India takes a path often traveled in the Middle East
Hamas rockets are raining down on Israel from Gaza. Israel conducting a massive aerial bombardment of Gaza. For the first time, Israeli towns with mixed populations are witnessing community violence. As the old Israeli-Palestinian conflict erupted in a barrage of fire last week, is this a déjà vu or a new chapter in an intractable conflict, and does it rule out a political solution?
The Arab world is stunned, angry, embarrassed, uncomfortable. Iran is angry and vehement, engaged in a proxy war to the death with Israel. The United States is grappling with a decades-old problem that it is desperately trying to put behind it. They want to get out of the Middle East – they need it less, having themselves become a major producer of energy; their strategic challenge now is to focus on China and Asia.
For Israel, it is an existential war, a just war against terrorism, against a persistent threat of annihilation that terrorist groups like Hamas regularly face. Hamas and Hezbollah have promised an armed struggle against the Jewish state, which invites an equal and opposite reaction from Israel. As some analysts say, it is a battle to “deny” the identity of the other camp. A political solution is therefore far-fetched, certainly at this stage.
The Palestinians themselves have shifted from a global cause to a virtually stateless people desperately trying to save a swathe of land – a global promise to achieve a two-state solution has come to nothing. The world moved on to other problems, they were left to hand and to a bunch of Islamist terrorist groups. The problem is the same in 2021 as it is in 2014, 2001 or the 1980s. The question is: is the world going to put a band-aid on it and continue on its way, or can everyone come together to find a solution?
The timeline of the current conflict has been well documented – Palestinian protest against Israeli forces at Al-Aqsa / Temple Mount, Hamas stepped into action after Mahmoud Abbas delayed scheduled elections; rocket attacks on Tel Aviv by Hamas, Israeli retaliation; community violence in several Israeli towns, with the epicenter in Lod; followed by an exponential increase in violence. There have been calls for a ceasefire, US President Joe Biden also saying he will “support” a ceasefire. But the United States has three times vetoed the UN Security Council’s statement against Israel or called for a ceasefire. Washington has tried to get Egypt and Qatar to put the brakes on Hamas and start negotiations with Israel. So far, such efforts have been in vain. Israel does not believe that the time has yet come to heed ceasefire calls, at least until their military domination is fully established. Within Israeli domestic politics, too, the conflict has served to solidify the political position of Benjamin Netanyahu – Israel may be heading for its fifth general election in two years.
What is behind the current outbreak? The immediate trigger for the violence in Al Aqsa / Temple Mount is the most immediate. The expression of Israeli Arabs testifies to a deeper discontent. But Hamas’s actions could have an Iranian imprint – blaming Israel and the United States before nuclear negotiations. It could also be intended to tear up the Abrahamic accords between Israel and the Arab powers, and the tension arises. This certainly puts Hamas in a more dominant political position over Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority. Some analysts have speculated whether the rocket barrage was also intended to test Israel’s Iron Dome, particularly if Hezbollah should also fire rockets against Israel, which it has stored. On a larger canvas, violence could also be intended to keep the United States mired in the Middle East, never being able to lighten its footprint there. The implications will be important for world politics.
India has had to walk a familiar diplomatic tightrope during this crisis. In a statement to the UN Security Council by the Permanent Representative of India. TS Tirumurti, made essentially three points: condemn the rocket attacks by Hamas, view the Israeli bombings as retaliation, and dissociate India’s support for the Palestinian “cause” from its condemnation of terrorism emanating from the Palestinian Territories.
But, it created its own storm. Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted his thanks to a series of countries he said stood alongside Israel, with India not part of the thermal baths. In India, traditionalists, including the mandarins of the MEA, lamented a statement that they said leaned too much in favor of Israel, and not enough in favor of Palestine. The Indian Twitterverse was overwhelmingly on Israel’s side and criticized the government for not openly supporting it. Similar views were expressed by the ruling party.
The instinctive affinity of the Modi government remains with Israel. But in recent years, Modi has also gone out of his way to befriend the Arab world – again India’s close partners are Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, followed by Bahrain. and Kuwait. The government therefore felt that a certain balance was needed.
However, India’s rigging on the timeline of the conflict, that it does not appear to condemn Hamas enough, or stand more openly on Israel’s side, has received some hindsight. Expect to see changes in India’s posture in the coming days.
It was much easier in the old days, when India was squarely on the side of the Palestinians. But Israel is now one of India’s closest strategic / security / defense / development partners. Israel has enormous fairness in Indian popular opinion, and the current regime has openly embraced Israel, Prime Minister Narendra Modi being the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. Modi also visited Palestine, during an autonomous visit signaling the abolition of hyphenation.
Since 2014, which saw the last round of this conflict, the geopolitical picture of the Middle East itself has changed, introducing new forces, equations and realities. As Walter Russell Mead points out, “the new realities are that Arab power in the Middle East is in precipitous decline; Iran and Turnkey have become major players; and Washington is doing its best to reduce its military footprint. These changes created a strategic alignment between Israel and a bloc of conservative Arab states, including Egypt and much of the Gulf. This alignment cut the ground under Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority and pushed Hamas and other radical groups in the Palestinian movement closer to Iran.
Iran has become the backbone of Middle East politics – engaged in sectarian Islamic ideological wars with Saudi Arabia and certain Sunni powers, particularly in Yemen; sometimes aligned with Qatar against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; on one side of the Persian-Arab fault line; caught up in an existential battle with Israel, arming and supporting terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah; under the crippling sanctions of the West, but without being discouraged in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran has inserted itself into almost every major geopolitical conflict in the region, even as its economy has plummeted, but it has leveraged its size, energy reserves and enormous appetite for the exercise of power. to remain important.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has shrunk as a power – in an age of climate change, its oil reserves are losing their cache, especially with the United States. As Iran loomed as the regional enemy, Saudi Arabia has moved closer to the United Arab Emirates, and in recent years Israel has united against Iran and its sponsored armed groups, which it s be it Houthi, Hamas or Hezbollah.
More importantly, the United States feels less invested in the Middle East, especially as its importance as an energy source has diminished. The United States is happy to sell arms on both sides, but little else. Joe Biden tried a lot to reverse Donald Trump’s actions, he made no move to return the American embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Biden may have shown Netanyahu harsh love in private (after all, Netanyahu was much closer to the Trump guys) but publicly supported Israel and its actions as legitimate. But Biden’s political colleagues in the Democratic Party are not as enthusiastic about Israel as they were before, certainly not the progressive coterie of young and vocal members of Congress. If the conflict does not end quickly, it could become a problem later.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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