Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor of Religion and Global Security, the University of Tokyo
The conflict between Israel and Gaza since May 10 evokes a series of déjà vu for outside observers. It is as if the same series of events keep occurring every 6 years or so, in 2008, 2014 and this year 2021.
As always, when clashing over the ownership of land and domination of sanctuaries intensifies in Jerusalem, Hamas joins the fray, by firing barrages of rockets and missiles as if it is an obligation to show its presence in such circumstances.
As always, Hamas’ entrance into the scene changes the entire situation, giving Israel a legitimate cause of self-defense, faced with 3000 rockets being fired on it in around one week.
As always, Israel hit back harshly, dozens of and hundreds of times more severely, igniting an inconclusive debate on proportionality.
As always, the United States, either with Democratic or Republican president, shows its support to Israel’s right of self-defense unequivocally. It urges self-restraint, expresses concern about civilian casualties and supports ceasefire but not immediately. For the moment, it keeps asking both sides to de-escalate the situation and when unintended collateral damages mount, it starts urging an end to hostilities as soon as possible but not immediately, demanding Israel to finish dismantling Hamas’ deadly arsenals as soon as possible.
As always, after dozens of deaths in Israel and hundreds of deaths in Gaza, after several short poses of fighting for humanitarian assistance and after several broken truces, a ceasefire holds, with all the problems unsolved and left for the future conflicts. The draft UN Security Council resolution will be shelved or upheld nominally.
It is as if everything is happening as a replay of what happened before.
However, there are a few aspects that may have changed. One change that may be brewing under the surface is the change in the U.S. strategic assessment. President Biden’s support for Israel’s security is unwavering but may not be unfettered, compared with the previous administration.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, the U.S. President from 1953 to 1961, withheld support for the tripartite aggression on Egypt in the Suez Crisis in 1956, prioritizing confrontation with the Soviet Union which was invading and cracking down on the Hungarian Uprising of the same year.
Biden administration is pressuring China on the claimed genocide of Uyghur people and imposing sanctions on Myanmar’s military junta for the cracking down on protesters. The prolonged use of forces by Israel on Gaza could pose a greater concern for Biden administration for its global strategy confronting China on human rights agenda and may lead to a call for an immediate ceasefire, earlier and stronger than usual.