Is Israel Losing Influence in the Middle East?
Hamas’ October 7 attacks against Israel have sent shockwaves across the globe. The attacks, which resulted in the deaths of 1,400 Israelis, prompted Israel to pursue a firm response against Hamas terrorists based in Gaza.
Israel’s military response to Hamas has provoked a polarizing response among Middle Eastern nations. Saudi Arabia, who has long positioned itself as the de facto leader of the Muslim world, declared that Hamas’ attack was caused by “the continued occupation” and “the deprivation of the Palestinian people of their legitimate rights.”
Such rhetoric runs counter to the efforts Saudi Arabia has made to normalize relations with Israel. The Saudis have also been irked by the US government’s decision to deploy aircraft carriers to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. American authorities have declared that the aircraft carriers sent to the eastern Mediterranean “to deter hostile actions against Israel or any efforts toward widening this war following Hamas’s attack”. This act of deterrence was largely designed to send a message to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants, who have been speculated to join this conflict in the case that Israel decides to carry out a massive escalation against the Palestinians.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels have also joined the fray. A US navy warship in the Red Sea recently shot down missiles and drones fired by Houthi forces, which were reportedly aimed “potentially toward targets in Israel.” The Houthi rebels are largely aligned with Iran and have received a significant degree of military aid in their fight against the Saudi-backed central government.
Joe Biden’s subsequent visit to the Middle East was met with a chilly response by the likes of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Jordanian King Abdullah, and Mahmoud Abbas, the chief of the Palestinian Authority.
King Abdullah has previously thrown cold water on the idea that Israel’s normalization of relations with Arab states will be a guarantee for lasting peace in the Middle East. “This belief, by some in the region, that you can parachute over Palestine, deal with the Arabs and work your way back — that does not work,” Abdullah declared. Abdullah has locked horns with Netanyahu’s current right-wing coalition government over issues such as maintenance of the al-Aqsa mosque complex, which Jordan is generally tasked with. Many members of the Israeli hard Right want to scrap this arrangement.
The UAE, who already normalized diplomatic relations with Israel, was more direct in its criticism of Hamas. The Palestinian terrorist organization is part of the broader Muslim Brotherhood network that most Gulf Arab states view as a threat to their power. However, the UAE’s hostility towards the Muslim Brotherhood did not prevent it from joining to craft a unanimous statement issued after an emergency meeting of the Arab League in Cairo, which firmly got behind the Palestinian demand for statehood.
Egypt has been hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood but it has offered to be a mediator in conflicts between Israel and Hamas.
Qatar is an interesting actor. It’s an established bankroller of Hamas’ civilian government in Gaza, a move that Israel has approved. Israel has used Qatar as a vehicle to drive a wedge between Gaza and the West Bank. Nevertheless, Qatar sharply criticized Israel after the Hamas attack, declaring that it is “solely responsible for the ongoing escalation”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan initially offered himself as a mediator. However, he subsequently criticized Israel’s blockade and bombardment of Gaza, which he described as “not a war but a massacre.” Any attempts towards an Israeli-Turkish rapprochement now appear to be on a shaky foundation.
As this conflict drags on, more and more nations worldwide will grow hostile towards Israel’s geopolitical actions. As for the US, this should be a wake-up call for it to recalibrate its relations with the Jewish state.
At this juncture, Israel has become an unnecessary geopolitical burden for the US that could eventually have it dragged into a preventable war. Let’s hope policymakers pick up on this.