True de-escalation requires a halt to U.S. weapons shipments to Israel
Protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza demonstrate in San Francisco, Feb. 14, 2024. | KQED screengrab via YouTube

“De-escalation” is probably the most repeated word in television news broadcasts and newspaper commentary columns over the past 48 hours. But is anyone doing any actual de-escalating?

Israel bombs an Iranian embassy, killing more than a dozen officials. Iran strikes back, causing minuscule damage at an Israeli base in the middle of the desert but causing no casualties. Then, Israel hits again, launching a drone attack on the city of Isfahan, home to Iran’s nuclear energy facilities.

All the while, genocide gobbles up the lives of more Palestinians every day and Netanyahu declares his government’s intention to officially colonize the land his military has stolen in northern Gaza.

The Israeli state has long been a supporting actor in the decades-long economic war that Washington has waged against Iran ever since 1979. Now, the Middle East teeters on the edge of an open war between the two countries, a war that is the direct product of Israel’s brutal campaign against Palestine.

It is also war which could easily spiral out of control into a world conflagration if the U.S. gets directly involved in carrying out military strikes—something, by the way, that Netanyahu and the fascists in his cabinet would dearly love.

When Iran sent its drones and missiles to Israel in retaliation for the embassy bombing, Biden cautioned his ally in Tel Aviv to show “restraint” and said the U.S. would not participate in another attack against Iran. Instead, the oft-“frustrated” American president urged “de-escalation.”

On April 18, Iranian General Ahmad Haghtalab, head of the Islamic Guard’s Nuclear Command, pledged that his country would respond in kind if Israel attacked nuclear energy sites and said Iran would “likely” start building a nuclear bomb to defend itself.

The general also declared that Iran has identified where Israel’s nuclear sites are and has “fingers on the trigger.” The whole world already knows that Israel has nuclear weapons, even if its leaders remain silent on the matter.

The Israeli leader was unbothered by the words of either Biden or Haghtalab, however, and pressed the launch button on a fresh offensive, hitting Isfahan and leaving organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency warning that “nuclear facilities should never be a target in military conflicts.”

So now, everyone is asking: Will Iran de-escalate? Will Israel de-escalate? Who will de-escalate?

The most effective move toward real de-escalation right now would be for the United States to immediately halt all weapons shipments to the Israeli military. The brutal war of annihilation currently being waged against the Palestinian people is at the heart of this explosive situation, and the U.S. has the ability to pull the plug on it today if it wants to.

But is the U.S. government making any such moves? No, quite the contrary.

Despite telling Netanyahu they won’t join in any attack on Iran, President Joe Biden and leaders of both parties in Congress are moving as fast as they can to supply even more lethal armaments to Israel. A vote in the House could come any day on $26 billion in fresh shipments of bombs and other murderous military hardware to the IDF.

The various factions of the Republican Party—from the Christian Evangelical MAGA base to neocons like John Bolton—are dissatisfied, however. Enabling Israel’s ongoing genocide and using the country as a U.S. proxy isn’t enough for them; they want the U.S. itself to attack Iran directly.

Failing that, though, they’re happy to use Biden’s declared “ironclad” support for Israel as a means of splitting the anti-Trump coalition and sink the president’s chances at re-election. Progressive voters won’t vote for Trump and everyone knows it, but Republicans hope enough of them will be so demoralized by Biden and the Democrats’ stance on Gaza that they will stay home.

Without a true de-escalation in the Middle East, then, everything is on the line: a potential win for Trump and his fascistic forces in November, more death and destruction for Palestine, and a regional conflict potentially involving nuclear weapons that could spin out of control and become a world war.

Over the last several months, the U.S. peace movement and “uncommitted” voters succeeded in changing the conversation on Gaza in our country, forcing the president to accept the need for ceasefire. The escalating threat of a wider war threatens to reverse that progress, however, so there can be no let-up in the pressure.

The Biden administration must reverse course. Readers of this paper should contact the White House and Congress to demand an end to further weapons shipments. They should be in the streets every time there is a march or demonstration against the war in Gaza. They should keep fighting to pass resolutions in their unions and city councils.

Don’t stop talking about Palestine and peace.

As with all op-ed and analytical articles published by People’s World, the views expressed are those of the author.

Read additional People’s World analysis:

> U.S. imperialism’s ‘ironclad’ support for Israel increases fascist danger at home

> Powerful U.S. peace movement has grown in response to Gaza genocide

> Has the third world war already started?


C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.