In the Middle East, peace can be fragile, and recent events have made it even more uncertain. The current outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in the turbulent Middle East has once again brought a long-running conflict into the international spotlight. Within the complex web of Middle Eastern geopolitics, characterized by the influential roles of Iran and Saudi Arabia, a declaration of war by Israel against Gaza looms as an ominous specter with far-reaching implications for regional peace and stability. This opinion piece seeks to unravel the complex framework of the Israel-Hamas conflict by looking at its historical context, regional consequences, and the crucial roles of important players, all while taking into account the unstable future of Israel’s Middle Eastern normalization attempts.
The origins of the Israel-Hamas conflict can be traced back to the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, a turning point in Middle Eastern history that sparked intense opposition from Arab countries. Subsequently, there has been an unbroken cycle of violence and resistance, culminating in Israel’s annexation of both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank during the 1967 Six-Day War. These seized lands provide a fertile ground for resistance activities, including the First and Second Intifadas by Palestinians, which were defined by times of unrest and bloodshed.
Given this historical context, the recent eruption of hostilities may be surprising to some, but was not entirely unexpected. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declarations had already set the stage for Hamas’s anticipated response. However, this begs the question for Israel, which has long touted the prospect of Middle Eastern normalization under the umbrella of the United States. The recent escalation can be seen as a stark backdrop to such rhetoric.
Considering the long military history of Israeli operations in Gaza, such as Operation Pillar of Defense, Operation Cast Lead, and Operation Protective Edge, all of which inflicted civilian casualties and substantial infrastructure damage. Additionally, the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip since 2007 has compounded the hardships, severely restricting the movement of goods and people and dimming hopes for peace. Now, the stage is set for Operation Iron Swords.
There is a possibility that the ramifications of the Israel-Hamas conflict transcend geographical boundaries again. It consistently triggers spillover conflicts, exemplified by Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon and further complicating an already volatile region, as evident in the Syrian civil war.
Amidst this persistent instability, the conflict has persisted, repeatedly causing catastrophic harm to civilian areas and instilling panic and death throughout the region. A declaration of war and a major military offensive against Gaza would undoubtedly introduce complex and volatile circumstances marked by regional instability.
On the diplomatic front, a significant Israeli military assault set the ground to strain relations with Saudi Arabia (KSA). In the past, Saudi Arabia has taken steps to mend ties with Israel, most notably through the Abraham Accords- an initiative to bolster regional security, counter Iran’s influence, and foster economic cooperation.
Nonetheless, a declaration of war is likely to jeopardize Israel’s normalization efforts, particularly considering KSA’s calculated support for Palestinian rights and its carefully calibrated reactions to regional conflicts. It is evident that Riyadh is navigating the sensitivities of its population and regional partners who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. A prolonged conflict could lead to criticism within the broader Muslim community, potentially triggering rallies, diplomatic pressure, and calls to reconsider normalization accords, all of which could significantly impact regional stability.
Simultaneously, Israel’s accusations against Iran for supporting Hamas could further ignite tensions. Iran is known for its fiery rhetoric, vehemently condemning Israeli actions and fanning the flames of regional anti-Israel sentiment. Tehran might intensify its backing of regional proxies, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and various militias in Syria, to strike at Israel, potentially leading to cross-border violence and an escalation of the crisis.
Drawing a historical parallel, the 2014 Israel-Gaza war offers a partial parallel. During that conflict, Iran voiced strong support for Hamas, condemned Israeli actions, and called for international intervention, all while commending the Palestinian “resistance.” Iran’s involvement in disputes involving Palestinian factions, coupled with its support for anti-Israeli proxies like Hezbollah, has the potential to exacerbate regional tensions and contribute to larger Middle Eastern instability. Such activities have the capacity to intensify existing rivalries and hostilities.
In light of this complex dynamics, the United States instead of backing Israel in its retaliation should play a mediatory role and call for a cease-fire. The U.S. support and assurances of assistance could provide Israel with the confidence to maintain its normalization agenda. However, the strong diplomatic and political support from the United States, particularly in terms of security and military aid may escalate the tension in the Middle East, potentially triggering a strong Iranian reaction.
Moreover, an escalation in the confrontation could also have Global implications. It could lead to global instabilities as the Middle East is critical to global energy security. Any escalation of the conflict might disrupt the energy supply, raising global oil prices and causing economic turmoil. An intensification of the conflict could also result in a considerable increase in the number of Palestinian refugees, putting further strain on neighboring countries, particularly Jordan and Lebanon, which already have sizable Palestinian populations.
Lastly, the Israel-Hamas rivalry is a multidimensional issue with a historical context, geographical implications, and significant individuals involved. It’s an intractable issue in the turbulent Middle East, where stability remains unattainable. The prolonged crisis and prospective escalation highlight the critical need for diplomacy, negotiation, and a determined international effort to bring this deeply entrenched issue to a robust and peaceful settlement.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.