Major casualties on the geopolitical scene will be the United Nations, Russia, Iran, and Turkey
By Anil Madan
The terrorist attack by Hamas on Israel sent shock waves through Israel. That was to be expected. The sheer horror and disbelief of initial reports that a thousand or more Israelis were killed and an unknown number of hostages including women and children had been transported to Gaza, was punctuated by the incredulity of a nation aghast at what seems a colossal security and intelligence failure. Added to this was the mass feeling of insecurity at the slowness of the government’s response and the seeming vulnerability and ineffectiveness of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Those latter perceptions would change, but not all else.
Reaction around the world writ large also reflected a shock wave. To be sure, there was the obligatory cheering from Iran’s slimy Ayatollah Khamenei who sent a message about kissing the hands of the terrorists who had wrought this evil, and from Putin who attributed the attack to a failure of America’s policy in the Middle East. And there were scenes of rejoicing in Arab and other nations.
A day before Hamas attacked, a newly shaped Middle East appeared to be in formation. Iran’s hostility toward Israel was being marginalized as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other Gulf nations embraced a new reality and Saudi Arabia too began a dialogue with Israel about establishing diplomatic relations. To be sure, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) also sought to defuse tensions between his country and Iran, and indeed to bring some quiescence to the ongoing fighting in Yemen.
One would have thought that the attack by Hamas might have brought forth a rallying cry from the UAE and Gulf nations, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, especially after the initial and forceful bombing response by Israel. But that did not happen. Saudi Arabia suspended talks with Israel, but a Saudi source is reported to have said that talks could not continue for now and that Saudi Arabia would need to prioritize concessions for the Palestinian people when discussion resumed. The key here is that talks were not completely abandoned. Considering this, an initial Saudi Foreign Ministry statement appearing to blame Israel and referring to past warnings about the treatment of Palestinian civilians, must be viewed as obligatory public relations fodder.
The UAE, on the other hand, issued a statement calling the attack by Hamas “serious and grave escalation.” Its foreign ministry allowed as how it was “appalled” that Israeli civilians were taken as hostages. Perhaps displaying some prescience about what was to be, it also said: “Civilians on both sides must always have full protection under international humanitarian law and must never be a target of conflict.” Egypt has kept its Rafah border crossing essentially closed with a trickle of trucks allowed and has not laid out the welcome mat for a mass of Gazans.
The point of reciting these events is to show that the forces that were causing the geopolitical chaos that described the Middle East and which seemed to be receding before October 7, do not appear to have changed much. It is possible that Israel’s promise to disembowel Hamas and leave it devoid of the ability to attack Israel or to administer Gaza will lead to an even worse humanitarian disaster than we are witnessing, but for now, even that eventuality may not stymy what seems an inexorable acceptance by the major Arab countries of Israel’s right to exist and the wisdom of doing business with Israel for their own benefit.
Whether it is distasteful to say so, or not, the hatred of Israel in Arab countries has dissipated at least at the leadership level and the Gazans have become irrelevant, if not expendable in the grand context of the existential threats that they see to their own survival and hold on power.
Casualties on the geopolitical scene
So, what has changed? I see four major casualties that will flow from the attacks by Hamas other than the casualty that Hamas itself will be and perhaps Hezbollah too. Recall that a high-ranking Israeli has threatened to inflict severe damage on Iran as well as Hezbollah if that Iranian proxy intervenes.
The major casualties on the geopolitical scene will be the United Nations, Russia, Iran, and Turkey. The United Nations has become all but useless in so much of its initial mission as was dedicated to maintaining world peace and in defusing conflicts as they occur. UN Secretary General Guterres has been reduced to issuing sound bites about the ongoing humanitarian disaster. He is entirely correct, but nobody listens to him and certainly, no one responds to his pleas.
To compound matters, Guterres stated two days ago: “It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.” In an editorial captioned, ‘The Disgrace of the United Nations on Israel’, the Wall Street Journal wrote about this: Lest anyone miss his point, [he added]: “The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation. They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced, and their homes demolished.”
Calls for Guterres to resign came swiftly. In a weaselly response, Guterres claims that his remarks have been misinterpreted. With all respect, his apologia for Hamas was quite clear.
It is now impossible to get any useful or consequential resolution through the UN Security Council given the veto powers of its five permanent members. My prediction is that Guterres will probably resign or at least be viewed as an unreliable and contemptible figure for the remainder of his term, and he will be as ineffective as an international voice as the UN as a whole is.
Russia’s standing in the world in general is no better. From its ongoing genocide in Ukraine to its supporter of the murderous Assad in Syria, Russia has no voice in international affairs.
Turkey’s President Erdogan stated a day ago: “Hamas is not a terrorist organisation, it is a liberation group, ‘mujahideen’ waging a battle to protect its lands and people.” The term “mujahideen” refers to freedom fighters. Once again, Erdogan comes across as the gadfly sitting on the fence between Europe and the Middle East. Italian Deputy Prime Minister Salvini described Erdogan’s words as “serious and disgusting”. Salvini rightly pointed out that such statements do nothing to alleviate the ongoing conflict in the region. And, of course, at a higher level, Erdogan’s comments cause unease about the message they send to other militant groups worldwide. Turkiye too is on its way to irrelevance.
Then, of course, there is Iran, a country seemingly hell-bent on destroying the lives of its own people for such transgressions as wearing the hijab too loosely or reporting on the death of a woman killed by the morality police. Now, we have militant terror groups supported by Iran threatening US bases in Kuwait and the UAE. Iran’s ongoing enrichment of enough fissile material to make nuclear weapons, and its ongoing support of terrorism to achieve its perceived political ends, are not likely to go on uninterrupted for too much longer.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian issued a threat on Sunday that the United States would see “heavy losses” and warned Israel with a deadline to end its military actions toward Gaza. He said: “I say frankly to the American statesmen, who are now managing the genocide in Palestine, that we do not welcome the expansion of the war in the region. But if the genocide in Gaza continues, they will not be spared from this fire.”
Game of terror by proxy
Just as Israel got too complacent about Hamas, the US has seemingly been too complacent about the threats posed by Iran. That is beginning to change. Last week, US Secretary of State Blinken warned Iran not to intervene. In a seemingly too mild statement, he stated that if US forces or assets were attacked, the US will defend itself “swiftly and decisively” against attacks by Iran or its proxies. Whether that means anything more than just defending itself rather than a counterattack on Iran remains to be seen. President Biden, also seeming to wish to low-key the situation, merely warned Iran that the US will “respond” if US troops are attacked.
The Israelis left no one with any illusions on that subject. Israeli Economy Minister Nir Barkat’s incendiary language is worth reading in full. He said: “If we discover that [Hezbollah] intend to attack Israel, we will not only strike back on those fronts, but we will also strike on the head of the snake that is Iran. The ayatollahs in Iran will not sleep well at night. We will make sure they pay a heavy price if, God forbid, they open a northern front. Lebanon and Hezbollah will pay a heavy price similar to what Hamas will pay. But that is not enough. The very clear message is that we are going to go after the leaders of Iran as well. When will we do that? When we decide. Israel has a very clear message to our enemies. We are telling them: Look what is happening in Gaza. We will do the same to you if you attack us. We will wipe you off the face of the earth.”
The interesting point is that no one in Israel has disavowed any of this. Nor has there been worldwide condemnation. The message is clear. US leaders at the highest level have no compunctions about issuing warnings to Iran. The US seems to have come around to the long held Israeli view that the time to deal with Iran is now, before it actually has nuclear weapons. One need only think of the horrific consequences if the Ayatollahs enable Hamas or Hezbollah to explode a dirty bomb over Israel.
The leaders of the Arab world stand by as if they too understand that their heads too are at risk in this high-stake game of terror by proxy that Iran has been allowed to get away with for far too long.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 27 October 2023
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