The October 7 attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians were widely condemned. Except for a few countries like Iran, which also distanced itself, most Arab countries were disconcerted and uncomfortable. Israel’s right to defend itself was broadly acknowledged. But growing cruelty, continued bombardment, the siege of Gaza and disruption and denial of essential supplies with rampant death and destruction of Palestinians have dented the sympathy for Israel. This was also evident in the statements of Israel’s close friends, including the United States. President Joe Biden dashed for an awkward day-long visit to express his unstinting support to Benjamin Netanyahu with all the moral and material supplies in abundance.
Hamas may have had several objectives, but the most important ones were to shake off the Palestinian fatigue that had become so prevalent in the Arab world. This was evident in the Abraham Accords driven by Donald Trump’s administration. Biden nearly got Saudi Arabia to sign up too. This would have been the biggest loss for the Palestinian support and cause. If Riyadh, without any concessions for Palestine, had normalized diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv, the cause would have been lost for good. They also made the Arab streets wake up to the plight of Muslims and Palestinians.
Besides, Hamas also busted the myth of the invincibility of Israel by piercing through the impregnable defences at 22 points. Even though most countries in the region do not like or approve of the tactics and terror of Hamas, the group might have been able to slow down the initiatives like Abraham Accords, I2U2 (India, Israel, UAE and US) and IMEC (India-Middle-East-Europe Corridor) to some extent. The leadership in Arab countries is finding it difficult to go against the tide of sympathy at the grassroots level. It will be some time before the Gulf countries will be able to advance further on the path of normalization of diplomatic relations with Israel.
Iran has recently normalized ties with Saudi Arabia with the help of China. But it was not too pleased with the rapprochement between Riyadh and Tel Aviv. Iran with its links with 3Hs (Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthis) and several other Islamic militias in Iraq and Syria has tremendous leverage. But greater involvement of Hezbollah to support Hamas on the battlefield may lead to a region-wide escalation, which will be disastrous for many countries, including India.
India has converted its transactional relationship with West Asia, especially the Gulf Cooperation Council, into a strategic partnership. It has begun to be part of the subregional cooperative matrix, by joining the I2U2 and the IMEC, in addition to enhancing its relationship with the region on the bilateral, regional and global levels. Israel is also a strategic partner and Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately condemned the Hamas terror attacks. He also sympathetically spoke about the loss of lives at the hospital in Gaza. New Delhi has consistently argued for a two-state solution to end the Israel-Palestine conflict. India, being trusted by both sides, could play a more constructive role in easing the crisis and facilitating a long-term solution.
The article was first published in the Deccan Herald as Israel-Palestine conflict: India can play a more constructive role in facilitating a solution on 21 October, 2023
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About the Author
Anil Trigunayat, former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta.