Smoke plumes billow during Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on October 12, 2023, as raging battles between Israel and the Hamas movement continue for the sixth consecutive day.(Photo by IBRAHIM HAMS / AFP)

Al-Aqsa Flood and the Israel War: Conflict and its Impact | ME Council

The repercussions of the Gaza War and the Gaza siege after the Al-Aqsa Flood on regional security and the consequences of the Al-Aqsa Flood and the Israel War?

October 16, 2023

On October 7, Hamas shocked the world by carrying out an astonishing raid on Israel that killed around 1,300 people, most of them civilians, and taking an estimated 150 others hostage. The Israeli response has been devastating. For a week, Israel has indiscriminately bombarded Gaza from the sky, destroying residential buildings, hospitals, schools, and other vital civilian infrastructure, while cutting the supply of water, food, electricity and fuel to the besieged territory. As of October 15, 2,600 Palestinians had been killed—60% of them women and children, according to local hospitals—and 10,000 injured. Israel has also called for the evacuation of more than a million people from northern Gaza, while it prepares to launch a ground invasion to root out Hamas fighters from the strip. Through it all, Israel’s Western backers have largely stood by the occupying nation’s “right to defend itself,” claiming that Israel should be able to conduct its war on the Gaza Strip as it sees fit, despite the massive loss in civilian life and the numerous potential war crimes that have been committed. In this Council Views, experts from the Middle East Council on Global Affairs offer their insights on various dimensions of the unfolding crisis. 

 

The Bankruptcy of Israeli Policy and Western Complicity

Omar Rahman

The bloody events of October 7 and its ongoing aftermath have been beyond horrific. Within a week, the lives of thousands of innocent people, including hundreds of children, have been extinguished, while the Gaza Strip appears on the brink of annihilation at the hands of Israel.

Although Hamas’ initial attack was reprehensible for the mass targeting of Israeli civilians, it was far from unprovoked. Palestinians—who have suffered their own mass civilian casualties multiple times before this—had been warning Israel and the international community for years that the increasingly dire conditions under Israel’s endless occupation, siege and apartheid, coupled with the total lack of a political horizon, was coming to a head. And yet, these pleas were not only met with indifference, but a deliberate attempt to sideline the oppressed Palestinians and their demand for freedom while promoting the regional integration of their oppressor.

Since October 7, Israel has done nothing to deviate from its failed strategies of the past. Predictably resorting to brute force and collective punishment, the Israeli onslaught on Gaza will do nothing to bring it security or end resistance to its bankrupt political project. As long as Israel remains unwilling to redress its denial of rights and freedom to the Palestinian people, it will remain a target of resistance. Israel may believe eliminating Hamas will bring it security, but Hamas is not the source of Palestinian resistance; it is a vessel of resistance that will continue in another form as long as the conditions that give rise to it have not been resolved.

Instead of recognizing that these failed policies had led to the violence of October 7, Western governments and a complicit media have lost all perspective of context and offered unconditional support to Israel as it seeks bloody retribution. In doing so, they have paved the way for war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and a possible genocide against the people of Gaza. The Western response has exposed the sheer racism, hypocrisy, and double standard of their policy toward Palestinians, especially in contrast to their stance on Ukraine. Respecting human rights and international law cannot be selective or else it is rendered meaningless.

Israeli Leaders Trumpet Genocidal Intent

Noha Aboueldahab

“I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly.” These are the words of Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in his statement on October 9, 2023. They are words that articulate a policy of starvation and the collective punishment and dehumanization of an entire population. In international legal terms, these words constitute genocidal intent, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Western states continue to provide unconditional support to Israel to carry out such policies – even within the current horrific circumstances of what many Palestinians describe as their second Nakba. This support has again made clear the disingenuous nature of the proclamations of Western foreign policy toward the rest of the world on the importance of human rights, international law, and democracy building.

Earlier this year, the then-U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, said that Israeli democracy is “alive and well.” Saturday, the Gazan Health Ministry announced Israel killed all the members of 45 families, who are now wiped from the Gazan civil registry.

At their core, the laws of war demand that human suffering is minimized in the context of armed conflicts. The complete siege of an already blockaded population does not distinguish between civilians and combatants, violating the very essence of international humanitarian law, not to mention our so-called shared sense of humanity.  Yoav Gallant’s words will be taught in law courses—and perhaps cited in court cases—as an example of genocidal intent.

Iran’s Calculations in the Gaza War

Hamidreza Azizi

Senior Iranian figures, notably Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, have publicly praised Hamas’ recent operation against Israel, viewing it as a testament to the imminent triumph of the Palestinians. Nevertheless, they emphatically rebuff any assertions of Iran’s participation in the planning or execution of the operation.

Iran has long been recognized as a prominent supporter of Hamas. The bond has remained sturdy and ideological, and political disagreements like Hamas’s endorsement of the Syrian uprising against Bashar al-Assad in 2011 have not produced any major schisms. While Hamas doesn’t function as a mere Iranian proxy, it is a central player in Iran’s “Axis of Resistance.” Consequently, the claim that Iran remained entirely uninvolved in the recent conflict seems somewhat dubious. It’s plausible to suggest that entities like the Quds Force of the IRGC had some awareness of Hamas’s intentions for a significant operation against Israel, even if they weren’t privy to the specifics or timing. Given the potential repercussions for Iran and Hamas’ other allies like Hezbollah, it’s highly likely that Hamas gave them prior notice.

Nevertheless, concerns over the war intensifying, potentially drawing in the U.S., have led Iran and its partners to distance themselves from direct involvement. Moreover, the prevailing sentiment among the public in countries like Iran and Lebanon leans toward an aversion to conflict with Israel, deeming it unnecessary. Still, there’s no denying Tehran’s contentment with the outcomes of the Gaza war. They perceive Hamas’ actions as having severely undermined Israel’s military and intelligence prowess and reputation. This might induce Israel to reevaluate its covert operations targeting Tehran, both within Syria and inside Iran. Concurrently, while the Arab-Israeli normalization journey may continue unabated, the recent events could compel Arab states to recalibrate their agendas, ensuring that they are more attuned to Iran’s regional interests.

The EU Lacks a Clear Policy on Gaza

Beverley Milton-Edwards

The response of the European Union to the unfolding war and crisis in Israel and the Gaza Strip has exposed a policy drift that is weakening its leverage to bring peace, security, and stability in the MENA region. As the largest aid donor to the Palestinians, allocating over $300 million annually, Brussels and its signaling to the international community are crucial. Those signals, when they came, were mixed, chaotic, and betrayed a lack of singular strategic direction from Brussels on support for a resolution to a central conflict in the Middle East.

As Israel responded to Hamas’ attacks by declaring war and imposing a total siege on Gaza, Brussels announced that EU aid to Palestinians would be suspended. Within hours, however, following criticism by some member states, the commission walked back from its decision declaring it would, instead, review aid to ensure that it would not “indirectly enable any terrorist organization to carry out attacks against Israel.”

The relevance of the EU as strategic player has clearly diminished and the confusion over its policy demonstrates three things. Firstly, with other security concerns including the war in Ukraine, the EU has taken its eyes off the ball regarding Israel and Palestine. Secondly, even though it is the largest donor, the EU does not have commensurate diplomatic leverage. Finally, the EU was initially prepared to cut aid and accelerate a massive humanitarian disaster in Gaza, without considering the consequences or the deepening of migrant pressures in their own neighborhood.

Abraham Accords Derailed 

Shahram Akbarzadeh

Hamas’ attacks on Israel and the subsequent military and humanitarian crisis have put the question of Palestine in the international spotlight, overshadowing Washington’s key Middle East initiative: the Abraham Accords.

The Abraham Accords bypassed the question of Palestinian statehood to normalize relations between Israel and Arab states. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan have signed up to this accord, with Saudi Arabia sending explicit signals that the country was moving in that direction. Saudi normalization with Israel would have been a watershed moment in regional relations and a major diplomatic win for the Biden administration ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

But Hamas has galvanized popular support for Palestine in the Middle East and has seemingly stalled diplomatic efforts to normalize ties with Israel. Even Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people in a phone call to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Signing an accord with Israel against the background of war is simply not feasible, and it is very unlikely that normalization will be possible in the immediate future. The Saudi leadership cannot afford to put its political legitimacy at risk. Other signatories to the Abraham Accords are facing similar pressures and are likely to either withdraw or relegate the agreement to the shadows.

Three Blind Spots in the American Political and Media Discourses on the Hamas-Israel Crisis

Sahar Khamis

As the entire world closely follows the events in Gaza and southern Israel that have resulted in a staggering number of deaths, casualties and hostages, it is important to look critically at the news coverage, particularly in the United States, where the response at the political and media levels has been in total support for the Israeli side. At least three blind spots can be pinpointed in the American political discourse, and its echoes in American media, especially American television from CNN to Fox News and every channel in between.

First, there has been sole focus on the suffering of civilians in Israel while turning a blind eye to the suffering of Palestinian civilians. American television, which is known for its scant, and oftentimes superficial, coverage of international affairs, has been devoting 24 hours a day to covering Hamas’ attacks on Israel under the bold narrative: “Israel is at War.” This coverage, just like the predominant political discourse by the American government, sent a loud message of solidarity and support for one side of the issue, while largely ignoring the plight of the Palestinian people, their basic security and their human rights. Even the projection of this as war, which was adopted from the Israeli side, sets a false parity between occupier and occupied, particularly since the Palestinian side lacks the instruments of war.

Second, there has been a decontextualization of the 75-year-old conflict and the struggle of the Palestinian people by adopting the narrative of Hamas’ attack as being “unprovoked.” This fails to provide the average American, who mostly has limited knowledge of international affairs, with the needed historical background about this conflict, or even recent events which might have contributed to it, particularly provocations by Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers in the vicinity of Al Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites for Muslims in the world.

Third, there has been an absence of discourse on mediation and problem-solving in order to reach a peaceful and quick resolution to this crisis. This has fed calls for retribution without restraint and obliterates America’s credibility as a force for mediation in the future, enabling future cycles of devastating aggression.

Israel-Gaza Conflict: Breaking Point of Regional and Global Politics

Galip Dalay

The Hamas attack, the ensuing conflict, and the looming Israeli invasion of Gaza represent a watershed moment in regional affairs. They affect the process and dynamics of the regional reset. Prior to the outbreak of the current conflict, talks of normalization and de-escalation dominated discussions on regional politics. There were different modes of regional restructuring. Thaw was the order of the day in relations between the Gulf-Arab states, Türkiye, and Israel, more tension on the horizon in Israeli-Iranian and more friction in Turkish-Iranian relations. Plus, there were great uncertainties over the fate of the many regional conflict zones.

With the eruption of the conflict, this picture is set to change. The process of Israel’s regional normalization has come to a halt, at least for the foreseeable future. The prized Saudi-Israeli normalization has stopped. Even if such normalization pops up again in the future, Riyadh would demand a higher price for it from the US and Israel, including a more prominent Palestinian dimension. Whether there will be a reversal of any of Israel’s normalizations has become a more pertinent question.

With the looming carnage in Gaza, there will be more societal pressure on Arab states to cut ties with Israel. Corollary to this, this conflict and the anticipated humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza will widen the gap between people and regimes across the Arab world, hence aggravating these regimes’ regime security concerns. Finally, to build on the regional de-escalation, previously, there has been much discussion about how this normalization can be leveraged to lay the ground for more regional cooperation. One idea was that the road for regional cooperation passes through cooperation on issues of low-politics such as climate change, energy transition, migration and natural disasters. This conflict once again laid bare the fact that there is not much distinction between the high-politics and low-politics when it comes to the question of regional cooperation. Tension in the high-politics realm, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, significantly reduces the prospect of cooperation on low-politics files.

To prevent the war from spiraling out of control, not least its regionalization, and the prospect of reoccupation of Gaza, regional countries have been active on the diplomatic front.  Egypt, Qatar, Türkiye, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia can play important roles.  As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tops the regional agenda, this would particularly boost the diplomatic stature of Cairo in regional affairs. There is, however, a need for more coordination between the aforementioned regional actors for their diplomacy to be impactful, both at regional and international levels.

The growing multipolarity in the region’s relations with external powers will gain further steam after this conflict. The U.S. and Western actors’ unreserved support for Israel is set to further deepen the discontent between them and the regional actors. China and Russia will undoubtedly capitalize on this discontent and make further inroads into the region. Plus, this conflict should not be seen solely through the regional prism. It is a global event. Russia’s war on Ukraine has shaken the foundation of global order, flagrantly violating international law, norms, and institutions. Likewise, the U.S. war on terror, after 9/11, similarly gravely undermined the global order, breached international law, and sidestepped international institutions. Given the ominous prospect of massive humanitarian displacement and carnage, and collective punishment in Gaza, this war is likely to be another nail in the coffin of the international system and law. China, Russia, and the Global South will draw lessons and conclusions from it.

Lebanon’s Balancing Act in the Gaza Conflict

Saoud El Mawla (originally written in Arabic)

The beginning of the conflict in Gaza has placed the Lebanese government in an exceedingly complex predicament. On one hand, it reiterates its support for the Palestinian people’s right to liberate their territory (according to the ministerial statements of various governments) while, on the other hand, it harbors apprehensions of being drawn into this conflict due to Lebanon’s profoundly precarious political, social, and economic circumstances. In response to these challenges, Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib formally conveyed that Hezbollah pledged non-intervention in the conflict unless Lebanon itself is targeted by Israel. Concurrently, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has intensified diplomatic endeavors to reaffirm Lebanon’s commitment to preventing it from being dragged into the conflict.

Mounting concerns among the Lebanese population have revolved around Hezbollah’s potential reaction to the announcement of U.S. support for Israel, which includes supplying weaponry and the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean. This assertive stance from the United States appears to be an effort to dissuade Iran and Hezbollah from entering the conflict.

Hezbollah is caught between its slogan of “uniting the battlefronts” and its knowledge that any intervention would create significant internal problems in Lebanon––an outcome that the party cannot afford its consequences. Consequently, Hezbollah’s intervention has so far been limited to tactical operations, rather than opening a major front in the war, to show solidarity with Hamas while attempting to avoid provoking a severe Israeli response. Israeli leaders have understood the party’s message that it is not seeking a comprehensive war, and their response has also been limited.

However, this fragile situation may not continue, especially if a ground attack on Gaza begins, as Israel or Iran may seek to escalate the fighting, thereby prompting Hezbollah’s involvement remains possible signaling the potential for future destabilization and escalation.

How does Egypt view the Current Escalating Situation in Palestine? 

Ali Bin Musa

Since the beginning of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, Egypt has continued its historic role as a mediator between the Palestinian resistance factions and Israel. Given the upcoming presidential elections in December, the ongoing economic crisis, and the unstable security situation in both Sudan and Libya, Egypt is deeply invested in de-escalation and mitigating any resulting humanitarian crises along its borders with Gaza. 

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi confirmed that Egypt supports a two-state solution as the path to genuine and lasting peace for the Palestinian people. El-Sissi also emphasized that the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should not come at the expense of other parties. This statement appears to be a response to Israeli officials’ calls for Gazan residents to flee to Egypt and the repeated bombings of the Rafah crossing, which serves as the sole gateway for Gaza residents. 

A key priority for Egypt is to protect its borders adjacent to Gaza, particularly the Sinai region, where the Egyptian army encountered armed insurgencies by groups affiliated with extremist Islamists. As a result, Egypt regards the escalation in Gaza as a threat to its national security, especially in the aftermath of an incident in which an Egyptian policeman killed two Israeli tourists and one Egyptian in Alexandria. 

While the events in Gaza could present an opportunity for Egypt to enhance its geopolitical standing through mediation, Egypt also risks being drawn into the conflict at a time when it grapples with challenging domestic situations. With the potential for hostilities to further escalate, there looms the danger of a cross-border humanitarian crisis and a threat to the hard-earned peace in Sinai. Egypt will attempt to maintain a balanced position, seeking to create a new paradigm in its relationships with both Hamas and Israel. However, it is unlikely to become directly involved in the conflict. 

“Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” Heralds a New Era in the History of Palestinian Resistance

Faozi Al-Goidi (originally written in Arabic)

Hamas’ choice to launch the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation on October 7th is significant. The operation came a day after the anniversary of 1973’s October War, which represented the first Arab triumph over the Israeli occupying forces. The end of the October War marked the inception of a new chapter in Arab-Israeli relations and subsequent years witnessed the signing of peace agreements. Similarly, the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation carries the potential to inaugurate a fresh phase in the Palestinian struggle, which has been divided between the Palestinian Authority and resistance factions since the Second Intifada.

Over the past 25 years, the pattern of Palestinian resistance has grown repetitive, characterized by individual operations, rocket attacks in response to escalations, and desperate defensive measures. This period coincided with regional transformations, including the erosion of Arab consensus on normalization in exchange for a two-state solution after the Arab Spring. Additionally, the rise of a right-wing Israeli government, supported by both the Trump and Biden administrations, pursued the Judaization of Jerusalem and the continued expansion of settlements.

It is in this context that Hamas launched the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation, having no choice but to change resistance tactics. The objective was to alter the balance of power, change the rules of engagement, and introduce tactics that were not accounted for in Israel’s calculations. The consequences of the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation will be profoundly damaging to Gazan lives and the city’s infrastructure, as Israel lays siege to and bombards the city. This could undermine future Palestinian resistance, but it also increases the likelihood of a shift in the resistance pattern by Palestinian factions and other armed groups outside of Palestine. As a result, the region is likely to witness high-impact operations led by non-state armed entities.

 The Global Community Needs to Intervene  

Nader Kabbani 

The devastating attack that Hamas launched against Israel on 7 October, and its aftermath, should serve as a reality check to Israelis and Palestinians that current approaches to managing and containing the conflict are not working. Unfortunately, radical elements on both sides will try to leverage the attack and draw both sides deeper into turmoil. They will succeed unless the global community intervenes. 

For Israel, the surprise attack clearly demonstrates that isolating Palestinians into enclaves in Gaza and the West Bank is not a viable long-term solution. The Palestinian people have rights and needs that must be acknowledged and honored, both under international law and as a moral imperative. Otherwise, frustration and resentment will inevitably and unsurprisingly spill over into intifadas and violence. For Palestinians, the unprecedented mobilization of global support for Israel, especially in the United States and Europe, should be cause for alarm that their cause is not resonating. This partly reflects fatigue with the lack of a resolution to the conflict and the inability of Palestinians to get their house in order. 

These are important observations that global community leaders must communicate. They also need to give voice to moderates on both sides, to assuage tensions in their respective communities and articulate viable ways forward. This is especially important at a time when moderate voices on both sides are being attacked and silenced. If radical elements are allowed to dominate the narrative, the outcomes will be devastating. In the short term, Israel may feel empowered to inflict unprecedented damage and retribution on the citizens of Gaza, and even seek a wider regional confrontation. Such an outcome would result in a humanitarian catastrophe and, over the long term, will present a major setback to regional peace efforts. 

 

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: Civil War, Council Views, Protests and Uprisings, Regional Relations
Country: Egypt, Iran, Palestine-Israel, Saudi Arabia