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Keep US troops out of post-war Gaza

Keep US troops out of post-war Gaza

Proposals have been floating around that would see American soldiers leading peacekeeping efforts; that's a bad idea

Analysis | Middle East

The United States should not be part of a post-war stabilization force in Gaza. There are some proposals circulating in Washington for a U.S.-led post-war force, but this would be deeply unpopular at home and politically radioactive in the Middle East.

One proposal from Jonathan Lord of the Center for a New American Strategy emphasizes that a U.S.-led mission is the only “credible” option. According to Lord, “a US military-led stabilization operation is necessary to enable Hamas’ defeat.” In addition to underestimating the difficulty of securing sufficient support in Congress for such a mission, this plan fails to take into account the intense local hostility that an American military deployment on Palestinian soil would encounter and the dangers that U.S. forces would face as a result. A U.S.-led stabilization force would be occupiers and would be perceived as such, and their presence would likely invite resistance. Instead of providing security and stability, such a force could easily become embroiled in renewed conflict.

Putting U.S. forces in Gaza risks exposing them to future attacks. Their presence could act like a magnet for extremists and puts both their lives and the lives of Palestinian civilians in danger. It was a huge mistake for the Reagan administration to send Marines into the middle of the war in Lebanon following Israel’s invasion more than 40 years ago. It would be a similarly grave error to put American troops in Gaza.

A major military role for the U.S. in postwar Gaza would be a non-starter with the American public. Americans opposed to Israel’s war and U.S. support for it would not want to commit U.S. troops to deal with the aftermath. Given that polling shows Americans more broadly are wary of sending more U.S. troops to the region, it’s likely that many of those Americans that have supported U.S. backing for the war still would not want to put American soldiers potentially in harm’s way as part of yet another deployment to the Middle East. Any stabilization mission would need to have broad bipartisan support for years to come, and there is simply no political appetite in either party to take on another significant overseas commitment like this. The president has no mandate to make such a commitment, and it is hard to imagine Congress approving the mission in an election year.

Lord claims that a “US military presence on the ground can give Biden significant leverage to drive a peace process forward.” But we have seen that Biden, like his predecessors, absolutely refuses to use leverage to pressure the Israeli government to do anything. Putting U.S. troops in Gaza might theoretically give Washington some leverage with Israel, but this doesn’t matter when there is no political will to use that leverage. Making U.S. troops hostages to an unserious peace process will just lock the U.S. into another open-ended deployment that has nothing to do with U.S. security. Besides, the U.S. needs to be looking for ways to reduce its overall military footprint in the region rather than finding excuses to add new missions.

Far from being a “credible” option, a U.S.-led force will have little or no support from the many regional governments whose entreaties for a ceasefire Washington has ignored. The U.S. has made the choice repeatedly to side with the Israeli government no matter what, and it therefore has no credibility as an impartial outside actor. As the principal enabler of the war, the U.S. has lost any goodwill and trust in the wider region that it might have had. As much as the Biden administration might like to have things both ways, it is not possible to support the war that is laying Gaza waste and then show up as a postwar protector of the population.

Perhaps the most fanciful part of Lord’s proposal is that a U.S.-led stabilization force in Gaza might help to jumpstart Saudi-Israeli normalization. That Biden administration initiative was a serious error even before the war started, and it is doubtful that the Saudi government would be interested in embracing Israel anytime soon after the war. Even if Riyadh were willing, the normalization deal under consideration suffers from the same major flaws that made it undesirable for the United States in the first place. If Biden was going to have a hard time selling a security guarantee for the Saudis before the war, he would face even stiffer resistance from Congress if he were simultaneously seeking its support for a Gaza mission.

The goal of any stabilization force must be the protection of the people of Gaza. To succeed in that, it would need to be accepted and viewed as legitimate by the residents. There is simply too much baggage and bad blood between the U.S. and the people of Gaza for the U.S. to be involved with a postwar military presence. Our government’s role in this conflict makes it impossible for U.S. forces to act as a trusted security force in this case.

To have any chance of success, a future stabilization mission must not be tied to any governments that have been directly involved in supporting Israel’s military campaign. As Israel’s chief arms supplier and diplomatic supporter, the U.S. is uniquely disqualified from having a role in post-war stabilization.

Ideally, governments known to be sympathetic to the Palestinians such as Brazil or South Africa could be leading contributors to a security mission. If those governments are unable or unwilling to take part, the United Nations could organize a peacekeeping mission with troops drawn from predominantly Muslim countries or from other states that have been involved in U.N. peacekeeping operations in the past, including China. Turkey and Qatar might also be valuable contributors to stabilization and reconstruction efforts. There are other alternatives available in an increasingly multipolar world, and there are several that would be more suitable than a U.S.-led mission.

Planning for what comes next after the war in Gaza is important, but it would be much better for the U.S. to use its influence now to head off the worst outcomes before more innocent Palestinians are killed by bombs, starvation, and disease. The best thing that the U.S. could do to help make postwar Gaza more stable is to press for an end to the war now and to lead a massive relief effort to stave off the looming humanitarian catastrophe that threatens millions of lives.

Israeli soldiers operate at the Shajaiya district of Gaza city amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in the Gaza Strip December 8, 2023. REUTERS/Yossi Zeliger

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