Middle East descends further into chaos, endangering Israel — and US influence

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President Obama’s call back in 2009 for a “new beginning” between America and the Muslim world — a relationship defined over the prior decade by 9/11 and the Iraq war — has descended into a foreign policy sandstorm that has left Washington dizzied by ever-changing powerbrokers, and its closest ally in the region more isolated and threatened.

The deadly conflict between Hamas and Israel, which is intensifying and widening by the day, is just the latest symptom of the Middle East mess.

The “Arab Spring,” which the Obama administration roundly cheered, has resulted in only one full-fledged and stable democracy taking hold, in Tunisia. Syria remains gripped by bloody civil war, Egypt and Libya have struggled to establish stable governments, and Islamic extremists wreaking havoc in Iraq have declared their own “caliphate” in territory across a wide swath of land across both Syria and northern Iraq.

And now reported rocket strikes out of Lebanon into Israel are raising concerns of a renewed conflict with Hezbollah.

Former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said the environment now is “much worse” than it was during Israel’s war with Hezbollah in 2006, noting Syria is in chaos and nearby Jordan — a U.S. ally — is feeling the strain.

“You can really see why what’s happening now has the potential for much wider conflict,” Bolton said.

He added: “And another significant fact, the United States is almost absent here.”

With no end in sight to the rocket fire and airstrikes between Gaza and Israel’s interior, President Obama did get personally involved on Thursday, speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — backing Israel’s “right to defend itself” and offering to help broker a cease-fire. He urged both sides to de-escalate and protect the lives of civilians.

The administration’s message on Israel got murkier earlier this week when White House adviser Philip Gordon delivered an address in Tel Aviv that was highly critical of the key U.S. ally.

“Israel confronts an undeniable reality: It cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely,” he said Tuesday, according to The Times of Israel. He praised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a reliable partner, but questioned whether Israel was committed to peace.

Pressed on Gordon’s comments the next day, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki would not explicitly defend them.

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