On October 7, 2023, a critical turning point in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was marked by an assault led by the Al-Qassam Brigade, the military arm of Hamas. In response to this act, Israel declared a state of 'war' on Hamas, commencing a campaign characterized by indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force against the Palestinian civilian population. The result has been a devastating human toll, with over 10,000 lives lost and more than 1.4 million Palestinians displaced. This surge in violence has engendered a profound reassessment of international legal norms, the historical context of colonization, and the consequences of suppressing non-violent resistance through military means. Recent days have witnessed mass protests and appeals from world leaders, urging the safeguarding of civilian lives and an immediate cease-fire. Gaza, in particular, is facing an escalating humanitarian crisis, marked by severe shortages of water, electricity, fuel, food, and crucial medical supplies, posing life-threatening conditions.
The repercussions of this unfolding crisis are both regional and global. Egypt, due to its proximity to the conflict, is faced with the potential of a mass influx of refugees from Gaza. The strained situation along the Egypt-Gaza border may compel Egypt to strengthen its military presence in the region, given its historical struggles with extremist activities near the Gaza-Israel border. Moreover, domestic political considerations, notably the impending presidential elections, are likely to influence Egypt's role in the conflict. The pressure on Egypt to open its borders to Gaza refugees adds complexity to the regional dynamics. Likewise, in Jordan, there is growing concern that Israel's actions in Gaza may be part of a broader plan to force West Bank Palestinians into the country. While this scenario may not be immediate, it deeply worries many in Jordan due to the potential destabilizing effect and the risk of eroding the peace treaty with Israel. Jordan has already recalled its ambassador to Israel in protest of the Gaza assault. Mass displacement into Jordan would not only have severe economic ramifications but also transform Jordan into a de facto Palestinian state, potentially leading to political instability.
Similarly, the unfolding crisis in Israel and Gaza poses a serious risk of spillover into Lebanon, given the enduring enmity between Israel and the influential Hezbollah. Lebanon is particularly vulnerable to being drawn into a full-scale conflict, as evidenced by the frequent exchanges of fire in recent weeks. It is worth noting that all major political parties in Lebanon have publicly expressed their desire to avoid war. Given Hezbollah's status as both a political and military actor, it is expected to act rationally, taking into account the interests of its constituents. The recent speech by Hezbollah on November 3 indicated that should Israel instigate war in Lebanon, Hezbollah will respond without hesitation. As for Turkey, the timing of the escalation in the Israel-Palestine conflict could not be less opportune. Turkey has issued calls for restraint on both sides and has expressed readiness to mediate in the interest of de-escalation and working toward a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. This could potentially involve external actors acting as guarantors. Additionally, the conflict has cast a shadow over the prospects of improved Turkish-Israeli relations, which had been fully restored just a year ago following a tumultuous decade. It is also important to note that Turkey and Israel had been considering a gas pipeline project from Israel to Europe through Turkish territory. However, the fate of this project is now increasingly uncertain due to the ongoing conflict. Israel's recall of its diplomats from Turkey on October 28, in response to critical statements by Turkish officials about Israel's conduct in the war, underscores the strain in the bilateral relationship.
The future of the so-called Abraham Accords, a Trump-era initiative, particularly regarding Saudi Arabia's potential involvement, is now shrouded in uncertainty. The once-touted Israel-KSA deal is facing increasing doubt as the ongoing Gaza conflict undermines regional security. Saudi Arabia finds itself in a complex position, needing to carefully navigate the decision-making process. It must balance its leadership role in the Islamic world with the domestic and international pressures surrounding normalization with Israel. Consequently, Riyadh's relatively muted stance on the conflict reflects the intricate choices it must make. In the long term, it's unlikely that Riyadh will completely abandon the idea of normalizing ties with Jerusalem. However, the attack has undoubtedly caused a temporary pause in the potential normalization agreement. Concurrently, GCC states such as the UAE and Bahrain are treading cautiously, striving to reap the benefits of the Accords while addressing anti-Israel sentiments. On the other hand, other Arab nations that are not part of the Accords align with the broader Arab and Muslim support for the Palestinian cause. They are also perhaps relieved that they did not embrace the deal earlier. Thus, the potential expansion of the Accords may encounter resistance from prospective new members unwilling to normalize relations with Israel without significant concessions to the Palestinians in the near future. As the conflict unfolds, images of Israeli airstrikes circulating on Arabic media and social platforms are likely to bolster support for the Palestinian cause among many Arabs, a factor that Riyadh and other countries must consider with that regard to their domestic audiences.
As the future of the Abraham Accords remains uncertain and regional dynamics evolve, it is notable that Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman and Iran's President Ibrahim Raisi engaged in their first conversation since the China-brokered peace agreement of March 2023, addressing the situation in Gaza. This development is unexpected, although the rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran had yielded some results and still promising. Some believe that recent months have been witnessing a significant focus of US-led efforts to normalize relations between KSA and Israel, and to relegate the China-brokered KSA-Iran diplomacy to the background. While Iran has expressed public support for the Gaza conflict, Tehran is unlikely to directly involve itself in the hostilities. However, post-conflict, the region is poised to witness an escalation of tit-for-tat actions between Iran and Israel, particularly involving Israeli airstrikes targeting Iranian interests in Syria, possibly as a means to reaffirm 'red lines.' These incidents will undoubtedly exacerbate tensions between Tehran and Jerusalem, although a full-scale conventional confrontation remains improbable. The Israeli-Iranian rivalry continues to unfold within the realm of competition, often referred to as the "grey zone."
Nonetheless, against this backdrop of regional turmoil, it's essential to consider the complex political landscape in Israel which is marked by intricacy and volatility, underpinned by deep-seated divisions regarding judicial reforms and the role of the Supreme Court. The government faces scrutiny over its controversial judicial reform endeavors and the potential implications for the country's governance. Additionally, the composition of the new government, which includes previously marginalized extremist parties and politicians, raises concerns about its impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and regional relations. Ongoing developments, such as the Netanyahu trial, proposed judicial reforms, and political schisms, further complicate effective governance. Netanyahu's political outlook does not appear promising, contributing to the prevailing uncertainties within Israel's political landscape.
In this multifaceted and deeply entrenched conflict, the situation remains dynamic and complex, carrying far-reaching consequences. The conflict in Gaza, within a broader regional context, has the potential to destabilize the entire Middle East. Continued violence raises the specter of Hezbollah opening a second front, and there is growing concern that it may escalate into a wider war involving multiple nations, particularly with the possibility of direct U.S. involvement, which would carry significant global implications. Already, the conflict's repercussions have extended to various regions, affecting the West Bank, Israel's northern border, the Red Sea, and areas in Iraq and Syria. Amid these multifaceted implications, one undeniable outcome is the renewed global resonance of the Palestinian cause, garnering widespread emotional support and solidarity.
Arhama Siddiqa (Author is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), Pakistan and a PhD Scholar at Quaid- e-Azam University Islamabad )
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)