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Diplomacy
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Denmark Lars Løkke Rasmussen giving speech at support event at the Jewish community

Speech at support event at the Jewish community

by Lars Løkke Rasmussen

Held in Copenhagen Synagogue 14.10.2023 By Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Minister for Foreign Affairs Your Majesty, Ambassador, Dear all. Thank you for letting me share this evening with you. I have no idea how each of you has been doing this past week. With friends and family caught in the center of the crisis. With people you care about, who live their everyday lives in an Israel under attack. With all the worries that come with it. Are they affected? Have they made it? What happens next? Terrible stories that make an impression around the world. One of them, which is still in my body, is about an ordinary family who lived in a kibbutz close to the Gaza border. A dad. A mother. And three little girls. When the attacks began on Saturday morning, all five of them ran towards the nearest shelter. They arrived safely. The wife wrote a message to their friends in Australia: "Everything is okay." An hour later she stopped responding. The friends called and called, but the mobile was silent. On Sunday morning, the Israeli authorities shared a photo of the family. With big smiles and green trees in the background. The mother keeps a loving arm around the eldest daughter. Like hundreds of other innocent Israelis, they were liquidated by barbaric terrorists. Hamas had reportedly broken into their shelter. It is not to be worn. *** The attack on Israel stirs many emotions. Fear. Anger. Impotence. Hope. Vengeance. Love. We must make room for it all, but what is lost cannot be returned. But you are not alone. An entire nation shares your tears and supports you. Denmark stands, as the Prime Minister also emphasized, side by side with Israel. *** We are gathered here tonight to remember. To collect our thoughts and pick each other up. I had the honor of speaking here in the synagogue five years ago. At that time we marked the 75th anniversary of the Jews' flight from Denmark. It was a touching evening. October 1943 is one of the most important events in recent Danish history. And a cornerstone in the relationship between Denmark and Israel. Today, 80 years later, it is hard to imagine that Danish families had to flee for their lives because of their origins and their faith. That innocent citizens should be sent to concentration camps to die. But it happened. *** Earlier this week we marked the 80th anniversary. A selection that had a certain duality in it. For October 1943 is both a story of light and darkness. Mourning those who were murdered. Joy to those who got to safety. Shame on the few who tried to sabotage the escape. Pride in the many who risked their lives to save their fellow citizens. Those who took responsibility and reached out. To a Jewish people who displayed heroic courage. It is hard to find the same duplicity in what befell the Israeli people last Saturday. Because right now the darkness is clearest, the pain seems endless. A sad glimpse from the past. But even if the light has difficulty finding its way, it exists somewhere out there. We have to insist on that. Even in the darkest of times, hope will peek out. I think you can feel that on a night like tonight. We must not let the hatred of the terrorists win. We must insist on preserving our humanity. *** The attack on Saturday is being called by many Israel's 9/11. It is difficult to write history as it unfolds before our eyes. But I still think it's an apt description. A decisive historical turning point. This is a wake-up call for all of us. We made a promise to the Jewish people after the end of World War II. A promise of a homeland where Jews could gather and live in peace. Denmark was a warm supporter of the establishment of the state of Israel. The Jewish people have been through enough. And you are a strong people. But what is happening right now calls for reflection. And on crystal clear commitments from the entire world community. You must hold us up to them. As Ben Gurion said so wisely: “History is not something you write. It is something you create.” *** I know that Jews also feel the insecurity at home. Do you have to keep the kippa on? Or replace it with a cap that you - Jair [Melchior] - have suggested to your own son. I understand, you end up there. Better to be on the safe side, one might say. But that is completely unacceptable. It is completely unacceptable that Danish Jews have to beat themselves up like that in order to be here in Denmark. Hide away and look over your shoulder. It shouldn't be like that. It must not be like that. And I would like to help give the promise tonight that the government will do everything in our power to protect the Danish Jews. Protect your freedom. Your safety. Your right to live an ordinary Jewish life in Denmark. In the Denmark that reached out to the Jewish people 80 years ago. Because Denmark is still here. Thank you.

Diplomacy
Giorgia Meloni, Prime Minister of Italy

President Meloni’s address at the Cairo Summit for Peace

by Giorgia Meloni

President Al-Sisi, thank you for the speed and determination with which you have organised this conference. I consider this to be a very important conference following the terrible attack by Hamas on 7 October which, we must remember, was carried out against unarmed civilians with unprecedented, appalling brutality, and which, from our point of view, it is right to unambiguously condemn. It was only right for Italy to participate in this conference, given its historical role as a bridge for dialogue between Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and also considering the opportunities presented by this summit, despite the fact that starting positions may seem somewhat distant at times because, even if our starting viewpoints may not perfectly overlap, what does perfectly overlap is our interest – the interest of all leaders sitting around this table, and that interest is to ensure what is happening in Gaza does not become a much wider conflict, that it does not turn into a religious war, a clash of civilisations, as that would mean the efforts courageously made over the last years to the contrary, to normalise relations, would have been in vain. The impression I get – and I am saying this with my usual frankness – is that, considering the way Hamas carried out its attack, its real objective was not to defend the right of the Palestinian people, but rather to force a response against Gaza that would fundamentally undermine any attempts at dialogue and create an unbridgeable gap between Arab countries, Israel, the West, thereby definitively compromising peace and well-being for all citizens involved, including those it says it wants to defend and represent. This means that we are all the target, and I do not think we can fall into this trap: that would be very stupid indeed. This is why I believe it is important to be here, why I believe it is very important to continue dialogue and discussions. I believe there are a number of key points to be reiterated. Firstly, terrorism has hit the Muslim world more than it has the West. In fact, terrorist acts over time have weakened peoples’ legitimate demands, especially in the Muslim world. Within this dynamic, there is the choice of Hamas to use terrorism to prevent any kind of dialogue and any prospect of arriving at a concrete solution, also for the Palestinian people. However, no cause justifies terrorism. No cause justifies actions that are knowingly designed to target unarmed civilians. No cause justifies women being massacred and newborns being decapitated, deliberately filmed on camera. No cause. When faced with such actions, a State is fully entitled to claim its right to exist, defend itself and ensure the security of its citizens and borders. However, and this brings me to the second point, a State’s reaction cannot and must not ever be driven by feelings of revenge. This is why States are what they are; they are our point of reference. A State bases its reactions on precise security reasons, ensuring proportionate use of force and protecting the civilian population. These are the boundaries within which a State’s reaction to terrorism must remain, and I am confident that this is also the will of the State of Israel. Thirdly, our immediate priority remains humanitarian access, which is essential to prevent further suffering among the civilian population as well as mass exoduses that would contribute to destabilising this region. This is something we do not need. I consider the mediation work that has been carried out in this regard by several players attending this conference to be very important. I consider the European Commission’s decision to triple its humanitarian aid for Gaza, taking the total to over EUR 75 million, to also be very important. Italy is also working to increase bilateral aid, but an increase in resources must clearly be accompanied by very strict control over who uses those resources. Encouraging developments are coming from this morning. President Al-Sisi, I thank you for this too. We are very concerned about the fate of the hostages in the hands of Hamas, and, as you know, there are also Italians among them. We ask for the immediate release of all hostages, clearly starting with women, children and the elderly. It is important to keep working together to get vulnerable people and foreign civilians out of Gaza. Above all, we must do the impossible to avoid an escalation of this crisis, to avoid losing control of what may happen, because the consequences would be unimaginable. The most serious way to achieve this goal is to resume a political initiative for a structural solution to the crisis based on the prospect of two peoples and two States. This solution must be concrete and, in my view, it must have a defined time frame. The Palestinian people must have the right to be a nation that governs itself, freely, next to a State of Israel whose right to exist and right to security must be fully recognised. In this regard, Italy is ready to do absolutely everything that is necessary. Thank you again, Mr. President.

Diplomacy
Gaza, Palestine territories in the map

Understanding Türkiye's Attitude Towards the Israel-Hamas Conflict

by Cheuk Yui (Thomas) Kwong (Chinese: 鄺卓睿)

Türkiye has firmly opposed any harm to civilians and innocents in Gaza and Israel. Despite keeping with his unwavering support for Palestine and maintaining a close relationship with Hamas, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan does not want the conflict to hinder the process of normalising relations with Israel.   Türkiye has delicately navigated both sides of the Israel-Hamas conflict while pursuing its own interests, including drawing international attention away from Türkiye’s military action against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its affiliated militant groups in Syria and Iraq. During the 1990s, Türkiye and Israel developed a quasi-alliance marked by robust security cooperation over shared objectives and concerns, including mutual apprehensions regarding Syria, arresting the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, and deepening intelligence sharing. This approach persisted during the early years of Erdoğan’s leadership, exemplified by his 2005 visit to Israel alongside a sizable delegation of corporate representatives. During this visit, Erdoğan proposed to mediate peace between Israel and the Arab world while seeking a resolution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Regrettably, this proposal did not yield positive results, and a series of events unfolded between 2008 and 2010 that impaired the Türkiye-Israel relationship, including the Israel-Gaza conflicts, a heated exchange between Erdoğan and the Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos forum in 2009, the visit of Hamas leader Khalid Mashal to Türkiye, and the Mavi Marmara Incident.   In 2016, Israel and Türkiye tried to reconcile their strained relationship. However, this attempt faltered following the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s condemnation of Türkiye’s military campaigns in north-eastern Syria in 2019. Türkiye also sheltered Hamas leaders, further upsetting Israel and deteriorating the bilateral relationship until Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s state visit to Türkiye last year.   For now, Türkiye finds itself in a dilemma. If Erdoğan does nothing on the Palestinian issue and the current conflict in Gaza, his loyal voters, particularly the Muslim conservatives, will abandon his ruling coalition in the upcoming local elections on 31 March 2024. Moreover, his Islamist and moderate conservative rivals like Ahmet Davutoglu, the former prime minister, have shown considerable support for Palestinians along with some critical figures inside the coalition, like Devlet Bahçeli. These groups have called for active intervention in Gaza with a potential success in attracting the Muslim conservatives, presenting a challenge to Erdoğan.   However, if Türkiye fully supports Hamas, such an endorsement will cause Türkiye more harm than good. The rapprochement with Israel would disappear, and the relationship with the US and other Western allies would dilapidate, exacerbating economic conditions and national security. On both fronts, Ankara believes that rapprochement with Israel can persuade the Jewish lobbyists and pro-Israeli, cross-party groups to support Türkiye in securing the sale of F16 fighter jets on Capitol Hill, modernising its air force. Moreover, Israeli investments and possible bilateral cooperation in the energy sector can contribute to improving the economic conditions in Türkiye. These efforts will come to nought if Erdoğan expresses solidarity with Hamas. Its NATO allies and Israel would further suspend cooperation in other security areas, such as addressing Ankara’s insecurity along its south eastern border close to Kurdistan in Syria and Iraq, and intelligence sharing, leaving Türkiye more isolated in the international community.   Domestically, Turkish nationalists, the king-maker of the last Turkish presidential election, have criticised Hamas’ actions and the Arab people for chanting support for Hamas and Palestine in Türkiye. Meral Akşener, an opposition leader in Türkiye, denounced Hamas’ actions as terrorism during her party’s group meeting. Meral argued that the Syrian refugees should go and fight themselves instead of chanting for the sending of Turkish military forces to Gaza.     The MetroPoll further shows that a majority of the Turkish voters want Erdoğan to be either neutral (34.5 percent), play a role in mediating the conflict (26.4 percent) or keep a distance from Hamas while expressing his solidarity with Palestinians (18.1 percent). It is notable that few are asking for direct support for Hamas or Israel. Although the country is highly divided, a clear majority want their government not to support Hamas and upset Israel.   To be sure, these results put Erdoğan and his coalition in a dilemma on how to appease religious conservatives, moderates, Turkish nationalists, and the people who want their government not to support Hamas but can express solidarity with Palestinians simultaneously. If Erdoğan cannot secure the continued support from Turkish nationalists and religious conservatives, then these voters are expected not to support Erdoğan in the upcoming local elections amid having a profoundly fragmented opposition. This risk remains even if these voters choose to back his allies in the MHP, as it could erode Erdoğan’s standing within the ruling coalition.   For now, Erdoğan has been able to minimalise the damage to Türkiye-Israel relations. He has opposed the attacks and killings of civilians in both Israel and Gaza, and has decried the humanitarian situation in Gaza, while also advocating for creating a free state of Palestine amid a two-state solution. Erdoğan has also spoken with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Palestinian/ Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas in expressing his proposal to allow Türkiye to be a mediator.  Furthermore, Erdoğan has called for dialogue and mediation between Israel and Palestine while distancing himself from supporting Hamas, but calling Israeli behaviour a war crime during the “Great Palestinian Meeting” in Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport last Saturday. The attempt to mediate conflict may perhaps be a bridge too far for Türkiye given Erdoğan’s speeches and the close relationship with Hamas. Regardless of its apparent lack of potential, this approach has received endorsement from the Turkish nationalists while not displeasing the religious conservatives.     In the meantime, Erdoğan has taken full advantage of the Israel-Hamas conflict by attacking the PKK in northeast Syria and Iraq. The 1 October terrorist attack in Ankara targeting the headquarters of the Turkish National Police has triggered massive counterterrorism operations across the country and the neighbouring states conducted by the Turkish military force and the Interior Ministry. Ankara, following the attacks, immediately began its military operation, striking the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) ‘s military camps in north-eastern Syria and Iraq, destroying critical energy infrastructure.   The ongoing Israel-Hamas Conflict has now placed Türkiye and its relations with the United States in a challenging position. This situation is further compounded by recent events, such as the US jet shooting down a Turkish drone in Syria and Türkiye’s reluctance to impose sanctions on Russia. Nonetheless, the Israel-Hamas Conflict has effectively redirected international attention away from Türkiye’s actions in Syria and Iraq, easing some of the pressures on Ankara.  While the conflict presents President Erdoğan with a dilemma, it could offer a unique opportunity to pursue his national and regional political aspirations and strategic objectives, including winning the 2024 local elections by a significant margin and working towards Türkiye’s goal of becoming a leading state in the Middle East and South Caucasus.  

Diplomacy
Flags of Israel and China

Political Insights (2): The Chinese Position on the Israeli War on Gaza

by Dr. Mohammad Makram Balawi

Developed Chinese-Israeli Relations… However: China’s diplomatic relations with Israel began in 1992. Beijing has believed that its relations with Tel Aviv would help improve its image in the West and enable it to obtain Western military technology, where bilateral trade reached about $24.4 billion in 2022. However, it has been proven to China, on several occasions, that Israel is not completely immune to US pressure, as it has faced several difficulties in implementing some Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in the port of Haifa. It was prevented from winning a bid to operate the Sorek desalination plant for 25 years, because it is adjacent to the Palmachim Air Base, where US forces are stationed, and is near the Nahal nuclear research facility. Israel has also terminated an arms deal with China and was forced to pay financial compensation, etc. The Israeli position on the Russia-Ukraine war and the Western alliance against Moscow, has reinforced China’s belief that Israel is aligned with the US-Western powers, and that Israeli calculations may change if Western powers decide to take more hostile steps against China, for it’s a fact that the US openly declares that Beijing is its next most dangerous enemy. Furthermore, Israel’s participation in the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) project that Biden announced on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi on 9–10/9/2023, linking India to the Middle East and then into Europe via Israel, and which Netanyahu hailed, have given negative indications. For China sees it as an alternative project to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and that it aims to challenge it. China is seeking to enhance stability in the region for the sake of the BRI projects. It has been working on political initiatives, the most prominent of which was the Saudi Arabia-Iran announcement to resume diplomatic relations, which came following Chinese-brokered talks held in Beijing. However, the US, in partnership with Israel, are working to threaten Tehran and maintain its conflict with regional countries, which counters China’s endeavors, destabilizes the region and harms China’s strategic projects. The Position on Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and the Aggression Against Gaza From the onset of the Ukraine war, China has increased its interest in the region, especially Palestine. This was evident following the 20th Communist Party Congress in October 2022, the subsequent summits held by the Chinese President in the Gulf and Arab region, the quiet rapprochement with Hamas and its invitation to visit China, and China’s offers to mediate between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. On the internal level, a small segment of the Chinese elite has shown admiration for the Israeli model and sympathized with it as modern and advanced. However, Operation Al-Aqsa Flood dispelled these illusions and revealed Israel’s bloody racist nature and showed that the West, which established international law and imposed it on the world, does not abide by it, but rather uses it selectively. This has united the Chinese popular and elite position, which considers Israel an occupying state obstructing the two-state solution, and supports the Palestinian people in obtaining their rights. Operation Al-Aqsa Flood strengthened the Chinese conviction of the importance of the region to the Chinese strategy, and the importance of its relationship with Hamas in the Palestinian context, which is consistent with the Russian stance—China’s undeclared ally—regarding the region and the Movement. This consistency in positions was demonstrated in the Russian-Chinese diplomatic support of Hamas, albeit indirectly, and refusing to classify it as a “terrorist” movement. The official Chinese position can be summarized as follows: • Calling on all parties to exercise restraint and ceasefire. • Expressing dissatisfaction with the continued Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip and targeting of civilians, and fear of not maintaining the minimum level of respect for life and international law. • Emphasizing the historical injustice that occurred against the Palestinian people and that it cannot continue; and stressing that the long-term stagnation of the peace process is no longer sustainable. • Using the veto power in partnership with Russia against the US proposal to condemn Hamas and label it as “terrorist.” Concerns about Western US Intervention The Chinese are concerned about the US-Western offensive and defensive military mobilization in the region (including the arrival of US aircraft carriers). They believe that such mobilization is not only related to supporting Israel in its war on Gaza, but also to controlling the regional environment in a way that prevents any force from intervening to support the Palestinian resistance. In addition, it may be intended to exploit the situation to impose Western agendas on the region, including dominating energy sources and prices, especially in light of the significant restrictions imposed by the US and its allies on Russian oil. It may be considered a direct threat to the Chinese economy that depends mainly on energy coming from the Middle East and Gulf oil, and it also threatens China’s projects and economic relations in the region. Supporting Palestine Based on Accurate Calculations It may be in China’s interest to support the Palestinian resistance, even if only politically, and to perpetuate the exhaustion of the US in the region, to reduce Western pressure on East Asia. However, Chinese policy has so far distanced itself from direct intervention in regional conflicts and from direct entry into a conflict—that has military dimensions—with Western powers. This means that China will be very reluctant to do any move beyond the political and humanitarian support of the Palestinian people, and if it is forced, it will be in the near term indirectly, and through intermediary or third parties such as Syria and Iran. However, if the conflict is prolonged and Chinese interests are severely damaged, China may review its policies to protect its interests, including strengthening its military presence and supporting its allies and friends in the region.

Defense & Security
Hanke Bruins Slot, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands

Speech Minister Bruins Slot at the UN Security Council open debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question

by Hanke Bruins Slot

Speech by Hanke Bruins Slot, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, at the UN Security Council quarterly open debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, 24 October 2023. The spoken word applies. Thank you, Mr President, I thank the Secretary-General for his briefing. Mr President, On 7 October, the world witnessed a horrific terrorist attack on Israel. The horrendous violence carried out by Hamas was not aimed at military targets. Rather, it was an attempt to destroy people’s souls. By taking hostages and, murdering civilians, and this threat from Hamas is far from over. In this context we should all stand united: by supporting Israel. And its right to self-defence against the terror threat of Hamas. As we’ve said before: the use of force in self-defence must be necessary and proportionate. And international humanitarian law must be respected. By all parties. This means that every possible measure to protect civilians must be taken. That humanitarian workers must be able to do their job safely and unhindered. And that UN premises and personnel remain safe from harm. All of this requires restraint on the part of Israel in the use of force. Mr President, the Kingdom of the Netherlands shares the concerns voiced by so many today. The situation for civilians in Gaza is catastrophic. They are in dire need of aid. We cannot afford to lose more time. So far, the first convoys have entered Gaza. We need a sustained flow of humanitarian aid of all basis needs. And much more is needed, including fuel. Water supplies need to be restored immediately. Humanitarian pauses are crucial to allow much-needed aid to get through. And a permanent humanitarian corridor is the only way to prevent the situation getting much worse. The Netherlands will step up its humanitarian response. We’ve committed an additional 10 million euros for immediate humanitarian relief; 8 million euros of which is for UNWRA. This funding aims to improve the living conditions for Palestinian citizens, including mental health and psychosocial support. We are also extremely concerned about the conflict spreading beyond the borders of Israel and Gaza. And we call on all concerned to prevent this from happening. We also urge all parties to do their utmost to prevent further escalation in the West Bank. In this context, we will continue with our development aid for stability. The Palestinian Authority fulfils an important role within their power in preventing a further deterioration and deserves our strong support. Settler violence is worsening an already tense situation. This must stop. Let me conclude, Mr President, by saying that our thoughts and prayers are with all the victims and the hostages that need to be released immediately and unconditionally. When the UN was created in the aftermath of the Second World War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was one of the first major crises calling for urgent attention. Today, more than 75 years later, the need to find a solution to this conflict is more pressing and crucial than ever. The Netherlands calls on this Council to provide the leadership required to manage this crisis, contain it and provide perspective on sustainable peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians as the only way forward. In this context I would like to thank the tireless efforts of the UN and express my gratitude to the UN staff acting on the ground. We cannot go back to the status quo; the two-state solution is more urgently needed than ever. Because both sides need it, both sides are entitled to it, and both sides deserve it. Thank you, Mr President.

Defense & Security
United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Will Saudi Arabia Renew the 'Arab Peace Initiative' as the Middle East Seethes?

by Daniel Brumberg

Whether Hamas’s October 7 assault has ended whatever prospects existed for forging diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia remains to be seen. The assumption that a second key goal of the attack was to get Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (MBS) to back away from a deal to recognize Israel may be true. But it is also possible that a protracted conflict in Gaza that invites a wider regional war—a prospect that now seems likely—could get Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader to revive the “Arab Peace Initiative” (API) that deceased Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdelaziz proposed in 2002. After all, there was a time not so long ago when some experts speculated that the initiative might “supplant” the Abraham Accords by providing an umbrella for a consensus of Arab governments, one that would address the key issue that the accords sidestepped: the creation of a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel. But such a step faces significant hurdles, not least of which is that no matter the outcome of Israel’s unfolding military campaign in Gaza, Hamas’s success (which surprised even its leaders) in breaching Israel’s defenses and spreading mayhem and death in southern Israeli towns and kibbutzim has made it and Islamic Jihad the paramount symbols in the Arab world of Palestinian resistance to any territorial compromise with Israel. Moreover, as Israel’s incursion creates massive civilian casualties, it is galvanizing the Arab street from Casablanca to Kuwait City, thus making it difficult for any Arab leader to make the case for revising a wider Arab initiative. And yet MBS might try, especially if he concludes that doing so would help consolidate his personal power before his eventual ascension to the throne. Such a move would represent a not insignificant change for the prince. After all, he had already signaled to the Biden administration that securing US support for a nuclear power plant under the umbrella of US security guarantees is far more important to the Saudis than conditioning the normalization of relations with Israel on a demand that Netanyahu’s government would surely reject—namely, to renounce Israel’s intended annexation of the occupied West Bank. Hamas’s assault may leave MBS with a newfound appreciation of the Palestinian issue. But his credibility as an interlocutor for the Palestinians has been tarnished by his lack of enthusiasm for embracing a cause that never topped his list. MBS Wins Either Way Reflecting on the implications of Hamas’s assault for Saudi Arabia, and for MBS in particular, one analyst argues that while the attack may have ended—or at least suspended—efforts to secure Israeli-Saudi normalization, this outcome would not represent a strategic or political loss for MBS. By changing the “discussion to MBS and Israel, away from MBS and Khashoggi,” he suggests, the crown prince got what he wanted: he has rehabilitated his image “just by talking.” Deal or no deal with Israel, MBS wins. However cynical it may be, this assessment is not off-base. In the rarified circles in which MBS thrives, where high-level diplomatic discussions and frequent appearances on global news programs fill his days and weeks, talking is a sign that he is in the game and that he counts. But knowing this, when it comes to the question of normalizing relations with Israel and other hot-button issues, he has been careful with his talk. Thus in a September 20 interview with Fox News, he noted, “For us, the Palestinian issue is very important, we need to solve that part.” Yet he avoided any direct mention of conditions while adding that, “We hope that we will reach a place that eases the life of the Palestinians.” There was no reference to the Arab Peace Initiative or a Palestinian state. Reiterating his hope that the ongoing discussions would give the Palestinians a “good life,” he showed optimism about the course of talks with the Biden administration. From a negotiating standpoint, this caution may have made sense. From his own vantage point, it also makes sense that MBS sees politics through the material lens of securing a “good life.” But from a diplomatic standpoint, his words were potentially problematic, as they suggested that the crown prince might be demanding less of the Israeli government and its leaders than the Biden administration. In late August, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reportedly told Israel officials that they were “misreading the situation” if they thought that Israel would not have to make major concessions to the Palestinians for any deal with Riyadh. On September 13, he asserted that Saudi leaders told him that the “Palestinian piece is going to be very important,” thus seemingly anticipating the language that MBS used a week later in his interview with Fox News. Coordinated or not, these statements set off alarm bells, not in Israel, but in the United States. In a novel situation, several liberal Jewish organizations and a group of 20 Democratic Senators echoed Thomas Friedman’s September 5 opinion piece, in which he urged the administration to “just say no” to a Saudi-Israel deal that didn’t include an Israeli commitment to halting annexation and stopping actions that would preclude a Palestinian state, such as expanding settlements. This campaign was also tied to the stand-off between the Israeli government and the opposition regarding Israel’s “judicial reform” law. The authors of these demands knew that by insisting on linking Saudi-Israeli normalization to the Palestinian issue, the White House would make Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu navigate between two choices, one of which would probably lead to the collapse of his government. Thus the specter of US Jewish groups, Democratic senators and a prominent New York Times columnist delivering a message that MBS deliberately fudged, and that the administration seemed hesitant to place at the center of its talks with Israel and Saudi Arabia. Pulling Victory from the Jaws of Defeat? It is not unreasonable to assume that in the wake of the Hamas assault, MBS might talk his way out of an explosive situation that for the moment threatens to undermine Israeli-Saudi normalization, but could upend the entire superstructure of the Abraham Accords. If, in addition to producing a humanitarian crisis and thousands of civilian deaths, a prolonged Israeli incursion into Gaza triggers a wider regional war, the leaders of Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain might freeze their relations with Israel. This would be an enormous setback for the Biden administration, as it has bet nearly its entire Middle East policy on sustaining and expanding the accords. Since such an outcome would also put MBS in a tight spot, it is reasonable to expect that he, his ministers, and the semi-official Saudi press are getting busy revising the crown prince’s talking points in ways that emphasize his commitment to the Palestinians, thus perhaps setting the stage for an effort by him to dust off the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. Indeed, it appears that the stage is already being set for such a shift. Careful not to get ahead of MBS, on the first day of Hamas’s attacks, the Saudi Foreign Ministry issued a statement that the kingdom was “closely following the developments of the unprecedented situation between a number of Palestinian factions and the Israeli occupation forces.” Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud then had a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, which according to the ministry noted “the kingdom’s rejection of targeting civilians in any way and the need for all parties to respect international humanitarian law.” Taking the message one small step forward, the editor of Saudi-owned newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat said that “Israel’s hubris has pushed it to miss several opportunities.” But as the summary of Saudi responses from which the above statements are all drawn shows, these remarks largely steered clear of Iran, and did not, of course, mention MBS’s recent observation about improving the lives of Palestinians. Echoing this tactical caution while moving the needle forward a little, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Mohammed Alyahya noted in a Washington Post editorial that MBS’s Fox News interview showed “his country’s commitment to easing the life of Palestinians through negotiations for normalization,” but prefaced this observation by stating that Saudi officials remain convinced that the “API is a solid foundation from which good-faith negotiations can proceed.” That position, he added, was also set out on September 23 at the UN General Assembly by the Saudi foreign minister. Thus the crown prince’s allies recast MBS’s tepid words on the Palestinians while placing his outreach to Israel under the umbrella of the API, a plan that is rejected by both Hamas and Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Beyond the Dream Wagon These rejections reflect theocratic worldviews about Palestine that have been embraced by both Hamas and at least two ministers in Netanyahu’s government: Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. But this spirit of rejectionism is less the product of ideology or faith than an outcome of a stalemated conflict. That standoff has produced desperation among Palestinians who feel powerless, and a sense of either resignation or arrogant defiance among Israelis, born of the misconception that Israel could protect its security by sustaining the status quo or advancing the annexation of the West Bank. But the current sorry state of affairs was also a product of other factors, including the genocidal language of Iran and its allies in Lebanon, the apathy of Arab leaders, and the decision of the Biden administration to hitch its Middle East policy to a dream wagon of Arab-Israeli harmony that ignored the Palestinian issue. This was a fantasy because while the leaders of the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia do not worry about democratic accountability, the sentiments of their people do matter. However charming and even welcomed, all the interfaith dialogue and prayer in Abu Dhabi or Riyadh will not produce conditions that will help Palestinians and Israelis toward some kind of imperfect but just peace. This lesson will now get a new hearing from Arab leaders, from the Biden administration, and perhaps eventually, from a new Israeli government. But the White House will have to make it clear to MBS and other Arab leaders that proposals to revive a wider Arab Peace Initiative must be based on much more than talk, or for that matter, on the kinds of diplomatic hedging that MBS has pursued with a hardline Iranian government that rejects Palestinian-Israeli peace of any kind. Enormous financial and institutional resources, as well as a display of political will the likes of which have not been seen in the region for decades, will all be required to create any hope of moving beyond this apparently hopeless moment. The views expressed in this publication are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of World and New World Journal, its staff, or its Board of Directors. This paper was originally published by Arab Center Washington DC. Republished with permission. © Arab Center Washington DC, October 2023.’ 

Defense & Security
Protestors in Jordan holding Palestinian flags during protest for Palestinian cause

'The worst is coming': Jordan braces for spillover effects of Israel-Hamas war

by John Calabrese

As the Israel-Hamas war enters its fourth week, the Kingdom of Jordan finds itself on the frontline of the conflict and King Abdullah II a central figure in the regional and global diplomatic efforts to contain it. Facing a complex set of domestic and external challenges even before Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and with a perilous ground war in Gaza now underway, the Hashemite Kingdom is bracing for a broader conflict and multiple spillover effects. A precarious reality at home and abroad Domestic pressures Jordan faces numerous challenges that King Abdullah II is under mounting pressure to address. Popular discontent with the perceived corruption and indifference of government officials and the royal family itself has been growing, though there are few signs that the survival of the monarchy is at risk. Fueling this discontent are the worsening socio-economic conditions after the Jordanian economy failed to absorb successive external shocks, namely the COVID‑19 pandemic and the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to official figures, the unemployment rate stood at 22.3% in Q2 2023 and over 40% for those aged 15‑24. Interest rates, which have continued to climb as the result of a sustained period of high inflation and the Jordanian currency’s peg to the United States dollar, are further squeezing household incomes. The price of essential goods remains elevated, by pre-2022 standards. Meanwhile, wage growth has broadly stagnated. Public debt has swelled to around 110% of GDP, increasing external debt service payments and thus placing a heavy burden on the country’s foreign currency reserves. About 27% of the population is living in poverty. Jordan’s persistent economic malaise has done little to dissipate the public anger and frustration that boiled over last December, when a nationwide strike over fuel price increases stemming from austerity measures mandated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sparked riots in several large cities, featuring clashes between anti-government protesters and supporters of the king along with skirmishes between protesters and police. These latest disturbances are part of a recurring pattern marked by chronic economic and fiscal crises, outbursts of public anger, and limited reforms. But it is important to note that in the past couple of years, the state has met growing popular dissent and disgruntlement with heightened repression. External challenges Despite having succeeded in repressing jihadist attacks from infiltrating the kingdom and playing a pivotal role in inter-Arab reconciliation with Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Jordan has continued to grapple with the spillover effects of the Syrian civil war. At the same time, Jordan’s relations with Israel have deteriorated. The kingdom is waging a tough battle against increasing drug and weapons trafficking and carrying a heavy refugee burden, further stretching its resources. Across its northern border with Syria, a prevailing state of lawlessness has transformed Jordan into a key transit route for the smuggling of captagon, a highly addictive and lucrative amphetamine, along with other drugs and weapons. In addition, the United Nations World Food Program’s (WFP) recent reduction by one-third of aid for the 119,000 Syrians residing in Jordan’s Zaatari and Azraq refugee camps has increased fiscal pressure on the government. Meanwhile, Jordan’s political relations with Israel have deteriorated. During Benjamin Netanyahu’s lengthy premiership (2009-2021), Jordan’s relations with Israel were frosty. Although bilateral relations somewhat improved during the 18-month tenure of Israel’s “Change Coalition” under Naftali Bennet and Yair Lapid, the return of Netanyahu to power at the head of a hard right-nationalist coalition at the end of 2022 rekindled tensions. A rare meeting between King Abdullah and Netanyahu in Amman last January, aimed at easing tensions, was eclipsed three months later by a series of violent confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinians at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. The 1994 Wadi Araba peace treaty with Israel remains deeply unpopular in Jordan. According to a March 2022 survey conducted by The Jerusalem Post, 32% of respondents ranked Israel as the country that most threatens Jordan’s security, and 48% identified the Jewish state as the country most responsible for regional instability. The Doha-based Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies’ Arab Opinion Index 2022, issued in January of this year, found that 94% of Jordanian respondents opposed any recognition of or ties with Israel. Raising the specter of an upsurge of violence in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip last December as a new hardline government in Israel was about to take office, King Abdullah warned in a CNN interview, “We have to be concerned about a next intifada. […] And if that happens, that’s a complete breakdown of law and order and one that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will benefit from.” The Jordanian leader could not have anticipated the shocking Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, yet his remarks at a conference in New York just two weeks earlier were prescient: “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.” Grappling with conflict The war in Gaza has compounded the domestic and external challenges facing the Hashemite Kingdom. More than 2 million or 40% of all registered Palestinian refugees live in Jordan. Since the onset of the war, thousands of Jordanians have taken to the streets daily in Amman and around the country in pro-Palestinian rallies organized by opposition parties and to protest Israel’s bombing campaign and incursions into Gaza. Some young protesters attempted to storm the Israeli embassy while others reportedly demanded Jordanian authorities “open the borders” so they could join the fight to “liberate Palestine.” Hamas leaders have urged Jordanian tribes to enter the conflict against Israel. King Abdullah has faced growing calls to expel Israeli diplomats and abrogate Jordan’s peace deal with Israel. Two weeks into the war, at an emergency Middle Eastern summit in Cairo, the king channeled Jordanians’ growing public anger, harshly criticizing Israel for inflicting “collective punishment” on Gazan Palestinians. Jordanian diplomats have likewise lashed out publicly against Israel. Meanwhile, officials in Amman have directed their outrage and frustration not just at Israel but at Western “silence” in the face of Palestinian suffering and seemingly unconditional U.S. support for Israeli retribution. In an interview with CNN, Queen Rania, herself of Palestinian descent, decried the “glaring double standard […] in the face of such human suffering,” which “to many in our region it makes the Western world complicit.” On the 21st day of the conflict, a nonbinding resolution introduced by Jordan calling for “an immediate, durable, and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities” was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, even as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced the expansion of ground operations and a near-total communications blackout was imposed on the besieged enclave. As the war continues into its fourth week, Jordan is grappling with the multiple dimensions of a rapidly escalating conflict. On the domestic front, Jordanian authorities have sought to contain the protests. The Ministry of Interior has banned gatherings and demonstrations in the Jordan Valley and border areas. Earlier, Jordanian police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of people protesting in an area around the Israeli embassy. Meanwhile, suspicion lingers that some Israelis may be flirting with the idea of a population transfer. Reflecting these concerns, a joint statement released during the Cairo summit, after King Abdullah’s meeting with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, rejected “any attempt at the forced displacement of Gazans into Jordan and Egypt.” At an Oct. 17 press conference held following his meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, King Abdullah stated unequivocally, “There will be no refugees in Jordan and no refugees in Egypt,” declaring it a “red line.” Echoing the king, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi stated, alarmingly, that any attempt to displace Palestinians from the West Bank would be “considered a declaration of war.” The current conflict in Gaza has shaken the foundation of Jordan’s relationship with Israel. Reflecting the strain the conflict has placed on the relationship, Jordan has decided to pull its ambassador from Israel. Yet Jordan needs Israel and, thus, finds itself in a steadily worsening predicament. Facing a deepening water crisis and potentially destabilizing shortages, Jordan was inching closer to finalizing a binding agreement on a “climate barter” with Israel ahead of the 2023 U.N. Climate Change Conference (28th Conference of the Parties, COP28), when the Gaza war broke out. The initiative, dubbed Project Prosperity and sponsored by the United Arab Emirates, envisions the sale of desalinated water to Jordan from Israel and the purchase of green electricity by Israel from an Emirati-funded solar farm in Jordan. The Gaza war is likely at least to postpone, if not derail this project as well as delay completion of the previously approved “Jordan Gateway” joint industrial park. The possible adverse economic repercussions of the escalating conflict on Jordan extend beyond its relationship with Israel. Shortly before the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, an IMF report warned that mounting economic pressures threatened the “sociopolitical stability” of Jordan as well as Egypt and Lebanon. Supporters of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), protesting against Israel’s attacks on Gaza, are blocking oil tanker trucks from crossing into Jordan, saying they will not allow Iraqi oil to be exported to countries that have peace agreements with Israel. Depending on how long the Israel-Hamas war lasts and is fought, Jordan could suffer a sharp decline in tourism and foreign investment as well as a disruption of cross-border trade. The grand U.S.-backed plan to build a multimodal India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), which would pass through Jordan, could become a casualty of the conflict in Gaza. The conflict has also complicated Jordan’s relationship with the United States. King Abdullah, Washington’s longstanding, stalwart regional partner, canceled his meeting with President Joe Biden in Amman in the aftermath of the deadly blast at al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City. The U.S. veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a “humanitarian pause” in the conflict was surely greeted with displeasure in Amman. And the U.S. pledge of a $100 million package in humanitarian aid for the Palestinians reportedly was viewed by Jordanian (and Egyptian) officials as a token gesture. Because the U.S. is the single largest contributor of bilateral assistance to Jordan — aid that the country has come to greatly depend upon — Amman will likely tread carefully lest its differences with Washington over the conflict risk severely damaging the relationship. However, the longer the war and the greater the loss of civilian life in Gaza, the more difficult it will be for the Jordanian monarchy to balance the tasks of managing its relations with Washington on the one hand and the domestic political fallout from the conflict on the other. Conclusion Speaking at an Oct. 19 press conference, with diplomatic efforts having failed to yield results in ending the Gaza conflict, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Safad expressed his fear that “the worst is coming.” His apprehension appears to have been confirmed, as, a little over a week later, Israeli troops advanced into the northern part of the enclave, accompanied by a massive aerial and artillery bombardment and amid a communication blackout. With a dangerous new phase of the Israel-Hamas war having begun, Jordan awaits the repercussions, having little leverage and few policy options.

Diplomacy
Palestinian flag, on the background flags of China and the USA

China’s approach to the war in Gaza is not anti-Israel. It’s designed to contain the US

by Ahmed Aboudouh

China’s position on the war in Gaza is controversial and ambiguous to many observers. Beijing has criticized Israel’s blanket bombardment of civilians and condemned violations of international law. President Xi Jinping waited until after the Third Belt and Road Forum to comment on the crisis, reiterating China’s long-held position that a two-state solution should be implemented and calling for a humanitarian corridor to allow aid into the besieged Gaza Strip. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi went further, describing Israel’s bombardment of civilians in Gaza as actions that ‘have gone beyond the scope of self-defence’. At the same time, Beijing avoided condemning Hamas’s atrocities against civilians. As in Ukraine, China is positioning itself as a peace-seeking, ‘neutral’ great power, in contrast to the US, whose committed support for Israel is depicted by Beijing as a destabilizing, violent influence in the region. But China’s comments on the war, and its non-interventionist stance, mean it is unable to influence events – an uncomfortable position when its interests are directly threatened by the war. That may be why Beijing is increasingly aligning with Russia on the Palestinian issue, an unprecedented development that aims to guarantee a place at the negotiating table at minimal cost to both – and undermine US influence in the region. Familiar tactics It is now clear that China is adopting the Ukraine playbook on the Israel–Hamas war, seeking to publicly chart a different course from the US and its allies and their unconditional support for Israel. Chinese officials’ diplomatic interactions with the region are strictly adhering to Beijing’s policy of balancing between the Gulf States and Iran and between the regional main powers and Israel. The rhetoric from Beijing is carefully designed to focus on the broader context, such as implementing the two-state solution, addressing humanitarian issues and preventing the conflict from turning into a regional one. It has refrained from describing the Hamas incursion into Israel as a terrorist attack but has called Israel’s retaliation ‘collective punishment’ of Palestinian civilians – signalling its opposition to an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza. This is not simply the behaviour of a peace-loving, mercantilist giant. Rather, it is a structured, deliberate strategy to achieve China’s objectives in the region and beyond. ‘Anti-Western neutrality’ China does not aspire to replace the US position in the Middle East, but will undoubtedly be pleased to see the US again drawn into a conflict in the region. Chinese experts believe the more strategic non-East Asian theatres that require Washington’s attention, the more time and space China gains to assert its strategic domination in the Indo-Pacific. China has reaffirmed its historical affinity to the Palestinian cause (its policy since the time of Mao Zedong) and its policy of what might be called ‘anti-Western neutrality’ – that is, neutrality that stops short of condemning any country or force that undermines Western centrality in the global order (rather than explicitly lending support to Hamas). China also uses ‘Anti-Western neutrality’ to appeal to a densely populated and strategically important support base. Many Global South nations are sympathetic to Palestine, and the war is therefore an issue China can use to mobilize support for its leadership of developing countries. This in turn helps win backing for Chinese positions on core issues like Xinjiang and Taiwan – and for Xi’s vision of global governance, enshrined in his signature initiatives: the Global Development Initiative (GDI), the Global Security Initiative (GSI), and the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI). China has also sought to consolidate regional unity, urging the Islamic World to ‘speak with one voice’ with China on Palestine, building on its initiative to mediate a diplomatic agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran last March – a big win for the GSI, which is based on regional countries independently taking the lead in ‘resolving regional security issues through solidarity and coordination.’ The war encouraged Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salaman and Iran’s President Ibrahim Raisi to speak on the phone for the first time, something China was pleased to see. By stressing its neutral stance and its role as a voice of the Global South, China wants to check the US’s moral standing and legitimize internationalization of the issue, calling for a global conference to initiate a peace process – thereby removing Washington from its decades-long position as the unchallenged arbiter in the conflict. The ultimate objective is to degrade the US’s global standing and win the ‘discourse power’ war by capitalizing on sympathy for Palestinians worldwide. A flawed policy However, beyond the short term, China’s policy is flawed and unsustainable. While the Biden administration has failed to speak in a balanced way on the war, instead unconditionally supporting Israel, it has mobilized US diplomatic might to influence Israel’s response – preventing the conflict from spreading outside Gaza and allowing aid to reach civilians. Its committed response to the war, in fact, may put to bed the idea that Washington has departed from the Middle East, strengthening its traditional regional role. Chinese ‘anti-Western neutrality’ meanwhile, has led Israel to retaliate diplomatically by joining the UK and 50 other countries at the UN to condemn China’s policies against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, saying they constitute ‘international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.’ Like the Ukraine war, the Israel–Hamas war shows that ambiguity and ‘anti-Western neutrality’ are complex acts. To be considered neutral, others must also believe it. Neutrality also prevents China from directly influencing these dangerous events in a way that favours its interests. China has significant economic connections to the region. It is the biggest trading partner with most MENA countries and almost half of its imported oil comes from the Gulf. China’s overall trade with the Arab world stood at more than $430 billion last year. These significant interests are vulnerable to regional wars and instability - but Chinese leaders can only watch events unfold from a distance. China should now understand that transactional de-escalation between regional rivals like Saudi Arabia and Iran does not necessarily constitute peace. One of the key lessons of the conflict is that Iranian proxies were ready to blow up the region to impede Saudi normalization with Israel. China-sponsored integration initiatives will be no more successful at preventing another similar episode. Possessing great power capabilities is one thing. Acting like a great power is another. The US has demonstrated its continuing commitment to Israel and ability to influence Israeli policy. China has confined itself to voicing objections and calling for peace. Alignment with Russia may amplify its voice in a peace settlement. But there is a long way to go before that becomes reality. China must understand that in these crucial days, lip service diplomacy is the last thing MENA people want.

Diplomacy
United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Saudi plans to ‘de-risk’ region have taken a hit with Gaza violence − but hitting pause on normalization with Israel will buy kingdom time

by Kristian Coates Ulrichsen

Saudi Arabia and Israel had seemingly been edging closer to a landmark deal to normalize their diplomatic relations – and then the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 2023, happened. Since then, thousands have died in Gaza and in Israel. And fears of the conflict spreading across the region form the backdrop to frenzied diplomacy across the region, including a visit to Israel by U.S. President Joe Biden on Oct. 18. It also threatens to undermine a key pillar of Saudi Arabia’s foreign and domestic agenda: the “de-risking” of the region. With Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman set on implementing “Vision 2030” – an ambitious economic, social and cultural program – and developing the kingdom as a destination for tourism and investment, a renewal of regional instability is the last thing the crown prince needs. De-escalating tensions Certainly, the escalating violence in the Middle East presents a challenge to the shift toward de-escalation of tensions across much of the broader region in recent years. This has included the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. But it goes further, including multiple-state treaties that have healed rifts across the Gulf, culminating in the signing of a deal in March 2023 to restore Saudi-Iranian relations. These diplomatic breakthroughs opened up a space for greater regional cooperation through initiatives such as the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor unveiled at the G20 meeting in India in September 2023. The hope of officials across the region was that economic development could integrate the region and move discussion away from the failure to make progress on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The Palestinian question Violence in Israel and Gaza threatens to knock Gulf states off a delicate balancing act of supporting the Palestinian cause in front of their largely Muslim populations while also making overtures to Israel and the U.S. Qatar, for example, has long hosted the political leaders of Hamas while remaining on friendly terms with the U.S.. It will now likely face significant Israeli and U.S. pressure to expel Hamas leadership. The UAE and Bahrain both normalized relations with Israel in 2020, along with Morocco. But public support for the Abraham Accords across the region was always lukewarm at best and may now dwindle away. Meanwhile, Dubai, the UAE’s largest city, is gearing up to host COP28, the international climate change conference, starting Nov. 30. The UAE will not want the event overshadowed or put at risk by a new regional war. Reaching out to Israel But nowhere is the tightrope more delicate than in Saudi Arabia. This is by virtue of the kingdom’s religious standing in the Islamic world – it is custodian of the faith’s two most holy sites, Mecca and Medina – and the ambitious raft of economic reforms the kingdom has rolled out as part of Vision 2030. The campaign for Palestinian statehood has long been a cause célèbre in the Muslim world, and the current king of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, has been a staunch supporter of Palestine all his life. But his son and heir, the crown prince, has increasingly shown an interest in dialogue with Israel. This has culminated in the talks to “normalize” relations between the two countries – something that would represent a historic breakthrough in Israel’s acceptance within the Arab and Islamic world. As recently as Sept. 20, Crown Prince Mohammed told Fox News that “every day, we get closer” to a deal. Indeed, a series of leaks to U.S. media in the days and weeks prior to the Hamas attack suggested that the outlines of an agreement were taking shape, driven by the Biden administration. Public shows, private diplomacy But the Hamas attack and Israel’s response have punctured this momentum. Saudi sources briefed the media on Oct. 13 that talks on normalization had been paused – but not abandoned. Such messaging is in line with Saudi attempts to balance domestic and external interests. An initial Saudi Foreign Ministry statement on Oct. 7 appealed to both the “Palestinian factions” and “Israeli occupation forces” to de-escalate. But at the first Friday prayer at the Grand Mosque in Mecca after the attacks, Saudi authorities were more forthcoming in taking sides, with the state-appointed cleric urging support for “our brothers in Palestine.” Behind the public shows of support for Palestinians, there is evidence that Saudis are trying to spearhead diplomatic efforts to prevent the war between Israel ad Hamas from developing into a wider conflagration that might bring in Lebanon, Iran and others. On Oct. 12, Crown Prince Mohammed discussed the unfolding developments in Israel and Gaza with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi – their first conversation since ties between the two countries were restored in March. Three days later, the crown prince received U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Riyadh amid media reports of differences between the Saudi and U.S. positions on the conflict and the need for de-escalation. Oil and foreign investment Such diplomatic moves fall in line with the crown prince’s desire to “de-risk” the region. He is eager to see that nothing jeopardizes a series of “giga-projects” – such as Neom, the futuristic new city on the Red Sea coastline – that have become synonymous with Vision 2030. The Saudi fear is that a prolonged or regional conflict will deter foreign investment in Vision 2030. Foreign investment was seen as key to the project’s success. But levels of foreign investment plunged after the detention by the Saudi authorities of dozens of senior Saudi business figures at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in 2017 over allegations of corruption. Investors took fright at the prospect that their business partners might suddenly disappear or be shaken down. As a result, the Saudis are having to shoulder a greater proportion of the costs of Vision 2030 themselves. This explains why Saudi officials have cooperated with their Russian counterparts in OPEC+ meetings to keep the price of oil at a level high enough to generate enough revenues to fund the projects. Vision 2030 has become so bound up with Crown Prince Mohammed’s pledge to transform Saudi Arabia that he cannot afford for it to fail – hence his determination to reduce sources of regional tension, including with Iran. Saudi officials also recently revised their plans to attract 100 million visitors a year by 2030 upward to 150 million and launched a bid to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup. Underlying these initiatives is the Saudis’ desire to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from an overdependence on oil, turning the kingdom into a destination for capital and people alike. These ambitions would be endangered by another regional war in the Middle East – especially if it drew in Iran. Playing the ‘normalization’ card So where does the “normalization” of Saudi-Israeli relations go from here? Putting the process on ice – for now – fits Crown Prince Mohammed’s careful balancing act. Proceeding at full speed would have risked blowback from other Arab and Middle Eastern states, undermining the process of “de-risking” of the region. It also may provide Saudi Arabia with greater leverage – Israel and the U.S. will be keen that the current violence does not derail the process entirely. So pausing the process, I argue, now makes tactical sense for Saudi Arabia, given the outpouring of anger in the Islamic world at developments in Gaza – and it provides the Saudi leadership with an opportunity to control the next phase of what remains an extremely delicate endeavor.

Diplomacy
IDF soldiers on Palestinian lands

Even if Israel can completely eliminate Hamas, does it have a long-term plan for Gaza?

by Ian Parmeter

Not counting periodic cross-border skirmishes, Israel has fought three major wars against Hamas since withdrawing its forces from Gaza in 2005 – in 2008, 2014 and 2021. Each involved limited ground incursions, with Israeli soldiers in Gaza for about a fortnight. In the past couple weeks, Israel has put together a huge force to mount another ground invasion in retaliation for the Hamas cross-border attacks that killed around 1,400 Israelis on October 7. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have called up their entire armoured corps – more than 1,000 tanks. Around 360,000 reservists will also join the force’s full-time personnel of about 170,000. The operation is shaping up to be Israel’s biggest since its invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which was aimed at driving the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) from its base there. The Israelis succeeded in that objective. But an unforeseen consequence of that war was the development of the Shia militant organisation Hezbollah. With Iran’s support and tutelage, Hezbollah has become a far stronger enemy for Israel than the PLO had ever been. It’s a truism that wars have unintended consequences. And in the current conflict with Hamas, it’s not clear what the end game might be for Israel. Why a ground invasion is so risky The difficulties of a Gaza ground assault are clear enough. Fighting street to street in a confined, highly urbanised environment will be hideously difficult for Israel’s forces. Hamas also has the advantage of an extensive tunnel network estimated at up to 500 kilometres in length, enabling its militants to attack and then disappear. Israel can counter these challenges to some extent with the use of robots and drones. But night vision technology will be ineffective in the total darkness of tunnels, as these devices require faint ambient light to work. Israel has also warned the roughly 1.1 million civilians in the northern half of Gaza to move to the southern half. Altogether, the United Nations says some 1.4 million people in Gaza have been displaced so far in the conflict, with nearly 580,000 sheltering in UN shelters. It’s unclear how many people are still in the north. Israel has warned that those who remain could be classed as sympathisers with “a terrorist organisation”.  Inevitably, there will be appalling civilian casualties. Not all will necessarily be the IDF’s fault, but the default position of the region and those in the global community opposed to Israel’s action will be to blame Israel. Another challenge is the estimated 200 hostages taken by Hamas during its raid into Israel. Hamas says it has spread them around Gaza. Almost certainly, some will be in the northern war zone. Hamas claims 22 have already been killed by Israeli bombs. Some relatives of the hostages are criticising the Netanyahu government for not giving sufficient priority to freeing their loved ones. When the fighting stops: no good options What Israel intends to do if and when it has secured the northern half of Gaza is not clear. The coastal strip is already facing a “catastrophic” humanitarian situation, according to the UN. And in terms of administering the territory, there are few good options. 1) A military reoccupation of Gaza, as Israel did from 1967 to 2005. This would constitute a huge military burden and expose IDF personnel to violence and kidnapping. US President Joe Biden has warned reoccupation would be a big mistake. 2) Eliminate Hamas’ senior leadership, declare victory, then leave. Such a victory would almost certainly be short-term. Other low-level members of Hamas would take pride in coming forward to reconstitute the group. Or another group, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, might fill the vacuum. Israel would not be able to control who or what that entity might be. 3) Call on the secular Fatah party that now controls the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank to take control in Gaza. That is scarcely viable. Fatah lost a civil war to Hamas in 2007 and there’s no indication the Palestinian Authority’s return would be acceptable to Palestinians there. Moreover, the authority’s leader, Mahmoud Abbas, was elected to a four-year term in 2005 – and is still in charge. As such, he lacks legitimacy, even in the West Bank. 4) Administration of Gaza by non-aligned local leaders. This is a pipe dream. Even if such figures could be found, Gazans would almost certainly see them as collaborators with the Israelis, given their role would be to keep the strip’s hardliners under control. 5) Administration of Gaza by a non-Palestinian Arab force. Again, this is not feasible. The leaders of potential Arab contributors to such a force, such as Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia, would not want to be seen as policing Palestinians on behalf of Israel. 6) Administration of Gaza by a non-Arab or United Nations force. Given the enormous risks, it’s very hard to see any non-Arab countries embracing this idea. A UN peacekeeping force would require not only Israeli approval, but a UN Security Council resolution at a time when Russia and China rarely agree with the three Western permanent members. Israel also contends Hezbollah has impeded the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon from carrying out its mandate, preventing it from stopping militant attacks. After the Hamas attacks, Israel would be unlikely to entrust its security to peacekeepers with little incentive to put their lives on the line for its sake. ‘Mowing the grass’ For too long, Israel has believed the Gaza imbroglio could be contained. However, the population has grown so large, this is no longer the case. With a growth rate of just over 2% per year, its population is expected to be three million by 2030. Gaza is also incredibly young, with a median age of 19.6, compared with the global average of 30.5. Almost half the adult population is unemployed, and Palestinians in Gaza are four times more likely to be living in poverty than those in the West Bank. This is a recipe for social upheaval and radicalisation. As two Israeli journalists, Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir, noted in a perceptive analysis of Israel’s 2014 Gaza war, the Israeli military describes its assaults on Gaza as “mowing the grass” – acting to punish Hamas severely for its aggressive behaviour and degrading its military capabilities. The aim was to achieve realistic and, therefore, limited political and military goals. It was part of a long-term strategy of attrition, which would have a temporary deterrent effect in order to create periods of quiet along the border. Eliminating Hamas altogether, the authors said, was not an “attainable military objective”. From a humanitarian perspective, this phrase is objectionable. The question, now, is whether Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu will attempt a different strategy this time. We’ll find out in the coming weeks.