Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 35 Issue 7
Author: Samuele Vasapollo
This report provides a high-level overview of the Israeli Palestinian conflict from the perspectives of important local and global stakeholders. It also shows that the challenge to hegemony in Eurasia is essential to making sense of the war.
Israeli Palestinian Conflict: Context
On October 7th, 2023, the dominating non-state actor of the Gaza Strip “Hamas” launched operation Al-Aqsa Flood Offensive against surrounding Israeli targets. The first phase of said operation saw Hamas forces capturing over twenty Israeli settlements, inflicting a tremendous blow to Israeli intelligence and security.
Israel’s secret services branches failed to anticipate or even obtain any bit of information about Hamas’ offensive. It didn’t take much time to Israel to promise the international community harsh retaliation against all terrorist organizations populating the Gaza Strip, Hamas included.
The current situation carries a high risk of setting off a wide-scale regional conflict between Israel and its rivals, most notably Iran and its proxies in the Shiite crescent.
As the battle between Hamas and Israel resumes, geopolitical forces involving the Middle East’s biggest actors and global powers have escalated. In conclusion, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s political alignments and diplomatic activities by the US, Russia, and China suggest that it might have far-reaching implications on current international relations.
The regional geopolitical scenario
Here is a quick recap of the stance of the key parties in the region vis-à-vis the current conflict.
- Israel: Survival is critical. To ensure it, Israel must safeguard its southern border, specifically the Gaza Strip. The elimination of Hamas in this area would guarantee more security to Israel; furthermore, a successful operation against Hamas would display Israel’s military force vis-à-vis neighboring rivals, among which Lebanon, Syria, and Iran. The Jewish state’s humiliation on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War compels Tel Aviv to retaliate brutally. Some observers think that owing to the current process of normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Arab world, the Israeli response will have to be milder.
However, the anti-Iranian ethos of Israel’s reconciliation initiatives with its Arab neighbors means that Israel will have to demonstrate to the latter that it can cope with Tehran’s challenges to the regional order. Israel will have to act in a way that is not incompatible with retaining strategic connections with the newly forged Israeli-Arab entente. Tel Aviv must only avert a massacre of Palestinian people. No Arab/Islamic country would be ready to publicly strengthen relations with Israel if this occurred as a side effect of Hamas’ coventrization.
- The Palestinian Authority (PA): The Palestinian Authority, often known as the State of Palestine, is a governmental entity under the administration of Fatah. It holds limited civil authority over the West Bank, as stipulated by the Oslo agreements of 1993-1995.
The Gaza Strip was under the governance of the Palestinian Authority until the Palestinian elections of 2006 and the ensuing struggle between the Fatah and Hamas factions, resulting in the loss of power by the former and the establishment of de facto authority by the latter. Despite this, the Palestinian Authority maintains its claim over the Gaza Strip.
The position of the Palestinian Authority with regards to the ongoing war is characterised by a nuanced approach. The Palestinian Authority (PA) holds a negative stance towards Hamas, as it views the group as a hindrance to the successful establishment of a comprehensive Palestinian state.
Conversely, the PA is encountering increasing dissatisfaction among Palestinians due to its inability to solve the issue of Israeli occupation. Furthermore, there is a rising endorsement of armed resistance against Israel among Palestinians residing in the West Bank.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for Ramallah to completely oppose Hamas in this battle, especially in light of the civilian losses inflicted by the current Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip. With both the affirmation of Hamas and its full annihilation by Israel having potential consequences for the already precarious position of the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority find itself in a “loose loose” situation.
- Hamas: Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood faction in Gaza, had minimal ties with Iran in the first Intifada because it wanted to operate freely. In the early 1990s, Iran supported Hamas operatives expelled to Lebanon by Israel, forming enduring ties. Iran then backed Hamas financially and militarily.
After Hamas gained control of Gaza in June 2007, Iran upped its assistance package in hopes that it would lead the violent battle against Israel and strengthen its influence in the Palestinian arena. Iranian weapons have been sent to Gaza to improve Hamas’ arsenal. Among other things, Hamas seeks to weaken the Palestinian Authority by expanding the war and consolidating its grip over the West Bank, which is now controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
- The Islamic Republic of Iran: Iran has long maintained tight ties with Hamas. Financial aid and political support at public events helped put the Palestinian problem on the global forefront. Iran wants regional hegemony and supports every regional party hostile to Israel, which informs its Gaza Strip strategy.
Iran sees Israel as a foreign implant in the Middle East and the Zionist cause as the US’s imperialistic vanguard that advances its objectives. The Iranian regime’s animosity for Israel gives it power and prestige in the Arab world, which supports its desire to rule the Muslim world.
Yet, Iran does not want a Middle East hegemonic war. Iran benefits from Hamas pressuring Israel in front of the world. Tehran believes the rising death toll of Palestinian civilians will deter prominent Arab nations from normalizing relations with Israel.
Long-term, Iran wants to oust the US and its influence, including Israel, from the Middle East. Iran must first demolish the “counter-revolutionary bloc”—the American-Israeli-Arab alliance created by the 2020 Abraham Accords, which repaired ties between Israel and local players, to contain Iran. Among other things, Iran uses the Palestinian problem to distance Israel from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s dominating power, which China has mediated to reestablish ties.
- The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia dominates the Arabian Peninsula and Sunni Islam due to its geography, religious legitimacy, and energy resources. Saudi covert diplomacy helped Israel restore ties with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. The US-led restoration of diplomatic ties aims to restrict Iran’s ascent and create a favorable geopolitical order in the Middle East.
The occurrence of the Hamas assault coincided with Saudi Arabia’s ongoing efforts to establish diplomatic normalization with Israel. At now, the feasibility of such an agreement is temporarily hindered, while it continues to be a key objective for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh’s stance has become more complex due to the recent establishment of normalised ties with Iran, a longstanding adversary of Israel. Saudi Arabia is confronted with the task of safeguarding its strategic interests in relation to Israel, notwithstanding the adverse impact of the conflict with Hamas on the view of Israel within the Islamic world.
Simultaneously, Riyadh is confronted with the task of managing its ties with Iran and, most importantly, with China, to mitigate its diplomatic reliance on the United States. A scenario in which Saudi Arabia and Iran maintain peaceful relations would result in a reduced number of active conflicts for Saudi Arabia to manage, so diminishing its need on security assurances from the United States.
- The United Arab Emirates: The UAE has damaged its credibility by repairing ties with Israel before the rest of the Islamic world.
Softly denouncing Israel for the innocent deaths it has caused in its bombardment of Gaza, the United Arab Emirates shares Saudi Arabia’s hope that the war would stop soon before anti-Israel sentiment in Dar Al Islam reaches a boiling point.
Abu Dhabi shares Riyadh’s view that Hamas is a terrorist organization, but harsh criticism of the movement might damage the UAE’s public image among Arab Muslims. The Iranian rhetoric benefits from this. Policy leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) exhibit significant apprehension over Iran’s potential direct involvement in the ongoing conflict, as well as the potential for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to suffer as collateral damage.
- Qatar: It is well knowledge that Qatar is the primary financial backer of both the Muslim Brotherhood and its most prominent offshoot, Hamas. In addition, Qatar has for a long time hosted a Hamas delegation, which made it possible for the organization to establish an office in Doha. Qatar has also played home to other Hamas leaders who are now under international sanctions.
As the fighting between Israel and Hamas gets worse, Doha is in a tough spot. As a long-time supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar has a lot of power over Hamas, the movement’s Palestinian branch. In the short term, that seems like a massive chance. Qatar is a key player in the current political game because of its close ties to the Islamist group in Gaza.
But for the same reason, Doha is about to face the possibility of being criticized for its history of backing extreme Islamist groups, especially Hamas. Qatar will serve as a focal point for both the pro-Hamas and anti-Hamas factions as the situation continues to develop. States that fall inside the intermediate range have a heightened level of autonomy.
- Turkey: The conflict emerged at a time when Turkey was actively pursuing the normalization of ties with many regional players, notably Israel. There are several dynamics at play.
First, Turkey wants to assume the position of mediator in the Israeli-Hamas conflict. Second, drawing lessons from the Russia-Ukraine conflict and its significant involvement in grain corridor diplomacy, Ankara aspires to capitalise on the current situation to cultivate a perception of Turkey as a prominent global player actively engaged in the resolution of international issues. Third, Turkey has a strong incentive to maintain the area stable, perhaps under its control, to safeguard the energy flows from the eastern Mediterranean from which it benefits. If the conflict gets bigger, involving countries and rekindling dormant but strong rivalries in the area, Turkey will have to get involved more actively and, perhaps, militarily.
- Egypt: The occurrence of unrest in Gaza might potentially yield some advantageous outcomes for the administration of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. In some respects, the government in question would express satisfaction if Israel were to eradicate Hamas, an organization that sprang from the Muslim Brotherhood, which is seen as a significant adversary by Sisi. However, by endorsing the eradication of Hamas by Israel, President Sisi risks facing criticism inside his own country.
The continuous Israeli shelling of Gaza has elicited significant popular indignation among the Egyptian population. Historically, government-endorsed demonstrations in support of the Palestinian cause have functioned as occasions for individuals to voice their suppressed opposition against the Egyptian government, and there is potential for this pattern to recur in the future.
However, the absence of accountability may potentially destabilize Sisi’s governance, as discontented Egyptians become further disillusioned with a regime that not only impoverishes its citizens but also neglects to alleviate the dire circumstances faced by their fellow Palestinians. Egypt is a candidate to be one of the most relevant actors for diplomatic mediation of the conflict.
Global geopolitical scenario
Following is a quick analysis of the three main world powers’ ambitions and positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- United States of America: The United States is now involved in the simultaneous containment of both Russia and China inside the Eurasian region. In the first scenario, the objective is to prevent the annexation of Ukraine by Moscow. In the subsequent scenario, the aim is to curb China’s ascent as the dominant force in the Pacific region, therefore challenging global hegemony.
Due to this rationale, subsequent to the first Obama administration, the United States has pursued a strategy of withdrawal from the Middle Eastern area. In short: optimisation of existing resources and their allocation across strategically significant areas to sustain global hegemony.
The establishment of a security framework in the Middle East that includes Israel and key Arab actors can be seen as a strategic response by the United States to entrust the safeguarding of regional stability to other parties. This approach is driven by the recognition of the imperative to allocate American resources primarily to the Pacific theater, which is considered more significant in the pursuit of global dominance.
From the point of view of international law, the Abraham Accords set up a pro-American front that stands in for the US in the Middle East. The initiation of the final chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the offensive instigated by Hamas on October 7th, 2023, poses a potential threat to the fundamental principles of the “Abraham front”.
This situation may potentially facilitate the growth of the influence of entities antagonistic to the United States, which have, through diverse means, contributed to the progression of recent occurrences. Regarding the current war, the United States holds the belief that it is imperative to prevent the escalation of the conflict due to two distinct rationales.
Primarily, the imposition of such a scenario would need the United States’ intervention to maintain its dominant position in the Middle East and the Gulf region. Consequently, a substantial allocation of supplementary resources would be required, thus impeding the allocation of these resources towards the Russian and Chinese theaters.
Furthermore, the escalation of a conflict would further deteriorate the relations between Israel and the Arab world, consequently affecting the relations between the United States and the Arab world. This situation would potentially benefit Iran, China, and Russia, as they are positioning themselves as protectors of the local populations against perceived Western interference in the region.
- Russian Federation: The onset of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provides Russia with some advantages, particularly due to the development of fronts that need the United States’ attention and defense. Consequently, this situation diminishes the resources available to Washington and hampers its capacity to financially support Kiev during the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Furthermore, the United States’ endorsement of Israel undermines its standing among the “Global South,” with a particular emphasis on the MENA region, where the majority of the population is in favor of Palestine and its internationally recognised right to complete self-determination.
Lastly, the revival of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict brings Moscow back into the picture after a long break since the fall of the Soviet Union. Moscow can use its long history of fighting against the West and colonialism to get some of the most important players in the region to support it. Russia wants to be the arbiter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to lessen the influence of American power across the Middle Eastern chessboard. This comes after Russia increased its influence in Syria following its intervention in the Syrian civil war.
- People’s Republic of China: China’s long-term plan is to displace the United States as the region’s benign hegemon and gain dominance over the Arab Persian Gulf. Similar to Moscow, Beijing hopes to profit from the anti-American and anti-Western hostility caused by Washington’s failed foreign policy in the area, especially as it relates to the Palestinian question.
Although China’s support for Palestine stems from purely pragmatic motives, it has been an established feature of Beijing’s Cold War–era foreign policy. China’s goal is to remove American dominance from Eurasia by forming a united anti-American front that includes Russia, Iran, the Gulf Monarchies, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, etc.
Beijing hopes to carve out the position of arbitrator and mediator in the crisis by capitalising on the anti-American sentiments. In this particular time and place, a worsening of ties between Israel and Palestine might imply the chance to firmly divide the pro-American front in the area and replace it with a front that is currently under building and is being led by China and Russia.
The Challenge for Hegemony in Eurasia
The most recent episode of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict contains a simplified version of the most significant worldwide political processes that have occurred during the first quarter of the twenty-first century. The Middle East continues to demonstrate its significance as a barometer for gauging the distribution of power on a global scale. The following are some of the long-term geopolitical trajectories that are likely to accelerate as a collateral effect of the war that was caused by the operation that Hamas began on October 7th, 2023:
- The gradual weakening of American unipolarity, as shown by the steadily increasing participation of players hostile to the United States in the management of local crises and in the formation of solutions to the most significant difficulties facing the MENA region;
- The manifestation of a multipolar balance of power, which sees the Islamic Republic of Iran jostling ever more forcefully for the role of leading regional power, to the detriment of the “Abraham Accords bloc”, which is progressively being absorbed by Tehran and its international sponsors, most notably China and Russia;
- China’s ascent to the position of co-manager of the Middle Eastern region, an area in which it has managed to become, if in a limited capacity, an arbitrator and mediator in the context of the most significant crises in the region. Even if it is impossible to say that the battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional hegemony has come to an end, their struggle for regional hegemony has been partially absorbed by the normalisation of ties between the two powers owing to the mediation supplied by China.
Above all else, there is Saudi Arabia’s admission of the “fait accompli,” or the fact that it is impossible to continue using force to curb Iranian influence in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. The latter state’s President Bashar al-Assad was readmitted to the Arab League, confirming the Russian, Chinese, and Iranian diplomatic success over the Saudi and American endeavor to bring about a regime change in Syria;
- The restructuring of the Eurasian space as a result of the incorporation of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, and Egypt into the BRICS, which reveals the failure of the United States to prevent the diversification of the strategic ties of the aforementioned regional powers.
As a result, although Israel and Hamas are the protagonists in the newly erupted war, other far bigger political entities lurk behind these two players. The whole history of recent international relations is therefore concentrated in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its diplomatic handling by the aforementioned local and global parties.
The unfolding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the positioning of state and non-state subjects that comprise the structure of the current international political system must therefore be understood in light of the broader geopolitical dynamics involving the challengers for global dominance. The establishment of the Russian-Chinese-Iranian cooperation in Eurasia may be seen as anti-hegemonic coalition, defined by the phenomenon known as “geopolitical balancing”, from a theoretical point. Particularly affected by the pressure and containment exerted on them by the United States in recent years, Russia and Iran have welded their foreign policy plans to those of China.
China’s increased infrastructure investments in the Middle East since the start of Russian military operations in Syria are the result of a consistent Sino-Russian collaboration in which Beijing provides financial resources for the development of regions while Moscow provides its services to protect them. Iran has also been working more closely with China, with whom it signed a multi-decade strategic collaboration agreement in which Iran agreed to supply China with oil it had previously sold to European countries in exchange for massive investments in Iranian infrastructure, including military ones. Also, Iran shares China’s desire to build railways all over the Middle East so that it can link directly to the eastern Mediterranean, end its trade isolation, and make its western edge more stable.
As the influential US national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski warned, the most dangerous scenario would be a grand coalition of China, Russia, and perhaps Iran, a ‘anti-hegemonic’ coalition united not by ideology but by common suffering.
Concluding, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict represents a strategic contest between multipolarism and unipolarity and serves as a barometer for wider geopolitical alliances that have emerged on a Eurasian level.
Disclaimer. The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpecialEurasia.
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