Inhumanity and anomalies in a perilous Middle East

Nabil Fahmy
Wednesday 7 Feb 2024

The Middle East is today a cacophony of conflicts, and an amphitheater for human carnage.

 

Actions have resulted in adverse results, while arguments have been marked by illogical and contradictory reasoning. Despite this, both the world and the region appear to be in denial of the situation.

Just last summer, prevailing Israeli pontification suggested that the Palestinian issue was no longer important or even a volatile matter in the Israeli Arab configuration, and thus should be ignored both regionally and internationally. However, the egregious settlement activity in the West Bank, along with the events of October 7th and beyond, have debunked this theory.

Israel and its supporters have been presenting a fundamentally false narrative that portrays their recent losses at the crux of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In reality, the two parties have been in conflict for over seven decades, with a recurring cycle of violence, predominantly perpetrated by Israel, the occupier, far more than by the occupied Palestinians.

In seeking to avenge Israeli losses and ensure security, the perceived only “democratic, civil and humane state in the region” has, since then, killed and injured close to a hundred thousand civilians as collateral damage, most of whom are women and children. Additionally, over half of Gaza has been destroyed, and a million and a half Palestinians have been forcefully displaced.

This situation is an unquestionable recipe for anger and bitterness if left unaccounted for, which will generate a painful and shrill call for revenge and retribution that is bound to also target Israel.

Despite Israel’s claims of targeting Hamas cadres, having killed or incarcerated large numbers of its leaders, and destroying its infrastructural capacity, the majority of casualties are civilians. Even Israeli media now reports that about two thirds of Hamas’s institutional capacity remains in place.

The exchanges of hostages on October 7, involving Palestinians long incarcerated in Israeli prisons, will remain intermittent. This comes as the world witnesses the arrest of even larger numbers of Palestinians in the West Bank. Additionally, there have been tragic incidents where Israeli forces inadvertently caused the death of unarmed Israeli hostages, who were seeking help by raising white cloth and screaming for help in Hebrew.

Before October 7th, Hamas and resistance fighters had garnered grudging support, largely driven by the functional coexistence needs of Palestinian in Gaza. The Palestinian community’s human and material losses due to the Israeli military response may lead to some further decline in support. However, the inhumane, indiscriminate and sustained Israeli military juggernaut, mostly at the expense of civilians and in the absence of the Palestinian Authority, has elevated the stature of the resistance rather than diminishing it. This was emphasized by the Palestinian Prime Minister himself, who declared that the resistance fighters were an integral part of the nation’s body politic.

Israel declared its intention to maintain ultimate security control over Gaza after the cessation of operations. However, it made the perplexing and irresponsible request for Egypt, Jordan and other Arabs to supply security forces, which was a cause for concern as it could have potentially led to these forces either acting as Israeli surrogates against Palestinians, or engaging in conflict with Israelis, thus jeopardizing existing peace agreements.

Israel’s establishment stemmed from the persecution and forced displacement of peoples from different lands. Despite this history, Israel proposed the relocation of Gazans to Sinai, sparking serious consternation from the first Arab country to sign a peace agreement with it. Furthermore, the expansive Israeli settlement activity drove dispirited traditional supporters of the two-state solution to consider a one-state alternative, where Palestinians and Israelis coexist with a shared identity and equal rights.

While the removal of settlements is undoubtedly challenging, the idea of Palestinians and Israelis coexisting with a singular identity and equal rights is completely implausible, particularly given recent events. As such, the notion of separation with two national identities is the only option.

In the past, the two-state solution had been relegated to a list of unfulfilled historic aspirations. However, it is now regarded as the preferred and singular option by all parties except the Israeli Government.

The United States, known for championing democracies and human rights, continues to object to a ceasefire in Gaza, contradicting its own laws- the “Leahy legislature” - by allowing its weapons to be used against civilians and blocking attempts to sanction Israel for its international humanitarian violations.

The United States opposes the forced displacement of Palestinians and any reduction of Gazan territory for Israeli security purposes and affirms its support for a two-state solution. However, the U.S. has overlooked Israeli transgressions on these issues and remained silent when Israel publicly rejected Biden’s suggestion that it could consider some form of a two-state option, even after the American President's ambiguous remarks implying that it could in fact be less than a fully sovereign state.

In the context of the Middle East, tensions often spillover into Europe. Traditionally, Europe has taken a constructive middle of the road if not assertive stance on the Palestinians issue. However, traditional European leaders such as France have displayed controversial positions.  Germany, of all nations, is preposterously condoning mass murder, while Britain is still grappling with the aftermath of Brexit and uncertain prospects on the Atlantic. Meanwhile, some nations are reverting to irresponsible populist stances. Amidst this, there is a ray of hope in Norway, Ireland, Spain, Belgium and possibly one or two others who have taken straightforward and principled positions despite considerable pressures.

The International Court of Justice recently took a significant step by accepting a case regarding Israel’s potential acts of genocide. Additionally, the court urged for interim measures to prevent further escalation, affirming the contentious nature of Israeli actions and the necessity for them to cease. However, the court did not explicitly demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, resulting in all parties claiming victory but ultimately feeling unsatisfied.

Calls have advocated caution and the need for action to contain the potential dangers of the Gaza conflict extending to other areas in the Middle East. However, aren’t the deaths and dangers in the sector itself enough to generate regional and international action? It is clear that the Middle East is now an active conflict zone, and that the additional spillover has already occurred. Only the very shortsighted would not recognize this reality. 

The Israeli relations with its immediate neighbors, Egypt and Jordan, have deteriorated due to border security and displacement issues. Moreover, there are additional tensions arising from violent and cross-border activities in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the Red Sea area, which pose serious spillover and national security threats. Despite significant western military deployment in the region’s waterways, intended as a deterrent to other parties, it has proven to be ineffective and has even made the deployed themselves targets. 

Furthermore, the Gaza conflict has diverted attention from addressing long-standing issues, prompting Jordan to take military action against drug smuggling from Syria. Additionally, Ethiopian Somali port arrangements are seen as opportunistic and potentially destabilizing, raising serious concerns in Somalia and Egypt. Needless to say, the volatile situations in Libya, Sudan, Yemen, coupled with the assertiveness of Turkey and Iran continue to fuel tensions in the region.

The core essence of this unstable theater spans from Central North Africa, specifically Libya, and extends eastwards into Sudan dipping southwards all the way to the Red Sea. It then flows through the Arab/Israeli theater to the Levant, encompassing Lebanon and Syria, and further southwards through the Arabian Gulf Area. The common denominator in all this is an insatiable thirst for power and hegemony.

It is high time for the international community to speak truth to power, ensure accountability for aggressors, and acknowledge that the Middle East is in fact currently embroiled in multiple dangerous conflicts, posing a significant threat to regional and global peace and security. Active international and regional diplomacy, which emphasizes the importance of respecting international law, is of utmost urgency.

*Nabil Fahmy is the former foreign minister of Egypt 

*The article is published in collaboration and with permission from the Future for Advanced Research & Studies, a UAE-based think tank.

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