May 29, 2024

Arab States and the Israel-Hamas Conflict: A Regional Perspective

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By: Harshit Tokas, Research Analyst, GSDN

Israel-Palestine War: source Internet

The Israel-Hamas conflict has been a long-standing and deeply entrenched issue in the Middle East, with profound regional and global implications. The recent escalation of violence, including the surprise attack by Hamas on southern Israel on October 07, 2023 and subsequent retaliation on Northern Gaza, has once again brought the conflict to the forefront of international attention. This article explores the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, its regional implications, and the dynamics involving major global players.

The roots of the Israel-Hamas conflict can be traced back to the late 1980s when Hamas emerged as a Palestinian resistance movement. The group, founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was born out of frustration and opposition to the Oslo Accords, which sought to establish a framework for peace between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Hamas is deeply entrenched in the Gaza Strip and is known for its armed wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

The conflict revolves around key issues such as the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, the status of Jerusalem, the rights of Palestinian refugees and the establishment of a Palestinian state. These unresolved issues have led to a series of violent confrontations over the years.

The surprise attack by the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades into southern Israel on October 07, 2023 shocked the region. Thousands of Israeli and Palestinian civilians have lost their lives in the subsequent violence. This attack, occurring on Israeli soil, was unprecedented and deeply traumatic for the Israeli population, unaccustomed to such large-scale violence.

In retaliation, Israel launched a brutal bombing campaign on Gaza, resulting in significant casualties and widespread destruction. This aggressive response prompted discussions about the lack of a clear endgame for Gaza and the seemingly punitive nature of the Israeli campaign against the 2.3 million Palestinians living in the besieged enclave, approximately half of whom are children.

As the conflict intensifies, there is increasing speculation about the possibility of an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza. Such an operation in this densely populated urban territory would likely result in a high number of casualties on both sides and raise critical questions about the future of Hamas, the Gaza population, and regional dynamics.

The prospect of an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza raises significant concerns among Arab states in the region. Responses to such a campaign and its aftermath would likely reveal divisions among Arab governments.

Arab states that normalized diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020, namely Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have openly criticized Hamas for the October attack. In contrast, other Arab states have either firmly opposed normalization with Israel or refrained from joining the Abraham Accords. These include Algeria, Kuwait, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia.

The response of these Arab states to an Israeli invasion of Gaza is expected to be directly proportional to their relationships with Israel. The UAE, with its close ties to Israel and a mild approach to criticism, is likely to take a more measured stance than other Arab states that may be critical of such an invasion.

Regime legitimacy is a crucial variable in determining Arab states’ responses to an Israeli invasion of Gaza. Arab governments that are concerned about their own legitimacy and face internal pressures may adopt more vocal and critical stances in response to the conflict.

Public opinion on the Palestinian cause is an essential issue for Arab citizens. The plight of the Palestinians holds great significance in the collective identity of many Arabs and Muslims. While the public emphasizes the importance of the Palestinian issue, ruling elites often have different priorities.

Any escalation of suffering, human rights violations, and war crimes in Gaza could lead to popular mobilization in solidarity with the Palestinians. This mobilization could be directed not only against Israel but also against ruling elites with formal or informal relationships with Tel Aviv and close partnerships with Washington.

Anger among citizens of Arab countries could shift from being directed against Israel and the United States to their own governments. Arab states, particularly authoritarian ones, have often used the Palestinian cause as an outlet for public sentiment against Israel, instead of addressing domestic issues. The region has seen widespread protests, particularly post-Arab Spring, against the socio-economic and socio-political conditions in many Arab countries.

These protests indicate that Arab populations are increasingly frustrated with their governments and seek political and economic reforms. Public demonstrations, ostensibly in support of Palestine, can become an outlet for grievances against authoritarian regimes.

The looming Israeli ground invasion of Gaza raises questions about how countries in the Abraham Accords might respond. While it is unlikely that any Arab state in the normalization camp would abrogate their normalization deal with Israel, it is possible that they may take symbolic steps to express their concerns.

Countries like the UAE and Bahrain, which have benefited from the Abraham Accords, might choose to withdraw ambassadors or cool their relations with Tel Aviv. This middle-ground approach would allow them to maintain the benefits of their normalization agreements while aligning with domestic and regional public opinion.

The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict takes place in the context of a changing global landscape. China has deployed warships to the Middle East, and Russia has strongly condemned the U.S. for its role in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Arab states, including Egypt, Jordan, and GCC members, are closely watching China and Russia’s involvement in the crisis. These great powers are major players in the region, and their actions could significantly impact the balance of power and influence in the Middle East.

The world is becoming increasingly multipolar, with multiple centers of power and influence. China and Russia’s coordinated response to the Israel-Hamas conflict is a significant development, as it represents a departure from previous dynamics.

The involvement of China and Russia could reshape the Gaza final solution, the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the regional order. Their presence may influence the actions and reactions of regional states, including those in the Arab world.

The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict is a deeply entrenched and complex issue with far-reaching regional and global implications. The recent escalation in violence and the potential for an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza have sparked concerns among Arab states and raised questions about the Arab-Israeli normalization agreements.

Furthermore, the role of great powers like China and Russia in the region adds another layer of complexity to the conflict. The world’s changing dynamics and the multipolar nature of international relations underscore the need for a comprehensive and coordinated approach to address the Israel-Hamas conflict and its ramifications for the Middle East and beyond.

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