Middle East watching how Israel handles Gaza

With so many actors opposed to a conflict in Gaza, the ball is in Israel’s court.

March 26, 2019 12:38
3 minute read.
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman talks with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman talks with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 9, 2018. (photo credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/COURTESY OF SAUDI ROYAL COURT/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)


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Only a few days after shrugging off US President Donald Trump’s recognition of the Golan as part of Israel, the Middle East is now looking at how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu handles the Gaza crises.

Could one long-range rockets result in a conflict in Gaza, after a year of massive protests and hundreds of rockets resulted in more pragmatic Israeli responses? This is the question that hangs over the Middle East as Netanyahu cuts short his US trip to attend to the crises. Much is at stake because there are numerous forces that want quiet to be maintained along the Gaza border.

Foremost among those forces are the southern Arab states such as Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Egypt has played an essential role in mediating the Gaza crises over the last year. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which oppose Hamas, do not want a new Israel-Palestinian conflict because they see Iran as the major threat to the region and would prefer Israel keep its eyes on the Iranian threat as well. Jordan has been tiptoeing carefully as well, concerned after the US embassy move to Jerusalem last year.
Do Turkey and Qatar, both close allies of each other and both which view Hamas more amicably, want a conflict? Qatar has been sending cash payments via Israel to Gaza to keep the enclave quiet and seeking to pay local salaries. It is part of a long term Qatari investment in Gaza, which it doesn’t want to see destroyed. Turkey, a harsh critic of Israel, has attempted to position itself as a champion of “Islamic” causes – whether that means Jerusalem or even condemning the US recognition of the Golan – always critiquing Israel for alleged human rights abuses. This is part of Turkey’s strategy to appeal to populism in the region. But it doesn’t want that to spill over into conflict.

Iran, which has stoked tensions in Gaza in the past through its work with Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, is mum on the current crises. It is focused on a massive military operation to aid flood victims throughout the country. With Biblical-like floods swamping province after province, its media is worried about the social ramifications of the floods. But it will be interested to see how Hamas and Israel handle this round. Hamas fired a locally developed rocket that landed in Mishmeret, unlike in mid-March when Iranian media was boasting that one of its Fajr-5s had been fired at Tel Aviv. On the one hand, Iran likes to see Hamas and Gaza as a kind of testing ground for its rocket technology, but its real interest is in Syria and Hezbollah, where sophisticated and precision guidance has been supplied to the rockets in both countries. Hamas, in contrast, is not nearly as serious.

Iran is busy boasting of its control of the region and mocking the US for Washington’s “isolation.” After US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit, it continued to hammer home the idea that Iran has outplayed the Americans in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. But a war in Gaza that might also stoke tensions with Iran must be considered carefully by Tehran. It knows that an Israeli adversary, unlike with the US where Iran uses local proxy forces and allied governments to pressure the Americans who are present in Iraq and Syria, is a more complex challenge.

With so many actors opposed to a conflict in Gaza, the ball is in Israel’s court. But Jerusalem has avoided a conflict in Gaza for these reasons for the last year. Netanyahu speaks frequently of regional security issues. On the eve of the anniversary of the Great Return March protests in Gaza, a region awaits Israel’s response.

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