Middle East Sitting on Powder Keg

Politics - October 13, 2023

For the first time in two years, the world is no longer looking to Ukraine, but to the Middle East. The comparison drawn by some commentators between the war in Israel and the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the US is valid at least because of the surprise effect and brutality that characterised both attacks, which took place two decades apart, but also because there are already visible global effects.

On the “who benefits” from this new war, analysts are unanimous that the main beneficiaries – at least politically and media-wise – would be Russia and Iran. But when it comes to the question of how this war will affect the rest of us, it is too early to speculate. But one cannot help but notice the difference in reaction between the two major global political players – the European Union and the US. While the EU representatives are more concerned with the humanitarian side of the problem, the US seems more interested in providing military support in the area. In both cases, for both the European states and the US, promises of support for the Palestinian population in the first case, and for the Israeli army in the second, translate into financial efforts, and this at a time when, for the past 22 months, both sides have been making efforts to support – both militarily and humanitarianly – Ukraine invaded by Russia. But this support for the Ukrainians could suffer in the coming months at least because of the disruption to the arms supply chain caused by the conflict in Israel. Secondly, the intense media exposure that Ukraine and its President Volodimir Zelenski have received, which has not suffered even after the recent reopening of the conflicts in Nagorno Karabakh or Kosovo, could diminish in intensity once the problems in the Middle East come to public attention.

“We are talking about a 9/11-type act and such an act is punishable under international law implicitly and tacitly by the destruction of those who carried it out”, commented, for Free Europe, the director of the Euro-Atlantic Resilience Centre, Ovidiu Raețchi, Secretary of State in the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on the effects of the war in Israel.

“It is a huge failure for Israel and a huge success for Hamas. We were unprepared and we still are, to remain politically correct,” said Kobi Michael, an expert with the Tel Aviv-based think tank INSS, quoted by AFP.

Russia and Iran indirect beneficiaries of the conflict between Israel and Hamas

With an apparent neutral stance towards the parties involved in the recent Middle East conflict, Russia seems to be – according to commentators – one of its main beneficiaries. From a media point of view, Russia and Vladimir Putin have everything to gain from shifting the focus away from the massacres in Ukraine and the failure of the war with Ukraine to a new conflict. And that the Kremlin will exploit this opportunity is obvious from recent statements by spokesman Dmitry Peskov and President Vladimir Putin himself already trying to push the issue onto the international agenda.

The first reaction of the “Tsar” after the Hamas terrorist attacks in the Gaza Strip was that this war in Israel “shows the failure of US policy in the Middle East”.  At the same time, the Kremlin announced that it was maintaining diplomatic relations with both sides at war.

“We have long-standing historical relations with the Palestinians, we continue to maintain contacts, including at a high level. But at the same time we have relations with Israel, with which we also have a lot in common, especially the large number of compatriots living in that state,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“We intend to continue our efforts and play a role in assisting in finding a way to resolve the conflict,” the Kremlin official added.

Later, speaking at an energy conference in Moscow, Dmitry Peskov reiterated Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, (who recently met with Hamas political leader Ismail Hanyia), criticised the sending of a US military aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean.

“I don’t understand why the US is bringing an aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean. I don’t really understand what their purpose is. Are they going to bomb Lebanon or what?” he said.

Due to the media potential of the subject, even Ukraine exploited it, after unofficial sources reported that Hamas used Western weapons (both EU and US) that were sent to the Ukrainian army. Officials in Kiev claim it is part of a Russian disinformation plan to use the attack by terrorists from the radical Palestinian group Hamas on Israel to stage a major provocation against Ukraine. According to officials in Kiev, the weapons, made by the US and European countries, were in fact seized by the Russian army in Ukraine and handed over to the terrorists with the aim of compromising Ukraine.

The second main beneficiary of the conflict in Israel seems to be Iran, a state that espouses the doctrine of the destruction of Israel, for whom a peace process between it and Saudi Arabia would have had both political and economic consequences. Although Tehran has formally denied any involvement in the October 7 Hamas attacks in Israel, and although there is no evidence to the contrary, overseas media have reported that Hamas has received financial support from Iran in recent years, as well as technical help to manufacture rockets and drones with advanced guidance systems and training in military tactics in camps outside Palestine.

European Union: support for the Palestinian population must not be suspended

The head of European diplomacy, Joseph Borrell, announced after the Council of Foreign Ministers convened in Oman on the subject of the war in Israel that agreement had been reached that support for the Palestinian population should not be suspended, but rather increased. The European official stressed that the overwhelming majority of EU member states support this position. On the same note, addressing the humanitarian issue, Borrell stressed that Israel must respect international law, referring to statements by the Israeli Defence Minister that Israel will cut off water, electricity and even food supplies to the area.

“Israel has the right to defend itself, but this must be done in accordance with international law, with humanitarian law, and some decisions are contrary to international law,” Borrell said in Oman.

“Some of the actions – and the United Nations has already said so – (such as) cutting off water, cutting off electricity, cutting off food for a mass of civilians is contrary to international law,” Borrell said.

A similar position was expressed by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said that while Israel had the right to defend itself against attacks, he personally expected the response to the Hamas attack to be proportional and stressed that “the loss of innocent civilian life must be prevented”.

US, urgent arms transfers to Israel and strategic move: largest aircraft carrier to be stationed in eastern Mediterranean

America’s largest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, will oversee the security of the Middle East Mediterranean. It, along with five guided-missile cruisers and destroyers already in the Mediterranean, will be directed to the eastern part of the sea near Israel as part of US efforts to secure that country. In parallel, the Biden administration is currently working “actively” to meet Israel’s request for urgent arms transfers to its close military ally Israel. But to meet Israel’s and Ukraine’s arms needs simultaneously, US military officials recently requested congressional approval of additional funding for munitions production and procurement.

“A really important thing in terms of particularly the ammunition and our ability to potentially support both the Israelis and the Ukrainians simultaneously is additional funding from Congress to be able to expand our production, and then to pay for the ammunition itself,” Christine Wormuth explained to the press at an Army event, Reuters reported.

Israel, which is not part of the North Atlantic Alliance, is a major buyer of US-made military equipment, but at the same time has developed its own arms production. Some of this is destined for the European market, specifically Germany. A few months ago, Germany and Israel signed a $3.5bn deal allowing the European country to buy the advanced Arrow 3 missile defence system, developed by Israel jointly with the US.