Palestine and Iran: American Hegemony as Self-Interest

In the early hours of April 19, Israel carried out its anticipated response to Iran’s April 13 aerial attack on Israel.

Though the details are not known at the time of this writing, Israel appears, like Iran, to have done what it felt it needed to do to send the message it needed to send while showing restraint and the intent to avoid escalation.

Israel seems to have planned to avoid escalation by, like Iran, targeting a military site and not a civilian site. Though the targeted city of Isfahan has small nuclear research facilities and is about 75 miles from the Natanz nuclear site, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirms that there has been “no damage” to nuclear sites in Iran. Israel also seems to have employed only drones in Iran, saving its missiles for strikes on an air defense unit in Syria. Drones were not launched from Israeli soil, but, it seems, from inside Iran. Iran says that no aircraft or missiles were detected entering Iranian airspace. Israel’s response to the Iranian attack was much more limited than had been feared. There seems to have been little damage, and it seems the explosions may not have been drone strikes but drones being shot down by Iranian air defense.

Israel might also have planned to manage the Iranian response by launching a drone attack on a military facility in the same city that it launched a similar drone attack without Iranian response in January 2023.

A senior Iranian official has told Reuters there are no plans to respond against Israel this time.

The Israeli strikes were a response to the Iranian strikes that were themselves a response to the earlier Israeli strike on an Iranian embassy compound in Damascus. Though the Israeli and Iranian responses to each others’ attacks seem similar in their targets and their intent, the American response to the two retaliatory strikes was not.

Immediately following the Iranian attack on Israel, U.S. President Joe Biden said that he “condemn[s] these attacks in the strongest possible terms.” He moved immediately to “coordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken similarly said that “The United States condemns Iran’s attack on Israel in the strongest terms.” The U.S. responded by punishing Iran with new sanctions.

But the U.S. “neither endorsed nor condemned” the Israeli counterstrike. The U.S. had been notified by Israel of the attack shortly before it happened: “We were not surprised,” an American official said. The New York Times reports that Biden administration officials were “refusing to comment at all about” the Israeli attack “to avoid getting the United States pulled into the conflict.” After a G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Italy, Blinken refused to comment on the Israeli attack, saying only that the U.S. was not involved in it.

A hegemon enforcing international law would apply similar judgements on Israel’s and Iran’s similar responses. But a nation asserting, not only hegemony, but primacy applies, instead, the rules-based order whose unwritten laws are applied differently depending on American interests.

A nation that acts as a hegemon leads a community that it is a part of with the consent of that community because of shared goals and values. A nation that aims beyond hegemony for primacy thwarts the ambitions of the international community in pursuit of its own goals.

The dissimilar American response to similar Israeli and Iranian actions reveals the American pursuit, not of hegemony, but of primacy. Rules are applied, not universally in accordance with international law, but particularly in accordance with American interests.

American primacy was revealed a second time only hours earlier.

Earlier that day, the U.S. stood in the way of the will of the international community by vetoing a Security Council resolution that would have recommended that the General Assembly admit Palestine to the United Nations as a member state. The U.S. had to veto the resolution because, despite pressuring the other members of the Security Council to vote no so they wouldn’t have to veto it, the Security Council voted unanimously in favour of the resolution. Twelve countries voted yes with the U.K. and Switzerland abstaining.

Had the recommendation gone to the General Assembly, where two-thirds of the 193 member states would have to vote in favor, it likely would have passed. 138 countries, representing 71% of the General Assembly, already recognize the State of Palestine. Spain, Ireland, Norway, Malta and Slovenia are preparing to.

But despite its obligation as permanent member of the Security Council “to seek unanimity and exercise restraint in the use of the veto” and despite its obligation as a hegemon to lead a community with shared goals, the United States, once again, thwarted the will of the international community and acted in consideration of its own goals.

Within twenty-four hours, the U.S. twice showed – first with Palestine and then in Iran – that it neither cooperatively leads an international community nor applies international law universally as a hegemon would, but that it uses its power and position to lead in its own self-interest as a nation with primacy would.

Ted Snider is a regular columnist on U.S. foreign policy and history at and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets. To support his work or for media or virtual presentation requests, contact him at