The recent outbreak of war in Gaza is an episode in a long series of hostilities between the Israeli state and its surrounding foes; however, it is the first of its kind following the “Arab Spring.” The way in which the events of this conflict will unfold will help clarify the blurry stance of main regional forces vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The main forces can be divided into three categories: the “Arab Moderates”, constituted mainly from pro-American gulf countries and led by Saudi-Arabia; the”Axis of Resistance” composed of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah, with known animosity towards the U.S.A and Israel; and finally the countries of the “Arab Spring” whose policies towards the Arab-Israeli conflict are put to the test for the first time in the post-revolution period, especially Egypt that plays an influential role in the Gaza conflict. What follows is a brief analysis of where each party stands at the outset of the conflict.
The geographic proximity with the Gaza strip through the Sinai Peninsula brings many challenges to Post-revolution Egypt. In the latest Gaza conflict in 2008, the toppled dictator, Hosni Mubarak, adopted unambiguous anti-Palestinian policies by blocking the Rafah crossing and keeping Egypt on the fence diplomatically. Adversely, the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, Hamas’ mother organization, adopts an outspoken Islamic and anti-Israeli rhetoric.
Following Israel’s disregard of the Egyptian request to seize the assault on Gaza and the outrage in the Egyptian street, Egypt withdrew its ambassador from Israel and called for a Security Council meeting. However, how far will the MB go in their support to the Palestinians remains to be seen, especially when taking into account Egypt’s commitment to Camp David accords and its weak economy that is heavily dependent on American aid.
There are two possible scenarios, the first being the full Egyptian support for the Palestinians, especially by opening the Rafah border, or the second which entails caving into western pressures and moderating Egypt’s position. Either scenario that the new authority in Cairo chooses to adopt will immensely influence the course of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but more importantly, it will test the MB populist Islamic rhetoric in real terms.
The Gulf countries might come out as the biggest losers of the Gaza conflict. After most of them succeeded in extinguishing the peaceful protests in their countries, and focusing all their efforts on democracy promotion in Syria, they are yet again reminded of the Palestinian “problem.” A problem they thought was put behind, at least temporarily, when Hamas jumped ships abandoning the “Resistance Axis” and seemingly receding from military resistance. The media campaigns led by the two most influential News channels in the Arab world, the Saudi Al-Arabiya and Qatari Al-Jazeera, had succeeded so far in presenting the support of the “Resistance Axis” for the Palestinian cause as a camouflaged Shiite plot to dominate the Middle East.
The Gaza conflict will now put the claims of the “Arab Moderates” to the test: are they going to match the support of the Iranian-led coalition to the Palestinians, or will they continue with old practices of issuing meaningless statements of indignation by the Arab League? Either-or, the interests of the Pro-American Gulf countries will suffer. The “Arab Moderates” alliance with the Americans will be severely damaged if they match the “Axis of Resistance” support to the Palestinians (highly unlikely), while if they don’t, their credibility will be severely damaged in the Arab street, resulting in losses to the opponent in the race to win the Arab public opinion.
The “Resistance Axis” is an automatic benefactor from any conflict with Israel, especially after the hardships they are enduring lately: the Syrian regime’s struggle in Syria, the economic crisis in Iran, Hezbollah’s delicate situation in Lebanon, and dwindling support in the Arab world. The conflict in Gaza will redirect the focus of the Arabs and Muslims to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian cause. Such refocus will ease the sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in the region to unite them against what most Arabs and Muslims see as their natural enemy: Israel.
Furthermore, it will give the “Resistance Axis” the opportunity to give Hamas the prodigal son treatment to readmit them into the axis; even if they fail to win them back they will still gain from portraying themselves as the “selfless” supporters of the first Islamic and Arab cause: Palestine.
This conflict will also exhaust Israel militarily, socially, and politically, which will eventually postpone their alleged plans to attack Iran. On the other hand, if Israel succeeds in crushing the resistance in Gaza, it will give a lifeline to the proponents of the “peaceful solution” in the Arab world, otherwise known as the “Arab moderates.”
All in all, the Palestinians are in a far better position today in comparison to year 2008 (during Israeli operation Cast Lead on Gaza). They are better equipped, far more daring (Missiles have reached the Israeli capital Tel Aviv), enjoy the unrestrained support of Arab masses, and have a “friendlier” neighbor on their southern border for the first time in more than Thirty years. With all the destruction and human loss the Palestinians have yet to endure, as with every Israeli offensive, their resistance, if successful, will permanently change the face of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Moreover, the Gaza conflict has the potential to shape the ideological and regional dimensions of the “Arab spring” by helping answer the dilemma question: can you be an ally of the USA and an enemy of Israel at the same time?