New year, ‘new Middle East’?

The US and Israel are yet again attempting to set up a new order in the Middle East, this time through genocide.

A Palestinian man walks by the remains of destroyed buildings following the Israeli bombardment on the main road of Gaza City
A Palestinian man walks by the remains of buildings destroyed by Israeli bombardment on the main road of Gaza City on January 2, 2024. [AP/Mohammed Hajjar]

In July 2006, in the middle of Israel’s war on Lebanon that ultimately killed approximately 1,200 people – the overwhelming majority of them civilians – then-United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice nobly cast the onslaught as the “birth pangs of a new Middle East”.

While the metaphor was no doubt appropriately Orientalist, it did raise some questions since the objective of the birthing process is not usually to kill the baby. What role Rice and her boss, then-US president George W Bush, were meant to play in the metaphorical arrangement was also debatable, but “bloodthirsty obstetricians” was one potential option. This was particularly so, given the US decision to rush-ship bombs to the Israeli military to assist in the forging of the “new Middle East”.

Secretary Rice invoked the “birth pangs” analogy in support of the US argument that a ceasefire should be thwarted at all costs to prevent a return to the “status quo ante” in Lebanon. Insofar as the “status quo ante” signified a country where apartment buildings and villages had not been converted into bomb craters and rubble, the delivery was a rousing success.

And yet the soaring public support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and the wider region during the 2006 Israeli war was not exactly the newborn Middle East that the US and Israel had envisioned popping out of the womb of mass slaughter. But, hey, the greater the enemy, the greater the opportunities for homicidal obstetrics in the future.

Summer 2006, of course, belonged to a previous era of Israeli slaughter-fests, when killing 1,200 people in 34 days was still considered extraordinarily shocking. Also belonging to this era was, for example, Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, during which Israel killed some 1,400 people over 22 days in December 2008 and January 2009. In Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, the Israeli military killed 2,251 people in 50 days.

We have now apparently transitioned into an age of obscenely intensified birth pangs; Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip murdered more than 20,000 Palestinians in the first two and a half months alone, and destruction in the besieged enclave is of a scale the human mind can barely process.

Like in Lebanon in 2006, the US has ramped up its support for the aggressors, while repeatedly agitating against a ceasefire or a halt to the savagery. From an aesthetic perspective, at least, the “status quo ante” is long gone in Gaza, the territory now resembling the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. As it currently stands, the newest “new Middle East” is defined by Zionist genocide – the problem for Israel being that, no matter how much you bomb, you can’t really annihilate a people that refuses to cease to exist.

In mid-December, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken advocated once again for a continuation of the war, arguing: “How can it be that there are no demands made of the aggressor and only demands made of the victim?” Anyone with a minimal grasp of logic may be surprised to learn that by “victim” he meant the state responsible for killing more than 20,000 Palestinians in Gaza in two and a half months.

Anyway, inversions of reality are par for the course in the US political and media establishment.

So, too, is Orientalist discourse. Since the onset of this latest bout of Israeli-induced carnage, there has been no shortage of paternalistic, infantilising lectures emanating from said establishment, which is bent on condemning Hamas – and by extension Palestinians in general – as uncivilised troublemakers who brought this whole apocalypse on themselves.

To be sure, the United States’s Orientalist disdain for a region on the receiving end of one Western “mission civilisatrice” after another is an integral component sustaining the whole imperial mission. After all, there’s no better reason than unrelenting backwardness to bomb folks into something, um, new – a place where the US and Israel are entirely and unquestioningly calling the shots.

The case of Iraq, another Middle Eastern locale that has for decades been on the receiving end of calculatedly patronising US rhetoric as well as explosives, confirms that a “new” Middle East is hardly a better Middle East, at least in terms of human wellbeing and so forth.

Writing for Time magazine at the time of Condoleezza Rice’s “birth pangs” diagnosis in 2006, journalist Tony Karon remarked that Iraq was “Exhibit A of the Bush Administration’s ‘New Middle East,’ and it’s a bloody mess that is growing worse by the day.”

It remains to be seen what can possibly be “born” from the present genocide in Gaza – another “bloody mess” that is naturally far messier for the babies, children, and larger people who actually have to live it and not for their assassins in Tel Aviv and Washington, DC.

Whatever happens in the new year, a US-Israeli-birthed baby is by no means viable in the Middle East – and genocide should be aborted at once.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.