Gaza conflict will shake the Arab world
The human cost of Israel”s decision to attack Gaza is being paid by the Palestinians. However, the fallout from this wanton violence is going to have long-term political consequences throughout the Arab world. The Israeli attack on Gaza is likely to bring to the fore political trends that up to now have remained just below the parapet of influence. The situation has brought the Arab world to an historic crossroads, where leaders will either move towards Arab independence from western policies, which is likely to be driven by popular grassroots support, or continue to toe the line of Israel/US influence. Much of this will be determined by the duration of Israeli attacks and the survival or demise of Hamas.
The first and obvious fact in the current war is that since the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, this is the first war that Israel has launched that Palestinians have defended themselves without any neighbouring Arab country militarily intervening. The Palestinians have taken up arms independently, whether home-made or imported, to defend their land and people against this full-scale Israeli military attack from the air, sea and ground. This could be argued to be the first Palestinian-Israeli war.
If Hamas emerges from this brutal Israeli onslaught still politically operational against the odds of the high number of civilian injuries and deaths and severe structural damage to infrastructure, it is bound to empower the Palestinians, and Hamas itself. Despite the lethal Israeli military firepower there are logical reasons to assume that this is a possibility. Hamas is a political party with a solid structure that has popular support and deep roots within the Palestinian society stretching some 20 years. It is thus implausible to envisage its total demise even if Israel manages to reach one of its desired ambitions of eliminating the present leadership.
With the Hamas-led Palestinian resistance still holding, it appears that despite the snail-paced international efforts to halt the carnage in Gaza, Israel is unlikely to have enough time to achieve one of its ever-changing targets, the destruction of Hamas. Other targets include stopping rocket fire; the assassination of Hamas leadership; and the destruction of tunnels which are purportedly used for smuggling weapons – although in reality they are used mainly for smuggling basic necessities denied by the siege. With the war already dragging into its third week and Israel”s continued use of indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force resulting in ever gruesome images of bloodstrewn bodies of children, women and the old being beamed daily into homes, many in Arab countries are taking to the streets in protest despite government efforts to prevent this.
The greatest impact of the political shockwave from the Palestinian resistance is most heavily felt in Egypt. Here, the dictatorial “life” regime of President Hosni Mubarak continues to march in a diametrically opposite position to the sentiments of the public, whose sympathies are with the Palestinians, leading the government and people to a collision course. As Jack Shenker noted here on Cif, the people on the streets are getting bolder by the day. Despite the heavy hand of the police in Egypt, which could see protesters imprisoned, thousands have taken to the streets daily and the chorus is getting louder with chants that are both anti-Israeli and anti-Mubarak.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which is the only credible opposition to Mubarak, has joined hands with the secularists, leftist and others in denouncing Mubarak”s ties with Israel and his choking of the Palestinians by keeping the Rafah crossing shut. Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader in Lebanon who is viewed as a hero by many on the Egyptian streets for taking on the might of the Israeli army in 2006, and surviving, has weighed in strongly against Mubarak. Short of calling for an uprising, he has encouraged the Egyptian public to take action and force open the Rafah crossing.
In 2006, Mubarak first condemned Hezbollah”s actions but later retracted this and ended up sending his minister to congratulate Nasrallah, as popular support for Hezbollah grew larger and more passionate in Egypt. Despite that, he has yet again opted to take the Israeli side in the current conflict. It appears he is fogged by the largesse of $2.2bn donated annually by the US to Egypt, which many believe is tied to his commitment for the US-Israel ambitions and project in the region.
Although Hamas initially emerged as an offshoot of the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt, it appears that in a turnabout of fate, the Brotherhood may reap the benefit from Hamas”s stance against Israeli aggression. On Tuesday the head of the Brotherhood, Mohammed Akef, called for continued demonstration with demands on Mubarak to expel the Israeli ambassador and end the prevention of humanitarian relief to Gaza.
At present the call has been for non-violent protests but with the emotions proportionately rising with the continued attack on Gaza, things may change. There is an emerging consensus on the streets of Cairo that Mubarak is as great an obstacle to Palestinian freedom as Israel. If this consensus coalesces it could result in the emergence of political actors in Egypt capable of challenging Mubarak”s regime. In addition, it seems likely that for any ceasefire acceptable to Israel and, by extension, the US, to be agreed, Egypt will come under severe pressure to acquiesce to, and perhaps even help police, a ban on the movement of armaments from the Egyptian side of Gaza border via tunnels. For Egypt in effect to aid any renewed blockade of Gaza would surely be a high political risk for the Mubarak regime.
The future of Israel”s allies in Egypt and the other neighbouring states depends on whether Israel can reach a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians or independence and freedom is created by the Palestinians through successful resistance.