Updated: Oct 25
Israel is at war. The military-political cabinet has invoked Article 40 Aleph, the one that has not been invoked since the infamous Yom Kippur War of 1973. It started with a surprise attack by Hamas militants, who clearly had proper, coordinated plans at work. The rockets were fired for distraction, and the use of gliders, among other means, to infiltrate shows the extent of their planning.
Illustration by The Geostrata
A day later, Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which initially looked as surprised as Israel, attacked from northern Israel. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) is evaluating all available options and is going all in against this attack. But what is this conflict really about?
Jerusalem and the surrounding land hold an important place in all three major Abrahamic religions, each claiming the holy land.
Christian and Islamic kingdoms fought crusades over it in the mediaeval era for religion and prestige. But after World War II, the state of Israel was formed, and since then it has fought six major wars with several Arab nations rooting for the state of Palestine.
WHAT IS JERUSALEM WORTH?
The current Israel-Palestine conflict still has religious aspects, but over time, the fight has become more about the homeland. The two extremist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, have risen to become important players in Palestinian armed resistance.
Hamas (Sunni-dominated) has had close ties with Arab nations like Saudi Arabia in the past but has switched to Iran from time to time. Whereas Hezbollah (Shia-dominated) has been constantly backed by Iran.
THE MIDDLE EASTERN TRIANGLE AND ABRAHAM ACCORDS
Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia form a geopolitical triangle in the Middle East around which all the conflicts and cooperation have been revolving for decades. All three nations have been historically hostile towards each other for years.
Iran and Saudi Arabia oppose Israel for the Palestinian cause while they are at a crossroads with each other on the Shia-Sunni divide, but more importantly, for supremacy over the Islamic world.
However, this changed exactly three years ago when the historic Abraham Accords were signed between the state of Israel, the UAE, and a few other Arab nations, thanks to strong US mediation.
Although Saudi Arabia didn't sign the accords, efforts were started by Israel and Saudi Arabia towards the normalisation of relations, and they had started to bear fruit as well, a framework deal was also being discussed with US mediation.
For the US, the accords hold particular importance as it wants to settle the Middle Eastern conflict between its important allies (Saudi, Israel, and the UAE) so that it can focus more on Iran and stop other powers such as China and Russia from gaining influence in the region. This move will also provide the necessary time and energy for the US to look at more important issues in the Indo-Pacific.
For Saudi Arabia, normalising relations with Israel is fuelled by two main reasons. Saudi Arabia is pressing hard for a new and extensive defence pact with Washington, and a civil nuclear deal is also on the agenda as the kingdom looks at the future beyond oil. The White House knows this and is using it to push Saudi Arabia towards Israel.
But Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman doesn’t mind this, as he looks to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy with new trade pacts and routes. And with Israeli agri-tech, arms, and surveillance capabilities, a partnership with it seems lucrative enough.
As far as Israel is concerned, normalisation with Arab nations has been the goal for a long time. No country wants to have enmity with its entire neighbourhood; Israel is no exception.
Besides, these Arab countries promise a new and prosperous market for Israeli products. And with the Arab problem resolved, Israel, like the US, can focus more on Iran, its nuclear programme, and connections to groups like Hezbollah.
THE IRAN QUESTION
Iran is naturally not happy with the Abraham Accords. Saudi Arabia joining Israel in a larger US front against Tehran will be a big problem for the Iranians. Saudi Arabia is already enraged over the Houthi (backed by Iran) attacks on their facilities.
While tensions between Iran and the US continue to rise with time. Many sources doubt that Iran has helped Hamas plan this attack though no concrete evidence has surfaced yet.
THE LITMUS TEST
This explains why Tehran is celebrating the Hamas attack on Israel while Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, is taking a more peaceful approach and calling for de-escalation. The attack, as it seems, came as a surprise to everyone, but for Tehran, it was certainly a good one.
Iran intends to utilise this opportunity, as Hezbollah has started to attack northern Israel. Meanwhile, the Hamas leader has stated that Arab nations should not normalise ties with Israel and said Israel can’t protect them.
How Arab nations, namely Saudi Arabia and the UAE, react to this situation will determine the future of the Abraham Accords and, thereby, peace in the Middle East. Israel is bombarding Gaza and can send troops into it as well. This will be particularly hard for Saudi Arabia and Arab nations to stay silent on.
The war has taken more than 1,000 lives, and the number is rising rapidly. Iran is doing everything in its power to pressure Saudi Arabia and its allies to turn against Israel. If the Abraham Accords survive this war, there is hope for peace. If it fails, the bloodshed in this region will unfortunately continue. This fight is therefore not only limited to two parties but the fate of the entire region depends on it.
BY MANDAR RANSING