A tidal wave in the Middle East

Hussein Haridy
Tuesday 17 Oct 2023

As long as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains in power and there are no moves towards serious peace negotiations, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will be able to live in peace and security, writes Hussein Haridy


The Oxford English Dictionary defines a tidal wave as an exceptional ocean wave, especially one caused by an underwater earthquake or volcanic eruption. Figuratively speaking, it defines it as a widespread or overwhelming manifestation of an emotion or phenomenon.

The region has been seeing a tidal wave from 7 October when Hamas forces crossed into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip for a few days, followed by the now constant Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which the Israeli military has subjected to a total siege with “no power, no food, no gas, everything is closed,” as Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant put it.

He said that his country is “fighting human animals, and we act accordingly”. He retains his post in the Israeli national unity government that was announced on 11 October and that has brought in Benny Gantz from the opposition into a government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The UK Economist magazine says of Netanyahu in its latest edition that “his political career is ending. Having spent a lifetime seeking power at any price, he should finally put his country before himself.” This seems rather doubtful.

As I write this article on 16 October, the air raids on Gaza by Israel’s US-made bombers and fighter planes have caused the deaths of more than 2,000 Palestinians with more than 10,000 wounded. More than one million Palestinians have been displaced from northern Gaza to the south of the Strip near the Egyptian border. This mass movement has come on the heels of an ultimatum by the Israeli military.

With Israeli troops massed on the borders with Gaza, perhaps by the time Al-Ahram Weekly appears on Thursday the much-talked about Israeli invasion of Gaza will have taken place. A spokesman for the Israeli army, Daniel Hagari, said in a televised briefing on 12 October that “unlike in other operations, we are collapsing the governance and sovereignty of the Hamas organisation.”

Across the Atlantic Ocean in the US, emotions are running high and to a level of unreasonableness that does not befit a great power. Senator Lindsay Graham (Republican - South Carolina) has told the Israelis to do “whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourselves.” Using a tone of bravado and warmongering he added, “level the place.” 

The US Senator was speaking of Gaza when he referred to a place where more than 2.4 million human beings live. In criminal law, his words could be considered as “accessory” to the slaughter of the Gazans that is unfolding before the world on TV screens and on social media by the Israeli military.

However, perhaps the peak of US emotions came when President Joe Biden in remarks made to the American people accused members of Hamas of committing “rapes” during their intrusion into Israeli territory on 7 October.

From 12 to 15 October, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in the Middle East visiting Israel, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. While in Jordan, he met Chairman of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas.

Standing beside the Israeli prime minister, Blinken said that he had not travelled to Israel only as the US secretary of state, but also as a Jew – a statement that was a bit surprising and disappointing, at least from an Egyptian and Arab standpoint, for we have made it clear over the last eight decades that the Arab-Israeli conflict is political in nature and have gone to great lengths to reject calls to frame this conflict in religious terms. 

In this respect, and regrettably enough, Senator Graham in a news segment on the US network Fox News also cast the conflict as a “religious war.”

On the day Blinken departed from Israel, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin arrived in the country, together with, according to press reports, members of the Delta Force, the elite special forces of the US military. There is speculation that their mission will be to free the American hostages in Gaza.

Two days earlier, the US administration announced the deployment of the aircraft carrier strike force Gerald Ford in the Mediterranean, and later in the week it deployed another aircraft carrier, the Dwight Eisenhower. However, official sources in Washington told the US press that the latter’s deployment had been planned before 7 October.

The message that both Blinken and Austin carried with them on their tours of the Middle East was basically that Israel has the right to defend itself. They aimed to dissuade any third party in the region from intervening in the unfolding battle, or, to be more precise, the war between Israel and Hamas.

Due to the widespread destruction caused by the Israeli raids on Gaza, the US administration has called on Israel to protect the civilian population in Gaza from its military operations. In two separate telephone calls with the chairman of the PA and the prime minister of Israel last weekend, Blinken stressed the importance of providing the inhabitants of Gaza with humanitarian assistance. 

In his talks with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on 15 October in Cairo, Blinken also discussed this important question. Hours before Blinken’s arrival in the Egyptian capital, President Al-Sisi chaired a meeting of Egypt’s National Security Council. One of its decisions was the provision of urgent humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

In its edition of 14 October, the UK newspaper the Financial Times published an article by British historian Lawrence Freedman. Discussing the risks of Israeli ground operations inside the Gaza Strip, he wrote that “as Israel comes up against the limits of military power, it may need at least to explore the possibilities of political initiatives.”

This is wise advice, but I am afraid that it will fall on deaf ears in Israel. The Israelis are behaving like a wounded animal. They talk about their next military operations in Gaza in apocalyptic terms, using words like “total destruction,” “complete annihilation,” and stressing that the “next military operation will take a long time.” I doubt that the new war cabinet in Israel has a clue how long this will be.

The Israeli Military Command has announced that its ultimate goal is to wipe out the top political and military hierarchy of Hamas. It seems oblivious to the fact that it has already assassinated several of them during the last few years, among them Sheikh Yassin, the founder of Hamas. Each time it does so, more radical and more determined leaders within Hamas emerge to take the reins. 

Given the scale of the destruction that the Israeli raids have caused in Gaza over the past few days, we can easily imagine the rage and thirst for revenge that now exists in the hearts and minds of the Palestinian children and young men who have been displaced and have seen their mothers, sisters, fathers, and brothers killed before their eyes.

As long as Netanyahu remains in power, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians, and for that matter, the Middle East, will be able to live in peace and security.

The tidal wave that has struck the Middle East will not subside soon, and its ramifications will be felt around the region and beyond. Only credible and serious peace negotiations to grant the Palestinians a state of their own will stop similar tidal waves in the future.

* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 19 October, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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