The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

President Biden’s veto on an Israeli victory over Hamas severely undermines his two-state strategy based on the creation of an Israeli-Arab state alliance against Iran and its proxies. An Israeli defeat and a Hamas victory will drive Saudi Arabia and Egypt to ally with Iran with disastrous political and humanitarian consequences.

President Biden’s strategy in the Middle East has been problematic since the October 7 attack. The Hamas onslaught proved that Israel cannot contain its enemies Hamas, Hizbullah and above all, Iran, and can only fight to reduce their capabilities, while President Biden reiterated his policy of containment against Iran and its proxies. Iran was to be rewarded with the release of bank deposits the United States has frozen since the fall of the Shah. President Biden also sent his special negotiator to try to broker a deal in which Hizbullah would withdraw beyond the Litani River, a fifty minute drive from the Israel-Lebanon border, with all its military capabilities intact.

Despite this policy of containment, which has done nothing to deal with the lethal capabilities of Iran and its proxies, as well as its possible repercussions on nuclear proliferation, Biden demands of its only effective ally in the region, Israel, that it make concessions on the Palestinian front. Even under the optimal scenario, doing so would put Israel at a grave security risk.

In recent weeks it has become increasingly clear that President Biden is now poised to prevent Israel from operating in Rafah, the Hamas’ final stronghold, and thus defeat it.

This would be a disastrous mistake, not only for Israel, but for the security of democratic states, especially the United States and its Western allies, and the Arab states in the region.

Hamas’ war against Israel has proved beyond doubt that it (and all the more so Hizbullah) are far more militarily powerful than any Arab state, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Neither state, in the event of war with Israel, would have held out for five months against an Israeli onslaught. Egypt has been unable to suppress the small Islamic State presence in the Sinai even with Israeli help. Saudi Arabia in the last four decades, has been defeated in Lebanon where Hizbullah holds sway, compelled to cease its military offensive against the Houthis who threaten its existence and the Sunni forces it backed in Iraq have been severely maimed by Iran’s Iraqi proxies. Iran is easily the winner in these contests and the “pragmatic” Arab states – clearly the losers.

Biden promises as a reward for Israel’s concessions on the Palestinian front, normalization with Saudi Arabia. If Biden does not allow Israel to defeat Hamas, such normalization might prove meaningless given the threat Hamas, its Muslim Brotherhood allies, in conjunction with Iran and its proxies, would pose to Saudi Arabia..

Already, Saudi Arabia is showing signs of “bandwagoning” (leaning) toward Iran based on the logic of “if you can’t beat them, join them”, much as Jordan did at the beginning of the Six-Day War, when it felt compelled to join forces with the Egyptian regime that was bent on destroying it, by bombarding Israeli Jerusalem and other areas within Israel in the hope (that indeed came to pass) that losing half the kingdom would be better than losing it all if one didn’t follow Nasser Egypt’s dictate.

Saudi Arabia’s weakness in the face of Iran and its Houthi proxy can be clearly seen in the growing Houthi threat to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, which is more of a vital security interest to Saudi Arabia than to anyone else. Despite the threat, Saudi Arabia has not joined forces with the United States and Great Britain, to meet the threat. Its official press reports on these countries’ efforts to defend free navigation are worded as if this were a security problem facing these states rather than a direct threat to Saudi national security.

The response of the only other Arab state with credible military capabilities, Egypt, to the Houthi threat has likewise been weak to nonexistent, despite the threat it poses to the navigation route that leads to the Suez Canal, a major source of income for this cash-strapped, demographically-burdened country.

Regarding the other Gulf states, they never posed a counterbalance to Iran and its proxies even before Hamas’ onslaught on Israel on October 7, let alone in a situation of a Hamas victory. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in less than 48 hours in 1991 is a painful reminder to what extent these states would be a walkover for Iran and its proxies after the folly of preventing Israel from defeating Hamas. Such an outcome would clearly be understood as a Hamas victory, a decisive moment in creating Iran’s regional hegemony and the loss of United States’ credibility in the region.

Vetoing an Israeli victory and enabling a Hamas victory in its stead, then, undermines if not destroys the whole logic of the Biden doctrine based on creating a coalition of Israel and Arab states against Iran.

Instead of a coalition of Arab states and Israel led by the United States, the pragmatic Arab states, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, will be rushing to join the Iranian axis in the (vain) hope that Iran will rein in Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood from destroying these states from within.

And as for the humanitarian argument against Israeli victory in Rafah, consider how many Palestinians, Israelis, Saudis, Lebanese, Egyptians and Yemenis will lose their lives in the subsequent bouts in the event of a Hamas victory. After all, Israelis will not go like sheep to the slaughter, nor will the resolve of Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas to slaughter them subside.

JISS Policy Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.

Photo: IMAGO / TheNews2 / Kyle Mazza

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