In the gulf, official reserve toward Gaza vies with strong public support

Ahram Online , Wednesday 18 Oct 2023

Following the events of 7 October and the war on Gaza, reactions from Gulf governments have on the whole been reserved towards Palestine’s offensive against Israel and indifferent to Israel’s destructive bombardment of Gaza. The public, by contrast, has shown strong support for the plight of the Palestinians.

A man sits outside his building which was destroyed during Israeli bombardment in Rafah refugee camp in Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023. AP


As time went on, Israel started preparing for a ground incursion which drove US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first visit to Tel Aviv on Thursday 12 October to show solidarity for the US’s ally. He then visited Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

Blinken sought to regain some of America’s clout in the region, lost since President Joe Biden’s administration took office more than two years ago. Blinken returned to Israel to meet at once with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, opposition leader Yair Lapid, who is supposed to form a national unity government with Netanyahu, and the Israeli security cabinet. Another important leg of his regional tour was in Saudi Arabia where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Nothing serious came out of the meeting regarding the prospect of Saudi-Israeli normalisation that Washington was pushing for before recent developments or any other topic.

Other Gulf countries have had varied reactions to the violent developments in Israel and Palestine.

The only condemnation of attacks on Israel came from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), while the remaining five countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) either called for restraint on “both sides” or blamed Israel. The most important reaction to Israel and the US was the Saudi official statement delivered by the Saudi news agency. It called on both sides to end the escalation and protect civilians. Israeli media highlighted the fact that the Saudi statement did not condemn Palestinian attacks.

Efforts for an American-brokered deal to normalise relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel became muted. The American media highlighted the Saudi response as well, concluding that recent developments have put a brake on the normalisation process. The Saudi statement recalled “repeated warnings of the danger of the explosion of the situation as a result of the continued occupation, the deprivation of the Palestinian people of their legitimate rights, and the repetition of systematic provocations against Muslim sanctities”.

Bahrain, the other Gulf country that, along with UAE, normalised relations with Israel in 2020, issued a statement that stopped short of blaming any party.  It stressed “the need for de-escalation among all parties to preserve the lives of people. The continuation of violence will impede efforts aiming at achieving a just and lasting peace in the Middle East,” the statement added, calling on the international community to help end the armed conflict and to protect civilians.

The Bahraini reaction was almost identical to the Omani statement that called on Israel and the Palestinians to exercise maximum self-restraint, according to an official statement reported by the state news agency. The statement asked the international community and international parties to “intervene immediately to stop the ongoing escalation and resort to the rules of international law.”

It was only Kuwait that expressed its “grave concern” over developments between Israel and the Palestinians, blaming Israel for what it called its “blatant attacks”. The Kuwaiti foreign ministry, in a statement, called on the international community to “stop the provocative practices by the occupation” and the “policy of expanding settlements”.

The Qatari reaction was initially stronger as well, as Qatar's foreign ministry issued a statement on Saturday saying that “Israel alone was responsible for the ongoing escalation of violence with the Palestinian people”. It said Qatar calls on both sides to exercise the utmost restraint and “calls on the international community to prevent Israel from using these events as an excuse to launch a disproportionate war against Palestinian civilians in Gaza”. 

But as the Israeli war on Palestinians in Gaza intensified from Sunday, Qatar reached a “quiet understanding” with the US not to release six billion dollars sent to Iran for now. CNN reported that a US Treasury official told House Democrats in Congress about the agreement. The Iranian funds were transferred to Qatari accounts last month as part of a deal to free Americans detained in Iran. As Israel and the US blame Iran for supporting the Palestinian resistance, especially the Hamas movement in Gaza, the US wanted to re-freeze the money.

American officials have said that “there is no direct evidence of Iran having a direct link to the attack” but that Tehran is “broadly complicit given their historic support for the terrorist group”. There are already many strict restrictions tied to the funds, so the “quiet understanding” between Qatar and the US not to move the money right now appears to be largely symbolic.

The only Gulf country that squared the blame on Palestinian resistance was the UAE, calling Hamas attacks on Israel a “serious and grave escalation”. The UAE foreign ministry issued a statement on Sunday, carried by the Emirati official news agency, saying that it was “appalled” by reports that Israeli civilians were taken as hostages from their homes. The statement added, “Civilians on both sides must always have full protection under international humanitarian law and must never be a target of conflict”. 

Later in the week, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that some US military jets arrived in UAE. “Some of the jet aircraft that the Biden administration ordered to defend Israel and deter further attacks arrived in the region Thursday,” the Pentagon said. WSJ quoted defence officials saying, “A squadron of A-10 ground-attack planes based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona will be stationed at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates”.

The UAE quickly denied those media reports. Emirati Defence Ministry said in a statement that the arrival of US aircraft at its base is unrelated to developments in the region and has been taking place for several months according to predetermined timetables. 

Those were the official positions of governments in the Gulf, but the mood among the population there aligns with that of fellow Arab nations. People felt strong apathy toward Israel and sympathy for the Palestinian people under occupation. Some of them even took to social media platforms to express their views. Emirati academic Abdulkahleq Abdulla wrote on X (Twitter) that “resistance to Israeli occupation is a legitimate right that deserves the support of the honest world. We pray for your victory, resistance heroes”.

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