A Palestinian man is carrying the body of a child after it was unearthed from the rubble of a building following an Israeli strike on the Zawayda area of the central Gaza Strip on December 30, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Hamas movement. (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto) (Photo by MAJDI FATHI / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP)

Gaza and its impact three months on – Council Views

Israel’s military campaign in Gaza is entering its fourth month with no end in sight. Council experts explore various dimensions of the fallout.

January 11, 2024

Israel’s military campaign in Gaza is entering its fourth month with no end in sight and with the most devastating consequences imaginable for the 2.2 million Palestinian civilians living there, for which Israel is now facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice. The effects of this are also being felt well beyond Palestine-Israel. From fighting between Israelis and Hezbollah in Lebanon, to flashpoints arising in Iraq and Syria, to the involvement of Ansar Allah in Yemen and its effect on crucial commercial waterways, this ongoing conflict carries the ever-growing risk of regional conflagration. In this Council Views, experts from the Middle East Council weigh in on various dimensions of the wider impact of October 7 and its aftermath.


Blinken’s trip is about more than Gaza’s future

Adel Abdel Ghafar

Three months since the start of the Gaza War, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken returned to the region following multiple previous visits. Yet despite the constant shuttle diplomacy, the genocide in Gaza continues unabated. This time Blinken pursued three objectives: 1) a “scaling down” of Israel’s campaign by encouraging them to switch from indiscriminate bombing to targeted raids; 2) an increase in humanitarian assistance entering Gaza; 3) and proposing to Israel and regional countries scenarios for Gaza’s governance after the war. Arguably, there is another objective that has to do less with the war and more with domestic U.S. politics: saving the Biden administration.

With a 37.7% approval rating, President Biden is currently the most unpopular U.S. president in modern history at this point in his term. While there are a host of other issues contributing to this, including his advanced age and questionable mental fitness, Biden’s approach to the Gaza conflict is also having an impact. A New York Times/Siena College poll last month found that Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the conflict, with younger Americans increasingly critical than older voters of both Israel’s conduct and the administration’s response to the war in Gaza. Democrats are also worried that Arab and Muslim Americans will abandon Biden in 2024 due to his stance on the war. In addition to growing protests, there is unprecedented dissent from within the administration itself.

As the carnage continues in Gaza and the Democratic Party enters primary season this month, the administration will come under increasing pressure to end the war, or at least push Israel to scale it down. Indeed, just ahead of Blinken’s arrival in Jerusalem, the Israelis announced a move towards a more targeted phase of their campaign. Such rhetoric, however, was belied by the continuation of intense bombing and massive civilian casualties. It remains to be seen if Blinken’s latest mission will achieve its objectives. In the meantime, Biden’s electoral fate hangs in the balance.


The scorecard of regional diplomacy

Galip Dalay

Dismayed by the West’s unreserved support for Israel, regional actors have taken an active diplomatic role in bringing the Gaza war to an end. Qatar has emerged as the main interlocutor for negotiations over hostage releases and the corresponding pauses in the fighting. Egypt has attempted to play a similar role. Saudi Arabia has hosted Arab-Islamic country summits, which gave birth to the group of seven countries tasked with diplomacy and lobbying in key capitals for a ceasefire. Still, given the ongoing devastation in Gaza and even talk of mass population expulsion by Israeli officials, such initiatives don’t seem to have produced any concrete results.

Another diplomatic actor has been Türkiye, which has sought to offset the West’s unwavering support for Israel by seeking involvement from non-Western powers such as China and Russia, as well as countries from the Global South. Ankara has also beseeched international institutions, such as the International Criminal Court, to investigate war crimes in Gaza. Yet despite Beijing and Moscow’s condemnation of Israel and criticism of the Western double standards, no sustained diplomatic effort or pressure has come from these two capitals, while the ICC has taken no action.

From the Global South, South Africa has launched a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice under the Convention to Prevent and Punish Genocide. Other countries in the non-Western world, including Malaysia, Türkiye, and Jordan, officially endorsed it. Remarkably, no other Arab states have officially supported the case.

Some nations, including Türkiye, Qatar, and Egypt, have been active in proposing possible pathways for moving beyond this conflict. Yet in the absence of a ceasefire, many regional states see the talk of “day after” scenarios as serving the purpose of distracting from the need for an immediate end to the bloodshed. Moreover, rather than incorporating a holistic picture of the Palestinian question, these conversations are too narrowly focused on Gaza and Hamas. Against this backdrop, and apart from energetic diplomacy for a ceasefire, the regional countries should strive to change the nature of international conversations on the Palestinian question.


The absence of Palestinian leadership makes the situation much worse

Omar H. Rahman

From Hamas to Fatah, the crisis of Palestinian leadership has never been felt so starkly as it is now.

On October 7, Hamas was able to carry out a paradigm-shifting event. What it was not able to do was manage the outcome of its own actions. Beyond its ability to fight Israel’s military on the ground—and underground—in Gaza, and to bargain using the finite number of hostages it holds, Hamas lacks the ability to effectively steer military action into political gain for the Palestinian national movement.

That is, in large part, because Hamas has never been able to legitimize itself within the international political arena. Although it has tried repeatedly to do so by among other things contesting PA elections and amending its charter, its efforts have come up short for several reasons, including opposition from opponents, and the nature of its ideology and tactics. Unlike the PLO, which overcame such opposition and gained recognition and representation within the Arab League and United Nations, Hamas has been unable to make such inroads and has few meaningful relationships beyond a handful of states and militant groups.

Yet even with its legitimacy, the PLO-PA based in Ramallah has been inexcusably absent during the past three months, as a genocide is being perpetrated against its people. At most, the PA has become a pawn in American efforts to appear active in charting a way forward after Israel’s campaign ends.

In this void, Palestinian civil society, diaspora activists and intellectuals, human rights groups, and international supporters of Palestinian rights are doing their best to communicate the Palestinian narrative, combat misinformation, advocate policy in global capitals, marshal humanitarian relief, and defend the Palestinian cause. Nonetheless, these efforts are largely piecemeal and uncoordinated, lacking real mobilization capacity and a unifying political vision. In short, they are not an adequate substitute for an organized and effective political agent.

Yet the stakes couldn’t be higher. Not only are Palestinians facing a catastrophe on par with the 1948 Nakba, but Israel’s actions have horrified the world and there is a real opportunity to challenge Israeli impunity and achieve diplomatic and political results. Still, the Palestinian leadership has utterly failed to rise to the occasion.

Instead, it has fallen to third parties like South Africa to take action, braving tremendous international pressure to submit a petition to the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide. Qatar and Egypt have been instrumental in negotiating hostage exchanges and the entry of humanitarian aid. But when it comes to political strategy, no one is at the helm.


The Future of Hamas?

Beverley Milton-Edwards*

Since its founding at the start of the First Palestinian Intifada in 1987, the staying power of Hamas has always been questioned by its enemies. Over the ensuing decades, Hamas took up arms as part of its resistance strategy, and through the eventual use of suicide bombings and, later, missile strikes, had a huge impact on Israel and its narrative of invincibility.

When Hamas won free and fair elections in 2006, Israel put the squeeze on Hamas by placing the whole of Gaza under siege. From then on, and in successive military assaults, Israel would seek to ensure that Hamas had no future. They were repeatedly thwarted. Hamas survived and thrived, governing Gaza and continuing to wage its jihad against Israel.

In the wake of the Hamas attack on 7 October 2023, Israel’s politicians have publicly vowed once again that Hamas has no future in Gaza. Militarily, destroying Hamas’ capabilities may be achievable. In reality, Hamas’ narrative of victory against the most sophisticated army in the Middle East is relative, and nonetheless, small succor to the 2.3 million people in Gaza bearing the burden of Israel’s sheer rage.

The movement’s political survival, however, is another story. Contrary to the rest of the Palestinian national leadership, Hamas is still widely regarded as the only group to win popular support because it frontloads the legitimate right to self-defense and resistance on behalf of an occupied people subjected by the Israeli state to policies tantamount to apartheid. As occupation and apartheid endure, so too will the popular appeal of Hamas.

*Beverley Milton-Edwards is the author (with Stephen Farrell) of Hamas, the quest for power, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2024. In 2010 Beverley Milton-Edwards co-authored Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement and in 1996 was the author of Islamic Politics in Palestine.


The West must impose red lines on Iran

Ranj Alaaldin

On October 7, Hamas demonstrated its outsized capabilities against a formidable and far superior opponent, in addition to its manpower and resourcefulness as it launched an unprecedented terrorist attack on Israel. It is almost inconceivable that this undertaking did not receive operational and material support from Iran, which celebrated the attack, constitutes Hamas’ most important backer, and has provided it with substantial financial and military support over the course of decades. This support, which is crucial to Hamas’ dominance in Gaza, makes it implausible that Iran did not have some foreknowledge of the attack and makes Tehran, at a minimum, complicit in enabling it.

There are several reasons why Iran would encourage and facilitate such an operation. This includes derailing the normalization process between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and undermining the existing normalization agreements between Israel, the UAE, and other Arab states such as Bahrain and Morocco. The conflict in Gaza has also seen Iran’s proxies in the region assert their influence. Pro-Iran militias in Iraq and Syria have carried out at least 60 attacks against U.S. forces since October 7, while Yemen’s Houthis have launched attacks in the Red Sea that have held global trade to ransom. These operations have amplified Iran’s projection of power in the region, while, conversely, undermining Western influence and security posture in the Middle East.

For years, the region has lamented Iran’s willingness to fight to the last Iraqi, Syrian, and Yemeni; and now, Iran is gambling with Palestinian lives as part of its warped ideological ambitions for the region. Unless Iran directs its proxies –– including the Houthis, Hezbollah, and the PMF in Iraq –– to step back, the risk of a regional war will grow. Iran’s calculus is that this will be business as usual and it will suffer limited blowback at home. The West must change this calculus for the sake of preventing a major regional war, namely by stepping up its resolve and commitment to deterring Iran, and that requires imposing red lines that make it clear that any further attacks by Iran’s proxies will be attributed directly to the Iranian regime itself.


The conflict has damaged regional economies

Tarik Yousef

The violence in Gaza has entered its fourth month along with the growing prospect of prolonged geopolitical instability, including the potential for a wider conflict. The scale of the unfolding human tragedy coupled with heightened uncertainty about the future is inflicting significant damage on the sentiment of consumers, firms, investors, and policymakers across the region.  As a result, the economic losses registered at the end of 2023 will likely extend into the new year and potentially beyond.

To begin with, the slowdown in economic activity last year compared to 2022 was probably much steeper than initially projected mid-year, since the fourth quarter typically coincides with fervent business activity in several key sectors including tourism, retail, and finance. Government agencies also typically accelerate spending in the last quarter to make up for the slower summer period and to meet end-of-year targets. While a full accounting of outcomes is many months away, available information suggests much spending, hiring, and investment decisions were postponed or canceled after October 7, especially in weaker economies where exchange rate pressures and high inflation extended the cost-of-living crisis.

With geopolitical uncertainty becoming the defining feature of the new year, it will continue to weigh negatively on economic sentiment. Spending and hiring decisions will proceed cautiously while foreign investors become further deterred. Regional governments that play an oversized role in economies will reinvigorate national security concerns in awarding contracts and regulatory approvals, adding to the drag on business activity. And where they do not cut back on outlays, governments will prioritize spending on the defense and security sectors at the expense of socioeconomic priorities. As a result, previous forecasts of an economic recovery in 2024 should be adjusted downward to reflect the present conditions.


Energy market implications of the Hamas-Israel conflict

Abdalftah Ali

One area in which the crisis in Gaza has extended beyond its geographic boundaries is its impact on global energy markets, despite Israel’s limited contribution as an energy producer. That is in part because this crisis follows other significant shocks to the energy market over the past few years, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the OPEC+ decision to cut production in June 2023, adding to growing geopolitical instability. It is also because the Gaza crisis has had a direct effect on crucial waterways and poses a significant risk of escalation in a region at the center of the world’s hydrocarbon energy supply.

According to some observers, Brent crude prices—a global benchmark—rose as the conflict intensified, reaching around $98 per barrel. The impact of the conflict extends to the LNG market, where spot LNG prices rose more than 40% within a week of October 7. Although the oil market has responded by factoring in a limited amount of risk to crude oil prices—around $3 and $4 per barrel—the conflict and its potential for escalation pose a significant challenge to energy flows. The World Bank has already warned that oil prices could reach $150 in 2024—a level only reached once before, in 2008—if the war regionalized further.

Geopolitical uncertainty could have economic consequences affecting many countries reverberating across the global energy landscape. The course of the conflict may extend to neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Yemen and Iran, especially as Israel continues to pursue targets outside of Gaza.  While direct evidence of Iranian support for Hamas is still lacking, such evidence could lead the United States to tighten sanctions enforcement on Iranian oil exports. Increased enforcement of sanctions could reduce quantities, affecting the projected supply deficit and possibly affecting Saudi Arabia’s production-cut plans. Meanwhile, OPEC+ partners will likely monitor the situation, avoiding risky decisions that could create unwanted market volatility.


The failed policy on Gaza costs America its international credibility 

Sahar Khamis

While it is difficult to speak of winners and losers amid the shocking humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Gaza, it remains true that some have benefited, and some have lost. Despite the staggering civilian death toll and unspeakable carnage inflicted on the Palestinian people, their cause for liberation has received unprecedented international attention, support, and solidarity since October 7. The biggest loser, on the other hand, has been the United States, which has suffered a severe blow to its international reputation, influence, and credibility. America’s unconditional support for Israel since the beginning of the crisis has created a huge moral dilemma for the country, which has been positioning itself as the custodian of human rights and rule of law internationally. The fact that American-made bombs and weapons are being used on a massive scale to kill innocent civilians in Gaza, many of whom are children and women, coupled with repeatedly blocking a ceasefire resolution in the UN Security Council, have severely harmed U.S. influence and interests abroad.

A weakened America paves the way for the end of “American exceptionalism” and a unipolar world under American hegemony. Indeed, Russia and China have not missed the opportunity to take advantage of this situation by adopting counter positions from that of the U.S. The official American discourse of calling for “humanitarian pauses” to allow aid to be delivered to the suffering civilians in Gaza, while calling on Israel to be more strategically precise in its attacks on Hamas’ targets, has been perceived globally as a delayed, limited, and failed attempt on the part of the United States to cosmetically repair its own severely damaged image without having a real impact on the crisis it has enabled. Amid the rising tide of domestic anger and dismay among many Americans who object to having their tax dollars fund an ongoing genocide in Gaza, Biden’s unconditional support for Israel is not just costing America its leadership, authority, and credibility internationally, it is also costing his administration its own credibility at home and, possibly, a second term in the White House.


Western Double Standards on Human Rights

Alhala Alkuwari

The war in Gaza has exposed the double standards inherent to Western values. Western governments have boasted for centuries about their role in establishing humanist values and rights, such as individual freedom, justice, and equality. Revolutions that were based on combatting injustice and breaking away from oppressive regimes, such as the French Revolution and the American Revolution, are often held up in Western political thought as examples of the importance of defending individual freedom and independence. However, Western governments have failed to put these values into practice when confronted with the gross injustices and oppression ongoing in Gaza.

Western civilization claims to stand with the oppressed and to detest the oppressor, espousing freedom and justice as its supreme values. In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both the European Union and the United States rapidly mobilized military support for the Ukrainian people. But in Gaza, when similar actions may not serve their political interests, Western governments are not only failing to combat injustice but are actively arming the oppressor.

What has been imposed on non-Western countries regarding democracy, human rights, women’s equality, and the rights of religious and ethnic minorities completely collapsed in practical reality in the streets of Gaza. While Palestinians face sexual violence, children are killed, and civilians are shelled indiscriminately, Western governments continue to ship arms to Israel without drawing red lines around the regime’s actions. The present double standards prove that political interests are the driving force behind these governments’ policies, and that human rights are nothing more than a tool to justify past and present colonization.


Council Views is an ME Council article series that brings together our experts’ insights on headline issues facing the Middle East and North Africa region.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Council on Global Affairs.

Issue: Council Views, Israel War on Gaza, Regional Relations, U.S. Foreign Policy
Country: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Palestine-Israel, Qatar, Syria