Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

War on Gaza and its Intricate Regional Dynamics

Many regional positions related to the War on Gaza became populist slogans, often not serving Gaza’s humanitarian situation or future post-war.

War on Gaza
A picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip. JACK GUEZ / AFP

Ali Noureddine

This article was translated from Arabic to English

When it comes to the Palestinian people, the ongoing conflict in Gaza Strip cannot be divorced from the historical backdrop of their longtime struggle with Israel.

The persistent blockade on the Gaza Strip, the ongoing appropriation of land for expanding settlement initiatives in the West Bank, and the Israeli far-right‘s determined efforts to marginalize Arabs within Israel have all contributed to mounting tensions that ultimately erupted in the current crisis.

Israel’s response has been marked by an unprecedented level of military aggression, highlighting a compensatory approach in the absence of political solutions from Israeli decision-makers that could pave the way for realistic resolutions to this long-standing conflict.

Differences in Regional Positions

However, much like any armed conflict, the positions of various regional parties regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are influenced by many complex factors. These include the pursuit of political legitimacy, economic interests, regional roles and diplomatic influence.

While the majority of Middle Eastern countries express sympathy for the people of the Gaza Strip, the political roles each country has played during the conflict and their proposals for resolution vary significantly.

The divergent roles and positions of regional parties contribute to the challenges faced by the Palestinian people today. The Hamas movement, currently engaged in the conflict, lacks a comprehensive and viable political solution for negotiation. This is exacerbated by its sharp dispute with the Fatah movement, which controls security in the West Bank. Additionally, international isolation and the inability to represent Arabs within Israel further hinder Hamas’s effectiveness.

The division among Arab and Islamic regional parties leaves the Palestinian people without a strong international political support system. This lack of support hampers efforts to pressure the international community for a just and final solution to the Palestinian issue.

In this context, Palestinians are confronted with an internal reality that impedes the establishment of their independent state post-conflict. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the erosion of the Palestinian Authority’s powers, coupled with conflicting regional positions, complicate the emergence of international initiatives supporting a resolution.

This situation benefits Israel, which opposes ending settlements or allowing for full Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These challenges may fuel the motivation of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to continue the war on Gaza without restrictions.

A critical issue is that many regional positions related to the Gaza conflict have transformed into populist slogans and bidding. These often serve interests unrelated to the humanitarian situation in Gaza or the Strip’s future post-war.

Examining the goals of some regional countries reveals a disconnect from genuine concerns, potentially hindering progress in addressing the root issues of the conflict.

Erdogan and the Underlying Factors Behind the Clash of Civilizations Slogans

Since the onset of the conflict, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed solidarity with the residents of the Gaza Strip through a series of slogans. However, he has uniquely framed the battle as a religious and civilizational conflict, setting his discourse apart from other regional leaders.

In mid-November 2023, Erdogan declared to his party’s parliamentary bloc, “The issue has become clear. It is the issue of the crescent and the cross, and the truth about these has now fully emerged.” This impactful statement followed an overt challenge to the Western world in late October, where Erdogan alluded to the Crusades era, emphasizing that “this nation is not dead.”

In short, Erdogan has consistently sought to belittle Israel in his speeches, portraying it as merely a pawn in the region, serving the interests of the West, which, he claims, manipulates certain actors as tools. According to Erdogan, the West, or the Crusaders, holds dominion over the region, asserting that Israel lacks the autonomy to act independently.

Critically assessing Erdogan’s speeches reveals several problems in terms of feasibility and effectiveness in supporting Gaza. His populist statements significantly curtail Israel’s accountability, depicting it as a subordinate entity manipulated by external forces. This narrative, in turn, places collective responsibility on the West, framing it as a religious crusader alliance forming an anti-Muslim bloc.

However, this simplistic view contradicts the reality, considering the stances taken by numerous human rights organizations, associations, political parties, and Western leaders. Many of these entities have called for an immediate cessation of the assault on Gaza. Additionally, the United States’ public and sustained backing for Israel, along with the influence of certain American Christian Zionist groups, underscores the complexity of the situation.

Simultaneously, even among Western countries supporting Israel, there is no evidence that such support is rooted in a sacred religious or metaphysical alliance, as asserted by Erdogan. There is no indication of a revival of the Crusades era as he suggests.

In any scenario, depicting the situation as a clash between civilizations or religions does not contribute to garnering international support for the Palestinian cause. This prompts scrutiny into the motivations behind Erdogan’s positions and their true objectives.

By framing the conflict as a clash between civilizations and religions, Erdogan seeks to bolster his political legitimacy within the Islamic world, amplifying his rhetoric against the Western world, referred to as “the cross.”

Simultaneously, by downplaying Israel’s role and presenting it as a mere instrument in the hands of external forces, Erdogan provides justification for Turkey’s continued robust diplomatic and trade ties with Israel.

This narrative also rationalizes Turkiye’s pursuit of significant strategic initiatives with Israel in the energy sector, specifically the construction of pipelines to transport Israeli gas to Turkiye, acting as a crucial terminal before onward export to Europe.

Erdogan’s goals in this war are not significantly at odds with Israel’s vision for the Gaza Strip in the “post-Hamas” phase. According to Erdogan’s statements, he aims for Turkiye to assume responsibility, along with other countries, in establishing a new security structure in Gaza after the conflict concludes.

However, this stance conflicts with the positions of Palestinian factions that oppose such discussions. They see the proposal as a potential avenue for the Israeli government to establish a new administration for the Strip following the dismantling of the Hamas security and military apparatus.

Ultimately, Erdogan appears to be seeking a strategic role for Turkiye in shaping the Palestinian agenda, thereby enhancing his negotiating leverage with Israel in future dealings.

By doing so, Erdogan aims to assert his influence on various matters with the Israelis, notably concerning gas supply routes in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkiye envisions itself as a pivotal regional hub for gas re-exportation, a position that aligns with Erdogan’s broader ambitions in the Middle East.

Egypt, Jordan and Slogans Rejecting the Displacement of Palestinians

Since the beginning of the crisis, both Egypt and Jordan have consistently upheld the principle of rejecting the displacement of Palestinians as an absolute red line.

In the case of Egypt, this commitment translated into the complete closure of the Rafah crossing for Palestinians seeking to leave the Gaza Strip, even voluntarily, with exceptions made for those holding foreign passports and certain wounded individuals.

These stances were presented as expressions of concern for the future of the Palestinian cause, emphasizing that the displacement of Palestinians from either the Gaza Strip or the West Bank would signify the ultimate demise of the Palestinian struggle.

As the military operations unfolded, it became apparent that Egypt’s stance was initially linked to security and national considerations related to the Sinai Peninsula, predating its commitment to preserving the Palestinian cause. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi clarified this perspective by indicating that the relocation of Palestinians to Sinai would potentially expose Egypt to renewed armed activities originating from its territory, posing a threat to the existing peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.

Consequently, Sisi suggested an alternative, proposing that he would not object to relocating the people of Gaza to the Negev Desert, for instance, instead of the Sinai Desert.

Beyond its publicly declared positions on Palestinian displacement, Egypt has played a pivotal role in negotiating with Hamas throughout various stages of the conflict, facilitating humanitarian truces and participating in prisoner exchanges alongside Qatar. Leveraging its control over the sole land border connecting Gaza to an Arab country, Egypt has demonstrated its ability to exert pressure on Hamas.

Moreover, Egypt has presented a proposal envisioning a demilitarized Palestinian state in the future, subject to supervision by Arab or international forces.

This suggestion, not conflicting with Israel’s security control over Jerusalem and the West Bank, serves as an alternative to the establishment of a fully sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, based on the 1967 borders. Sisi has argued that the latter idea has become “far-fetched” and proposes this new approach as a pragmatic solution.

Currently, there is anticipation that Egypt will leverage these diplomatic initiatives to secure advantages in its relations with Western countries, particularly in economic matters and negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.

The Rise of Qatar’s Role in the Conflict

At the Gulf level, the central role played by Qatar became evident during this conflict. Hosting the majority of the political leadership of the Hamas movement in Doha and having previously provided financial support to the Gaza Strip, Qatar closely followed the war through its media from the outset of Operation “Al-Aqsa Flood.”

Doha has also emerged as a key intermediary, facilitating negotiations between the Israeli Mossad, the CIA and the Hamas movement, leading to agreements on humanitarian truces and the exchange of prisoners.

In collaboration with Egypt, Qatar assumed the role of mediator and negotiator, aligning with its historical inclination to play such roles in regional conflicts, just as it did in the past when mediating between the Taliban and the United States.

Qatar often pursues complex roles to bolster its status and importance in the international arena, including its engagement with political Islam movements that oppose Western imperialism, such as Hamas, with whom it has good relations.

From this angle, it is possible to understand why the United States and Israel have repeatedly praised Qatar’s role despite its implicit support for the Hamas movement. In parallel, Qatar strengthened its regional presence during the conflict.

Before the Gaza War, the United States was sponsoring a project to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which was supposed to be crowned with major regional economic and political projects, and excluded Qatar from major regional economic or political roles.

Furthermore, preceding the onset of the conflict, the United States collaborated with Saudi Arabia in orchestrating interim resolutions for the Palestinian issue, intending to pave the way for normalization without any direct involvement from Qatar.

The war disrupted these initiatives, bringing Qatar back into the heart of deliberations related to the Palestinian issue, in partnership with Egypt and the United States. This shift in dynamics earned Qatar political points, especially in its traditional competition with Saudi Arabia for regional influence.

As a result, Qatar is poised to leverage this position in the future, potentially introducing alternative regional economic projects, particularly in energy supply lines, in contrast to those recently proposed by Saudi Arabia in its understandings with the United States.

All Other Gulf States and the Axis of Resistance

In contrast, most Gulf states have refrained from assuming prominent political roles during the ongoing war. Saudi Arabia, for instance, condemned the Israeli offensive on Gaza and hosted the Arab-Islamic summit, advocating for a halt in weapons exports to Israel.

The United Arab Emirates, mindful of its ties with Israel, condemned Hamas and presented its stance at the UN Security Council. Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad also condemned both Hamas attacks and Israeli retaliation, urging an end to the cycle of violence.

The impact of the “Abraham Accords” swiftly manifested in the positions of Bahrain and the UAE, particularly in terms of economic interests fostered with Israel through these agreements, especially in investments and trade. Meanwhile, the recent efforts to normalize Iranian-Saudi relations, facilitated by China, appear unaffected by these developments, evidenced by ongoing talks during the conflict.

Conversely, Iran exaggerated the threat of an expanded war, hinting at the axis of resistance engaging in a broader regional confrontation. However, actions by this axis were limited to symbolic attacks in Iraq and Yemen against American and Israeli targets.

Even in Lebanon, clashes between Hezbollah and the Israeli army adhered to controlled rules of engagement within a confined border area. Iran and its allies seemed reluctant to jeopardize their strategic cards for the sake of the Hamas movement, despite providing military support.

These divergent approaches by regional powers to the Gaza conflict, driven by differing goals, have hindered collective action among Arab and Islamic countries in advocating or implementing political solutions.

The true positions of these nations are expected to become clearer in the next stage, particularly when deliberating on the future of Gaza after the conflict, especially as Israel maintains its insistence on ending Hamas’ rule in the Strip.

user placeholder
written by
All Dima articles