I have already written something on a completely different subject that will eventually be posted here, but it was for a different forum and I am waiting for them to put it up. Meanwhile, war has broken out on the borders of Israel, and I think that this could turn into a new world crisis and even a new world war. I shall explain why.
Europe in 1914 included about five great powers: Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. Italy and Turkey ranked below those five. Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy belonged to the Triple Alliance, although Italy was reserving its right to decide when its alliance obligations might come into play. France and Russia had been allies since 1894, and France and Britain had reached an Entente--an understanding--in 1904 and had cooperated diplomatically in at least two crises since. The Balkans were now composed of small independent states.
The immediate cause of the outbreak of the war was, of course, the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand--the heir to the imperial throne--by young Serbian nationalists. Serbia had recently expanded its territory in a war against Turkey, and dreamed of creating what eventually became Yugoslavia. Bosnia-Herzegovina, an Austrian province, had a largely Serbian population, and the Archduke was killed on a visit to Sarajevo, its capital. The killers were actually working for Serbian Army intelligence, which was a law unto itself--rather like Pakistan's ISA--and which the Serbian government feared. Austria feared the Serbian threat because much of the population of the empire belonged to subject nationalities--Serbs, Croats, Czechs, Slovaks, Rumanians and Poles. In the wake of the archduke's assassination they decided that Serbia had to be crushed and partitioned among various powers.
Israel began life a far more homogenous national state than Austria-Hungary was, but its de facto borders now include millions of Arabs who are if anything more opposed to Israel's existence than the Serbs in Bosnia were to Austria's. About four million Palestinians are nearly evenly divided between the West Bank, which the current Israeli government appears to want to merge with Israel, and Gaza, over which the Israelis maintain various forms of control. About 1.8 million Arabs live in pre-1967 Israel, and seven million Jews live in that territory and on the West Bank. Hamas, like the Black Hand--the secret Serbian organization that dominated Serbian army intelligence--is a terrorist organization beyond the control of the Palestinian Authority, its official government. It rules Gaza. Decades of Israeli attempts to wipe out its leadership and thwart its attacks have, it must now be said, completely failed to reduce its capability. It just just mounted an operation of unprecedented scope and effect,
Thus in the current situation, in my view, Israel is playing the role of Austria-Hungary--an established power threatened by minorities and terrorist revolutionaries, which it is now determined to crush. The United States, I would suggest, is playing the role of Germany--the patron of a lesser power and longstanding ally--Israel now, Austria-Hungary then--which is unleashing a local war in response to a terrorist attack. I would suggest however that the United States government, like the German government in 1914, has other objectives besides the simple defense of Israel, which remains relatively secure.
The war in Ukraine has emerged as the first armed conflict in a struggle between three twenty-first century great powers, the United States, Russia, and China--the Oceana, Eurasia and East Asia that Orwell predicted in 1984. While Russia is trying to destroy the post-1989 settlement that emerged in Europe after the USSR collapsed, the United States and the EU and an enlarged NATO are trying to maintain it. Meanwhile, tensions have grown steadily between the United States and China over Taiwan. In this kind of environment, the greatest powers regard any defeat by one of their allies as a potentially disastrous shift in the balance of power. That is why the United States is doing so much to support Ukraine, and it is one reason that President Biden immediately announced the strongest possible support for Israel, including conventional military support even though Israel is not facing a conventional war.
Most important of all, Iran is another player in the situation that could easily escalate it. The Israelis regard Iran as a mortal enemy and have been determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. The Obama Administration's attempt to remove that threat diplomatically broke down under Donald Trump, who repudiated the agreement that John Kerry had reached with the Iranians--partly, it was clear, to secure backing from powerful American Jews like the late Sheldon Adelson. The Biden administration seems to have abandoned its attempts to revive that agreement. Iran also provides important support to both Hamas and Hezbollah, the other leading terrorist organization on Israel's borders, headquartered in Lebanon--which may jump into the conflict now. (Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for the first terrorist incursion over the Israel-Lebanon border.) The United States, to my horror, has been trying to improve its relations with Saudi Arabia, which would definitely make Washington a partner in an anti-Iranian alliance in the Middle East. There is even talk of Israel normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia, which might draw it into such an alliance.
If Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia decided to attack Iran, Russia--which has friendly relations with Iran now--might join in on Iran's side. It would be extremely difficult for the United States to maintain its generous support for Ukraine while also fighting such a conflict ourselves. And with the United States involved in two different conflicts already, Beijing might easily decide that the time to invade Taiwan had come. Suddenly we would be in the midst of a third world war.
Germany in 1914 decided to back Austria to the hilt in its demands against Serbia because the German government wanted a trial of strength with France and Russia, whom they thought they could either humiliate diplomatically or defeat militarily. The men and women in charge of US foreign policy today clearly still believe that our will should prevail anywhere on the globe, and might not be averse to military action to make that point. President Biden might also welcome it as an attempt to unify the nation behind him as the election approaches. I am not at all sure, however, in the current climate, whether that would work. Such a war would test the cohesion of the United States.
The Arab-Israeli tragedy continues. Four generations of Palestinians have now grown up under occupation, each one at least as hostile to Israel as the last. 75 years of conflict, combined with demographic changes, have made Israel a very different country than it was before 1967. Despite its repeated failure to impose its will on the Palestinians, the Israeli government is now the verge of its most destructive effort to do so yet in Gaza. It speaks of destroying Hamas, and Netanyahu has even advised Gazans to flee--but there are about two million of them living in the most densely populated political entity on earth, and they have nowhere to flee to. A great power makes a mistake, in my opinion, when it ties its destiny to that of a smaller power in the midst of an endless war. The real responsibility of great powers is to keep in mind the ultimate objective of any war--"which is to bring about peace," as Clausewitz said. That is what Germany could and should have done in 1914, and what several American presidents tried to do in the Middle East. It does not seem to be our policy now.