By Ambassador Gurjit Singh
A visit to Israel and Palestine in mid-October provided no hint of the conflagration that erupted. At no time was an Israel-Hamas war apparent. The tension that was palpable, was mainly internal to Israel, against the government. There was also tension around the Al Aqsa Mosque and the rights of Palestinians. Neither of these two tense situations portended a war with the pace and brutal savagery that is now visible.
If the war ends with speed, then its ramifications and fallout can be analysed. At present, the Israel-Hamas conflict does not seem in a hurry to end. Therefore, attempting an analysis of it is, at best, a courageous task.
Several different strands emerging from this conflict can be discerned. First, Ukraine must be deeply troubled because it is now no more the cynosure of Western eyes. Attention has already shifted to supporting Israel. Some members of the EU are perturbed at the failure of the Palestine experiment and the severe hardship faced by the Palestinian people. Arms supplies to Israel will impact this attention from Ukraine.
Second, in turn, Russia, which blames the U.S. for its poor Middle East policies leading to this problem, will be more comfortable if Western assistance to Ukraine is reduced or diverted. This will not lead to an immediate Russian victory, but can ease the Russia-Ukraine war for the time being.
Third, the Arab countries, which under American tutelage had entered the Abraham Accords with Israel, will not want that process to be disrupted. This is particularly true of the UAE and Bahrain.
Among the reasons ascribed to this unprecedented action by Hamas is that they brought the Palestinian issue back to centre stage, forcing countries like Saudi Arabia, which were on the verge of reconciliation with Israel, to step back from that, for the present. That Saudi Arabia and the UAE also want to talk to Iran, which is an open backer of Hamas and Hezbollah, is more of a Chinese stratagem coming into play than what U.S.-led action would prefer.
Therefore, some see this as the failure of U.S. policy, particularly since Israel has derailed its association with some of the Arabs by not accommodating Palestinian concerns adequately.
Then there’s Qatar, whose role remains important because it too is an open backer of Hamas, whose politburo resides in Doha. Qatar benefits from the disruption of U.S.-Israel influence which it perceives will decrease of Doha’s sway. It may also curtail its gas exports and influence prices, causing another concern in the world which is already reeling from the impact of the pandemic and the Ukraine crisis. Qatar is the world’s second-largest liquified natural gas exporter, a quarter of which now heads to the EU.
The role of Iran is perhaps the most significant. The Americans keep saying that there is nothing to directly link Iran with the Hamas assault on Israel. The fact that Iran has continuously supported both Hamas and Hezbollah and even now makes statements in their favour shows that any increase in the role of Hamas will directly give Iran a larger space in the region. The fact that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are willing to discuss Palestine with Iran is a sign in that direction.
Closer to home is the challenge presented to BRICS-Plus and to India. While the G7 is concerned about this conflagration as it challenges its single-minded support to Ukraine, it is the BRICS which is perhaps feeling the most discombobulated.
Four of the six among the recently admitted BRICS members – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran and Egypt – are from this region. Egypt for the present is the quietest; it is the one which borders Gaza where Hamas is in control and is restraining refugee flows.
BRICS does not have a mechanism to discuss such matters and neither have the new members of BRICS bothered to consult fellow BRICS members or seek BRICS support. Within BRICS too, there are degrees of difference in how countries reacted. China, Saudi Arabia, UAE and South Africa are reportedly consulting with each other. The recently expanded BRICS is challenged by a situation for which it is little prepared.
The South Africans are vocally in favour of Palestine. India is vocally in favour of Israel, though it maintains its traditional position of a fair deal for the Palestinians. India is concerned with the Arab countries which signed the Abraham Accords which led to the India, Israel, UAE, U.S. (I2U2) arrangement amidst high aspirations. That process is based on a peaceful West Asia where economic progress may occur. If the Abraham Accords fail to maintain the peace, then the I2U2 will weaken, particularly if the UAE develops a more vocal and critical position of Israel to side with Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), which was one of the most important gains on the sidelines of the New Delhi G20 Summit, is also posited on a peaceful West Asia. It links India with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, and then into Europe. If Israel is not at peace, then the port of Haifa becomes a dangerous place to be in and Saudi Arabia and UAE may not be ready to cooperate with Israel till such time as the Palestinian issue returns to dormancy as it was when the IMEC was signed. Hamas action however, has ensured that such aquiesence is unlikely in the near term.
India has positioned itself as a voice of the Global South. They spoke in unison at the G20, ensuing its success. Now with conflict recurring in West Asia, the Global South is divided in its responses. This makes it all the more difficult to improve the lot of those in the South suffering other crises while dealing with the challenges of uncomfortable strategic choices.
The world is suffering from the lack of a just transition in West Asia and it is not merely climate related.
About the author: Gurjit Singh is a former Indian Ambassador to Germany. He is currently promoting the impact investment movement for implementing SDGs in Africa.
Source: This article was written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations.
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