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Roving Periscope: As the Gaza War rages, the US may lose the plot in the Middle East—and NATO!

Roving Periscope: As the Gaza War rages, the US may lose the plot in the Middle East—and NATO!

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Virendra Pandit

 

New Delhi: When did we first, or the last, hear the Arab states ‘defying’ the US diktats?

Today. As soon as Washington announced the formation of a 10-nation naval force to prevent the Yemen-based Houthis’ attacks on Israel and its supporters in the Red Sea, two key Arab countries—Saudi Arabia and the UAE—opted out, the media reported on Tuesday.

Moreover, top Hamas leaders huddled secretly in Turkey, a NATO member, to discuss future strategy against Israel amid an ongoing war on Gaza, Israeli media reported. The meeting was attended by senior Hamas leaders, including Khaled Meshaal amid a fresh diplomatic push by Arab mediators to reach a second deal between Israel and Hamas for the release of the remaining hostages and the next phase of ceasefire in Gaza.

Even Christians are condemning Israel for attacking churches in the Gaza Strip.

In a rare criticism of Israel since the war began, Italy, another NATO nation, lambasted the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) over the Gaza church shooting. Rome claimed it has nothing to do with the Israeli war against Hamas because the terrorists are not hiding in Christian churches. Italy’s attack came after Pope Francis deplored the shooting which killed two women and injured seven others. However, the IDF has refuted all the allegations.

That is why US President Joe Biden had to “request” NATO member Italy to join the latest anti-Houthi “coalition” to combat Iran-backed and Yemen-based Houthi terrorists’ attacks in the Red Sea. They have escalated attacks on tankers, cargo ships, and other vessels, imperiling a transit route that carries up to 12 percent of global trade.

“Countries that seek to uphold the foundational principle of freedom of navigation must come together to tackle the challenge posed by this non-state actor,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

The security coalition, Austin said, will operate “to ensure freedom of navigation for all countries and bolster regional security and prosperity.”

It now includes the United States, United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain, Austin said. Except for Bahrain, a low-key player, no other Arab nation is part of the anti-Houthi maritime force in the Red Sea.

The ongoing Gaza War has united the Sunni militants, led by Hamas, and their Iran-supported Shia counterparts like the Lebanon-based Hezbollah and Yemen-based Houthis—against Israel.

The Houthi rebels attacked two “Israeli-linked” vessels in the Red Sea in solidarity with Gaza, as more companies halt transit through the troubled but vital waterway. In a statement, the rebels said they had, using naval drones, carried out a “military operation against two ships linked to the Zionist entity,” and would continue to prevent all ships heading to Israeli ports from navigating in the Arab and Red Seas until more food and medicine is allowed into Gaza.

British oil giant BP became the latest to suspend transit through the Red Sea on Monday, while Taiwan shipping firm Evergreen said it was suspending its Israeli cargo shipments with immediate effect. Frontline, among the world’s largest tanker companies, also said it was rerouting ships and would “only allow new business” that could be routed via South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, which is far longer and uses more fuel.

The Red Sea attacks forced insurance companies to significantly increase premiums on ships, making it uneconomical for some to transit through the Suez Canal. Many leading shipping companies of the West have stopped using the Red Sea until further notice.

Monday’s attack took place as the Pentagon chief visited Israel after a stop in Bahrain, the home base of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

On Saturday last, a US destroyer shot down 14 drones in the Red Sea launched from rebel-controlled territory in Yemen. Britain also said one of its destroyers brought down a suspected attack drone in the area.

The Gaza War broke out when its rulers, the Hamas terror group, launched an unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, killing around 1,140 people and kidnapping some 250. Israel’s military response has killed more than 19,450 people, mostly women and children, Gaza’s health officials said.

 

 

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