led by Iran has shown itself more resilient than the Axis of Repression, as the Iran-led troika of Hamas, Hizbullah, and Houthis of Yemen, have tightened the tactical noose around shipping lanes, diplomacy, and military strategy in the Middle East, and Tehran is now central to Middle East stability, with ingress in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Instead of the encirclement and containment of Iran, it is Israel that is now feeling encircled, thus the U.S. desperate despatch of two aircraft carriers plus the cobbling of an anti-Houthi coalition.
Fifth, Al Aqsa Storm was celebrated in Moscow as the “best birthday gift” to President Putin as the Ukraine War is now relegated to the back-burner and now the US is suddenly facing a three-front situation: Ukraine, a New Cold War in Asia-Pacific against China and the storm in the Middle East, an untenable strategic scenario for Washington policymakers.
The United States is caught in a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't dilemma: continue unconditional support for the Israeli Genocide in Gaza and lose the “battle for hearts and minds” in the Muslim World, or, beat a retreat and lose clout and face, as happened when they humiliatingly quit Afghanistan on 15 August 2021.
Another casualty of Al Aqsa Storm is the probable defeat of Biden in the 2024 Presidential election, opening up the prospect of Trump's return.
Sixth, Al Aqsa Storm has given birth to a clear, new global South-North divide. The Global South, spearheaded by China, with a supportive Russia, is presenting a strategic option, an alternative worldview, to the US-led Global North, whether it’s Gaza or Ukraine or BRI or the hegemony of the dollar. The global center of gravity is shifting inexorably to the South, and the Al Aqsa Storm has accentuated this divide, as evidenced in the voting at the United Nations.
Israel has already lost the battle for narratives, even in the West, with virtually every campus in the U.S. and Europe a battleground between right and wrong as Gaza is the first televised genocide in history. If Israel is demonstrating its brutal capacity to kill, the Palestinians are unwavering in their determination and willingness to resist and die for the cause of freedom. The Palestinians are winning by not losing.
There is still time for the US and Israel to read the writing on the wall: stop the genocide, end the occupation, and take steps to establish an independent Palestinian State. Jewish history is itself a living testimony of breaking the Nazi myth of the “Final Solution”.
Washington should learn from its own mistakes and failures in recent history: after ousting the Afghan Taliban in 2001, it took 20 years and $ 2.2 trillion wasted in Afghanistan for the US to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban terrorists to return them to power.
Representing Palestinian aspirations, Hamas, also labeled “terrorist” by the West, is, at least, a democratically elected organization that won a free election in Gaza in 2006, and accepting the legitimate right of Palestinians to determine their future in freedom is a small price to pay for lasting peace, security, and stability in the heart of the Muslim World.