More keys to Gaza

Abdel-Moneim Said
Tuesday 21 May 2024

Abdel-Moneim Said resumes last week’s analysis of what is regionally and internationally at stake in the Gaza war


Last week I discussed three questions that are key to understanding the fifth Gaza war. The first is the Iranian role in the war. The second concerns the complications the war has caused in the US-Israeli relationship, which swings between a virtual alliance in the prosecution of this war and discord over means and methods as well as scenarios for the “day after”. The third is the question of the fate of Gaza, which Israel thirsts to annex and Hamas claims a right to control, while the international community believes the PLO should return to the Strip. In today’s column, I will address three more central questions that may help us piece together the puzzle. Such are the conundrums human conflicts confront us with when they elude resolution, which becomes the purpose of warfare, at which point we are faced with the question as to why the war erupted in the first place.

The fourth question, which presses upon politicians and military planners and rivets observers is when will this war end?  It is a question asked with a mixture of impatience and fascination. As with all wars, the belligerents enter it with the belief they can score an overwhelming victory over their enemy. Certainly, Israel launched its incursion into Gaza with this in mind. Netanyahu may still imagine that he can crush Hamas, seize control of Gaza, and rewrite Palestinian textbooks, while side-lining the Palestinian National Authority, the Palestinian cause, the Oslo Accords, and the two-state solution. Hamas, for its part, foresaw the collapse of the Netanyahu government and then Israel. Meanwhile, others believe that both sides, unable to achieve their ends, will succumb to war fatigue. It is difficult for Israel to sustain such a comprehensive long-term mobilisation while the exhaustion of Gaza has been enough to make Hamas demand a ceasefire. A third scenario is that the war will end because the world or, more precisely, the world’s major powers want it to. At that point, the US will establish a distance between itself and the Israeli leadership, and push for the creation of a Palestinian state in exchange for Arab normalisation with Israel. Others have envisioned a regional solution whereby Iran would be persuaded to stop supporting the “Axis of Resistance” in exchange for the establishment of a regional security organisation that limits arms, especially nuclear ones, and promotes regional development and prosperity.

The fifth question is whether a kind of “big bang” is inevitable causing the conflict to explode beyond its current Palestinian-Israeli bounds, turning it into a mere rehearsal for a full-scale regional conflagration pitting Iran against Israel and the US. We already see signs of the possibility: the ongoing skirmishes between the Lebanese Hizbullah and Israel, the shadow war between Israel and Iran in Syria, and the Houthi campaign from the direction of the Red Sea, threatening international shipping and trade. This is not to mention the direct confrontation that saw Iranian drones and missiles landing in the Negev and Israel missiles landing near the Iranian nuclear reactor in Isfahan. Will these “test runs” become the real thing, bursting into the open rather than lurking beneath the surface of contradictions in anticipation of another day?

The sixth question is a brainchild of conspiracy theorising that gained currency since Hamas’ incursion into the Gaza envelope on 7 October. It goes that Hamas conspired with Israel to launch the operation, triggering an Israeli revenge campaign against the people of Gaza wreaking immense death and destruction. The result would be a second Nakba, this time driving hundreds of thousands in the direction of the “empty” Sinai.  The theory borrows from the realities of warfare and weaves them into a seemingly logical progression that starts from the fact that Israel is a colonial settler state. This entity is now bent on wreaking havoc in Gaza in order to seize control over it and rebuild the settlements it had dismantled two decades ago. Towards this end, it threatens Egypt with a massive population invasion infused with extremist elements. As with many conspiracy fictions, there are subplots. In Israel, the emergent battalions of the religious and secular far right see in Hamas visions of another Holocaust. Among Palestinians, a conspiracy is circulating in which the Arabs are working, not to save the Palestinians but rather to conform with the US’ and Israel’s designs. Meanwhile, the PA is the subject of other conspiracy theories and questions that have no end.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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