Home Editorial Op-ed | The Geopolitical Implications of the Israel-Gaza War

Op-ed | The Geopolitical Implications of the Israel-Gaza War

Op-ed | The Geopolitical Implications of the Israel-Gaza War
Palestinians evacuate wounded after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, on October 12 2023. Photo: Anas Mohammed/ Shutterstock.com

As Gaza turned into a concentration camp where Israeli troops were committing genocide and ethnic cleansing–witnessed live on television and social media outlets–the world became polarized between those who support Israel and those who support Palestinians in Gaza. Palestinian supporters worldwide are demanding an immediate ceasefire. Still, Israel says there won’t be one until the more than 240 hostages taken by Hamas during the initial attack on October 7 are released. It has also said it aims to destroy Hamas militarily and politically.

The initial sympathy that Israel garnered after Hamas’ October 7 attack dissipated as the death toll in Gaza mounted. Forty-two days after the attack, the Palestinian health authority said more than 11,400 Palestinians had been killed in the conflict, 70% of them women and children, while more than 30,000 have been injured [1]

Not only has the Israel-Gaza war galvanized the world, but its geopolitical impact has been considerable. It can be summarized as follows:

  • What started as a conflict between Israel and Hamas has become a regional war. As early as the second day of the war, Hezbollah opened a new front with Israel, and Iran’s other surrogates in the Arab world began a third front. They did so to demonstrate their support for Palestine and to divide Israel’s military, forcing it to fight on multiple fronts, thus helping Gaza. The UAE’s minister of state, Noura Al Kaabi, warned that “the risk of regional spillover and further escalation is real…”
  • The crisis has effectively frozen the U.S.-backed effort to normalize relations between Israel and Arab nations. Six days into the war, Saudi Arabia paused diplomatic efforts to normalize ties with Israel. All members of the Abraham Accords–Arab countries that established diplomatic ties with Israel during former president Donald Trump’s administration–have condemned Israeli cruelty. Bahrain recalled its ambassador from Israel and asked the Israeli ambassador to leave Bahrain.
  • Ten countries have taken diplomatic action against Israel.  They have either expelled Israeli ambassadors, recalled their ambassadors, cut off ties, or withdrawn their diplomats from Israel. Bolivia was the first country to cut ties with Israel, citing the “aggressive and disproportionate Israeli military offensive” in Gaza. Turkey, Bahrain, and Jordan recalled their ambassadors from Israel, as did four Latin American countries–Belize, Honduras, Colombia, and Chile–in protest at Israel’s constant attacks against civilians in Gaza.
  • The United States became a participant, not a mediator, in this war. The United States flexed its military muscle by dispatching two aircraft carriers and a nuclear submarine to the region. It airlifted military equipment and munitions to Israel to replenish their dwindling supplies and to prepare for a long war. On October 19, the USS Carney, a Navy guided-missile destroyer in the northern Red Sea, shot down multiple missiles and drones launched by Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen that the Pentagon said were potentially headed toward targets in Israel. This is the first time in recent memory that a U.S. Navy ship in the Middle East has engaged missiles and drones that were not directly aimed at the vessel.On the diplomatic front, the United States and several European countries vetoed UN Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The United States and some European countries are effectively giving the green light to Israel to destroy Hamas militarily and politically and to hand over the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah.  For the United States and Israel, the goal is the end of Hamas, no matter what the cost might be in human suffering among Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
  • China – From neutral to supportive of the Palestinians. The more distracted the United States can be, the better it is for China as it would be left alone in the Indo-Pacific region. For two weeks, China remained relatively neutral. However, as the images of the dead and wounded continued to surface and as Israel continued to refuse a ceasefire, China began to be critical of the Israelis. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, criticized Israel for “going beyond self-defense.” He called for an end to the “collective punishment of the Gazan people.” According to an assessment by the European Council on Foreign Relations, Beijing sees in the crisis an opportunity to differentiate itself from the West’s unconditional support for Israel to boost its credentials within the Global South, where many countries are strongly sympathetic to the Palestinians. China has emphasized that the United States deplores civilian casualties in Ukraine but tolerates them in Palestine.
  • Africa is largely supportive of an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. There are those in Africa who strongly support the Palestinians because they believe that Israel is colonizing Palestine with the full support of the West. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has pledged his support and solidarity with the people of Palestine. Many people in South Africa say they support the Palestinian struggle because they believe that what is happening to Palestinians under Israel’s occupation is like what they experienced in the apartheid era.
    Several African countries that have shown support for Israel–Kenya, Ghana, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to name several–have done so not because of any ideological affinity to Israel but because those countries are pursuing what they perceive as their national interest. Since they depend on Western aid, they feel obligated to side with Western countries.

A UN General Assembly resolution that called for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of the hostilities” following the eruption of the Gaza war was supported by 35 African countries with zero votes against the resolution.

As for Israel, whether the war ends soon or in months, it has lost this war. In total secrecy, Hamas was able to plan a highly sophisticated attack that allowed it to infiltrate Israel from the air, ground, and sea. Israel’s image as one of the superpowers of the region has been shattered. With all the advanced military equipment at its disposal, thanks in large part to the United States and Europe, Israel failed to defend itself. Its intelligence services failed. Its security apparatus failed. Its army failed. Its image in the world has been tarnished by a group of Palestinians who have been living in an open-air prison for the past 17 years.

If the fight goes on for an extended period, the number of Palestinian casualties will rise to the point that the world’s rage will fall upon Israel and those who support it. The Israeli military, with all its sophisticated and advanced military equipment, is not heroic in killing people stranded in Gaza, where no place is safe and where it is an open-air killing field.

[1]   On Day 38 of the war, Israeli officials revised downward the death toll in Israel on the day of the Hamas attack, from 1,400 to 1,200, according to media reports.

The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author, not the Washington Diplomat. All op-eds submitted to the Washington Diplomat may be edited for clarity and length.

Bishara Bahbah

Bishara A. Bahbah taught at Harvard University, where he was the associate director of its Middle East Institute. He served as editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian newspaper, Al-Fajr. He served as a Palestinian delegate to the peace talks and was, until recently, the vice president of the U.S. Palestine Council.