On April 7, 1967 a minor border incident escalated into a full-scale aerial battle over the Golan Heights. As border incidents multiplied, Israel authorised a limited strike against Syria prompting President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt to come in self-defence, demanding that the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) be withdrawn from Sinai. On 23 May, he famously closed the Straits of Tiran, blockading the Israeli port of Eilat at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba.
Israel considered the closure illegal, while many nations argued that even if international law gave it the right of passage, Israel was not entitled to attack Egypt because the closure was not an “armed attack” as defined by article 51 of the UN Charter. And even if entitled to use force, it would be strictly to secure its rights of passage — not further.
Pretty much, this applies to Israel in 2023.
The aerial bombardment in Gaza since it came under attack on 7 October are totally disproportionate and ultimately counterproductive for the entire Middle East. The aim, it says, is to eradicate Hamas, the group responsible for the Al Aqsa Flood, but even if that is achieved, Israel would be laying the seeds for the emergence of something in Gaza that is far worse than Hamas.
Since the battle started almost a month ago, close to 10,000 innocent Palestinians were killed.
With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continuing with the bombing camnpign, more than 3900 children have been killed, along with 2,509 are women.
The health sector has collapsed and Gaza has been plunged into darkness and starvation. Additionally, Israel forces have targeted 55 mosques, 16 hospitals, 105 medical institutions, and 220 schools. It’s a war crime multiplied — by any standard — and yet, the Israeli premier remains defiant and unapologetic, turning a deaf ear to all demands for a ceasefire.
He insists that no humanitarian pause will happen, certainly no ceasefire, before all the hostages taken by Hamas are released unconditionally. Hamas has already declared 60 of them missing due to the intense Israeli shelling, and another 50 killed since late October.
From Day One, the Biden administration expressed full solidarity with Israel. Reasons for this support are multifaceted, with some rooted in the history of US-Israeli relations and others more forward-looking into securing the Jewish vote in next year’s US presidential election.
“We don’t accept this as self-defence” argued Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi, rather forcefully, after meeting his US counterpart, Antony Blinken, over the weekend. “It will not bring Israel security” he said.
A UN non-binding resolution proposed by Jordan passed with an overwhelming majority on 27 October, calling for an immediate ceasefire without mentioning Hamas. 120 voted in favour, 14 against. Israel, of course, has failed to comply, describing the Jordanian initiative as “despicable.”
The next benchmark will be the upcoming Arab Summit in Riyadh on 11 November 2023, which will also call for a ceasefire and stress Arab objection to the idea of a population transfer from Gaza to Egypt — or anywhere else. That too will be non-binding for Israel.
Learning from Suez 1956
The keys to a ceasefire are in the hands of one person only: Joe Biden. History proves that when it so wishes, the United States can end any conflict. It famously did it during the Suez War of 1956, which coincided with the near-simultaneous Soviet-Hungary crisis.
The Suez War began on 29 October 1956 and on 1 November, the Soviet Army had begun its march towards Budapest to put down the Hungarian Revolution. The Eisenhower Administration had a higher moral conscience. It felt that it could not condemn the Soviet invasion of Hungary while doing nothing about that of Israel, Great Britain, and France in Egypt.
Washington subsequently forced a ceasefire on all three, using financial tools to pressure Great Britain, saying that it would sell US reserves of pound sterling bonds while refusing to fill the oil gap caused by the Saudi embargo.
Dwight Eisenhower had been in office since January 1953, and presidential elections were just around the corner, scheduled for 6 November 1956. Eisenhower put his foot down and stopped the war in Egypt and yet, was re-elected president for another four-year term.
If Eisenhower could do it in 1956 then there is no reason why Biden can’t in 2023.
— Sami Moubayed is a historian and former Carnegie scholar. He is also author of the best-seller Under the Black Flag: At the frontier of the New Jihad.