IT was late Friday when Israeli forces expanded their ground offensive in Gaza. As troops moved in under cover of an intense aerial bombardment, the coastal strip was pitched into near total darkness save for the flashes of giant explosions that lit up the Gaza skyline.

With all communications in the enclave cut and Gaza’s civilians preoccupied with staying alive under the hail of bombs and missiles bearing down on them, few would likely have known or cared about what was unfolding thousands of miles away at the United Nations General ­Assembly in New York.

But it was there barely hours after the ­escalation had begun that the UN ­adopted a Jordanian resolution calling for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce” and demanding all parties comply with international ­humanitarian law. The resolution was passed by 120 to 14, with 45 countries ­abstaining, including the UK.

The National: Can Israel's bombing of Gaza possibly make a contribution to the resolution of the conflict?

The US, on the other hand, was among the members that voted against the ­resolution and John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council, was quick to emphasise that the US was not setting any “red lines” for ­Israel, even as Washington would express its concerns over the Israeli military’s “approach” to the conflict.

History will judge whether those ­countries like the UK who abstained chose to bury their head in the sand, and those like the US who voted against the resolution effectively endorsed what is now unfolding in Gaza and will most ­likely spread across the wider region.

There has long been a prevailing view that the Middle East has a way of ­forcing itself to the top of every US president’s agenda. These past weeks are a point in case. No sooner had US president Joe Biden visited Israel following the ­outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, than his ­administration found itself once again rapidly becoming immersed in the ­tensions that inhabit the wider region.

The signs were there almost from the moment Biden embarked on his ­Middle East tour after much of his planned ­schedule had to be cancelled, such was the rage in the occupied West Bank, ­Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt.

In each place, one after another Arab leader angry about Washington’s ­unconditional support for Israel refused to meet, no doubt in part over fears as to how such an encounter would go down with their respective domestic audiences.

Since then things have only become worse with the US stepping up its ­military presence exponentially in the region. ­After years of pulling forces out of the Middle East, the Pentagon, it seems, is now in a rush to put them back in.

Already two aircraft carrier strike groups have been dispatched to the ­Mediterranean. The USS Gerald R Ford (below) is its most advanced carrier, ­commissioned only six years ago. With more than 75 aircraft, it can maintain a high tempo of sorties.

The National: The USS Gerald R. Ford is one of the world’s largest aircraft carriers (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press/AP)

The other is the Nimitz-class USS Dwight D Eisenhower, which is heading to the Gulf and carries a similar range of air assets. Both carriers are escorted by up to five destroyers with Aegis ­air-defence radars and missile interceptors that could be used to protect Israel and the Gulf states.

According to America’s defence ­department, this flotilla is intended as “a strong signal of deterrence to any actors who might be thinking of entering the conflict” – an oblique reference to Iran and its regional proxy forces like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Such is the scale of America’s ­military build-up that 2000 marines will be ­deployed to bolster the 30,000 US ­military personnel already in bases in the region. As part of the US surge to provide air defence to American forces who have come under increasing attack of late, US ground-based air defence systems with Patriot and THAAD missile batteries are also being put in place. The latter have a long-range radar system that can peer deep into hostile territory.

In the past 10 days alone, the Pentagon has confirmed that US forces have come under fire at least 19 times in Iraq and Syria, which the Pentagon says has come from “Iranian proxy forces and ultimately from Iran”.

Last Thursday, the attacks included one on an airbase hosting US troops in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan ­region in Iraq. In addition, a US warship ­intercepted missiles in the Red Sea fired from Yemen last week.

In response, the US confirmed that it had launched its own strikes on two ­bases in eastern Syria it believed were used by Iranian groups, marking the first US offensive military response to a wave of drone and rocket attacks on American troops based in Iraq and Syria.

The strikes, according to a statement put out by US defence secretary Lloyd Austin, were authorised by President Biden himself and targeted Islamic ­Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups.

Though US officials said they didn’t know if Iranian personnel were at the ­targeted sites, the IRGC is a multi-service primary branch of the Iranian Armed Forces and direct engagement between them and US forces underlines the ­immense dangers of a wider scale face-off between Washington and ­Tehran which has myriad proxy forces in the Middle East.

The escalating situation, say regional watchers, is also a wake-up call to the Biden administration that has sought in recent times to devise a creative exit ­strategy, attempting to broker a new ­balance of power in the Middle East that would allow Washington to downsize its presence and attention.

“The shocking Hamas assault on Israel has precipitated a beginning and an end for the Middle East. What has begun, ­almost inexorably, is the next war – one that will be bloody, costly and ­agonisingly ­unpredictable in its course and outcome,” observed Suzanne Maloney, vice-­president of the Brookings Institution and director of its foreign ­policy programme.

“What has ended, for anyone who cares to admit it, is the illusion that the United States can extricate itself from a region that has dominated the American ­national security agenda for the past half-century,” Maloney concluded, writing ­recently in Foreign Affairs magazine.

The Biden administration’s response to the attacks by Hamas and the ensuing crisis can be seen from three perspectives, say experts at Brookings: the immediate response, the need to deal with the major challenges presented by the crisis, and the administration’s quest to fit its response into its larger Middle Eastern policy.

Washington’s immediate response speaks for itself, backing Israel almost unconditionally on its Gaza offensive, deploying US forces in support of ­Israel against Iranian proxies like ­Hezbollah and underscoring all that by voting against the Jordanian resolution at the UN. But on the third of those ­perspectives, whereby Washington must also tailor its response into its larger Middle East policy, Biden will have his work cut out.

For years now, US influence in the ­Middle East has hinged on maintaining close ties to diverse allies. Israel aside, these include Egypt, Jordan, ­Turkey, ­Saudi Arabia and the United Arab ­Emirates (UAE). Few now among these countries will be on the best of terms with Washington in the wake of Biden’s recent moves.

Mouin Rabbani is a Dutch-Palestinian Middle East analyst specialising in the Arab-Israeli conflict and Palestinian ­affairs. He is also co-editor of Jadaliyya, an independent online magazine founded in 2010 by the Arab Studies Institute, and a non-resident fellow at the Centre for ­Conflict and Humanitarian Studies.

Rabbani, like many other analysts, ­believes the US more than ever before is calling the regional shots on Israel’s ­behalf and that the actions that the US took behind the scenes in the ­immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack paved the way for the crisis the ­region is now in.

“To put it bluntly, the United States is an active and complicit partner in Gaza’s killing fields, and judging by ­official statements coming out of Washington, the Biden administration is proud, even boastful of its role,” observed Rabbani recently on the online portal DAWN ­(Democracy For The Arab World Now).

By way of underscoring this assertion, Rabbani cites recent remarks by US ­National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, who recently told journalists that “a ceasefire right now really only benefits Hamas”.

The National: US secretary of state Antony Blinken has visited Israel (Jacquelyn Martin, pool/AP)

Rabbani also believes – as do ­others – that there is growing evidence of ­Washington playing a direct role in ­Israeli decision-making. He points to the fact that during recent visits to Israel by both Biden and US secretary of state Antony J Blinken (above), they met with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet, which is unheard of in ­Israel’s history, according to The New York Times.

Some Middle East watchers believe that Biden and Blinken’s aim was to rein in Israel from any pre-emptive attack on Hezbollah and opening up a second front in Israel’s war with Hamas. But as this weekend’s escalation in Gaza has starkly shown, the fast-moving events of the war could change all that and America itself is already deploying militarily in a way that anticipates a widening of the conflict.

Writing in the online news website ­Middle East Eye in the wake of recent events, veteran regional watcher David Hearst recently posed the question as to whether what we could now be ­witnessing is a breakdown in the “US-based Middle East system, the foundation of which is blind support for Israel”.

Hearst highlights the resignation letter of Josh Paul, a senior official at the US State Department, who quit over his ­administration’s stance on the Gaza war, and Middle East Eye goes on to quote from Paul’s resignation letter.

In it, Paul calls the Hamas attack the “monstrosity of monstrosities” but ­continues: “This administration’s ­response – and much of Congress’s as well – is an impulsive reaction built on confirmation bias, political convenience, intellectual bankruptcy and bureaucratic inertia.”

Paul goes on: “Decades of the same approach have shown that security for peace leads to neither security nor peace, The fact is that blind support for one side is destructive in the long term to the ­interests of the people on both sides.”

Taken as is, Paul’s observations ­suggest that US policy is in disarray and after a decade of tapering down military ­presence in the Middle East, the US is back with a substantial display of military force.

Certainly with every day that passes in this crisis, Washington’s verbal warnings have become ever more strident.

‘IF Iran or its proxies attack US personnel anywhere, make no mistake: we will defend our people, we will defend our security, swiftly and decisively,” secretary of state Blinken told the UN on October 24. A day later, leaders from the militant groups Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad met in person in Beirut, pledging to “achieve a real victory for the resistance”.

According to analysis done by The Economist magazine, should deterrence against attacks on its forces fail, “the next rung on America’s ladder of escalation is defensive action, which is still relatively easy to justify to the American public”.

It cites the example of October 19when a US navy destroyer intercepted missiles fired from Yemen, apparently by Iran-backed Houthi rebels targeting Israel.

Ultimately, though, should it come down to offensive action, then this is obviously a much more dangerous and ­controversial move. Reluctant as the US might be to adopt such a posture, it cannot afford for the likes of Hezbollah and its patron Iran to think that this is simply Washington bluster. Already some Hezbollah affiliates are mocking the bolstered US ­military presence.

This weekend, as the war in Gaza ­escalates, the dangers of a widening ­conflict have never been greater. In years to come, the US, following its vote against a UN resolution calling for a ­humanitarian truce, might look back on this as one of a number of costly errors the Biden ­administration has made since the start of the Israel-Hamas war a few weeks ago.

“The Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades,” insisted Jake Sullivan, America’s national security adviser, on September 29 just eight days before Hamas’s attack on Israel.

Few could have imagined that in such a short passage of time, the world would be witnessing such a crisis that is ­unfolding right now in Gaza.

Even fewer would have envisaged that Washington, through some ­ill-considered decisions, would make a bad situation worse, leaving America once again ­immersed in the volatility of a region where it has fared so badly in the past.