The Regional Consequences of Israel’s Genocidal War against the Palestinians
ISRAEL’S genocidal war – despite the case opened at the International Court of Justice – continues unabated. Hundreds of Palestinians are killed each day, many of them children. Key infrastructure – including universities and hospitals – are being bombed and demolished, as Israel lays out its future for Gaza: a region of the Occupied Palestine Territory which Israel is seeking to ethnically cleanse (there is even a plan to expel Palestinians to Rwanda, following a policy that Israel has had in place for deporting asylum seekers since 2017). Over 25,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, over 2 million of them have been displaced (over 87 per cent of the total population), and all of the Palestinians in Gaza are at the edge of hunger. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on January 20 that his government ‘will not compromise on full Israeli control’ over Gaza and that he will continue the war till ‘complete victory’.
When Netanyahu made his comments in Tel Aviv, the Yemeni parliament in Sana’a voted to place Israel, the United States, and Britain on its terrorist list. This was in defiance of the US strikes on Yemen and of the threat by the global north to attack the Yemeni navy and coast guard. Yemen’s forthrightness is part of a broader defiance of the previous consensus to give Israel a long leash to maintain its occupation of Palestine. Israel faces restive elements in Iraq and Syria, and of course in Lebanon, where Hezbollah – a major political party in Lebanon – has already engaged Israeli forces along the Lebanon-Israel Blue Line (which demarcates the territory of these two countries who have not recognised each other). In Iraq and Syria there have been minor attacks at US bases, and in Davos (Switzerland) the Iraqi prime minister once more called for the full removal of the US forces from Iraq; meanwhile, Iran has struck what it calls Israeli spy bases in northern Iraq.
At a press conference in Cairo (Egypt) on January 11, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said that ‘no one wants to see escalation’ in the region, and particularly ‘we want to avoid escalation’ in the Red Sea. These are curious statements, indicative of the duplicity of US foreign policy. There would be no ‘escalation’ in the region without the inflammatory military presence of the United States, including the US military and diplomatic support for Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians. The US attempt to control and manage the Middle East to its advantage was undermined by the US illegal war on Iraq in 2003, which escalated into a series of conflicts (the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006 being illustrative of this regional destabilisation).
The scale of Israel’s genocidal war has angered Arab populations from Morocco to Iraq, reversing the appetite for any kind of ‘normalisation’ with Israel. The peace agreements signed by Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) were never in danger of being torn up, but certainly they were threatened by the attitudes detected in both countries; Egypt’s State-sponsored protests (which are being used by president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to bolster his reputation) and the genuinely mass demonstrations in the Palestinian-majority Jordan have rattled the ruling sections in these two countries. They suggest to rulers elsewhere in the region – from the King of Morocco to the Emirs in the Gulf – that the Arab people, like people elsewhere in the world, are not going silently to allow for the ‘normalisation’ with an apartheid Israeli State that conducts such a genocidal war. Strong statements by these rulers are welcomed, but these statements have not satisfied the anger of the peoples of the region. Initial feelings of helplessness before the Israeli rampage have now begun to turn toward more radical demands: first, to join South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, second, to deepen the boycott against Israel, and third, to provide material support to the Palestinians. As this genocidal attack continues, those radical demands will become more and more mainstream in the region.
ISRAEL’S PROBLEMS AND
THE SAUDI OLIVE BRANCH
On January 20, thousands of Israelis gathered at Tel Aviv’s central square to protest against Netanyahu and to call for elections. ‘The government needs to go now’, said Noam Alon, whose brother was a soldier and was killed near Gaza. These protests brought together people who had been on the streets in Israel during 2023, calling – at that time – for the highest courts to be protected from Netanyahu’s attempt to subordinate them to the executive branch. Bushah, bushah, bushah, chanted the crowd, ‘shame, shame, shame’, directing their ire directly at Netanyahu and not to the genocidal war against the Palestinians. In fact, several polls have shown that Israelis simply do not want to read about the details of the violence against the Palestinians and do not want to know the individual stories of those 25,000 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military.
In the first week of the Israeli violence, the sentiment in Israel prevented any space for dissent (particularly, disallowing any protests for Palestine by Palestinians who live within Israel’s 1948 borders, a prohibition that includes arrests of Palestinians for social media posts). Four former members of the Israeli Knesset (parliament), all Arabs, were arrested in November as they were on their way to a vigil for Palestine (Balad (National Democratic Alliance) chair Sami Abou Shahadeh, and former parliamentarians from Balad Hanin Zoabi and Mtanes Shihadeh as well as former Hadash (coalition that includes the Communist Party]) parliamentarian Mohammed Barakeh). Protests had started within Israel since November, when family members of the hostages began to gather and demand their release, and when polls inside Israel showed that large majorities believe that Netanyahu should resign. Those early protests and the one in January should not be misunderstood. These are not protests against the genocidal war, but protests against Netanyahu – who is a deeply polarising figure within Israel – and for negotiations that will lead to the release of the Israelis held by Hamas. To rub salt in the wound of these protesters, on January 21 Netanyahu rejected a deal put on the table by Hamas for hostage release. Since October 7, Netanyahu’s Likud Party has lost a third of its electoral support.
These fissures emboldened Gadi Eisenkot, a former Israeli military chief and a participant in Netanyahu’s war cabinet, to call for elections. ‘It is necessary’, he said on Israel’s Channel 12 News in mid-January, ‘to return the Israeli voter to the polls and hold elections in order to renew trust because right now there is no trust’. Eisenkot’s son (age 25) and nephew (age 19) died in Gaza in December. After October 7, Eisenkot’s National Unity Party joined Netanyahu’s war cabinet, closing the door to any space for dissent within Israel, although now – with his immense credibility as military man and father of a fallen soldier – Eisenkot is trying to build on the popular sentiment against Netanyahu for his own election prospects, and trying to open a door for space to negotiate with Hamas to release the hostages.
As these weaknesses develop within Israel, the Israeli military has had to acknowledge that Netanyahu’ project of a ‘complete victory’ against Hamas is more and more unlikely. That is the reason why the military has moved, since January 8, to Phase III. During this phase, the Israeli armed forces (IDF) will no longer send in large troop deployments into Gaza, where they have faced significant resistance from the Palestinian armed units. Instead, the IDF has said it will now conduct ‘one-off raids (in Gaza) instead of maintaining wide-scale manoeuvres’. This assessment comes because of the impact of the Palestinian resistance and because of the exhaustion of Israel’s military reservists (who are needed to help revive the economic downturn in Israel). What is less widely acknowledged is that the tensions between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Israel have resulted in slow redeployment of Israeli troops out of Gaza and toward the Blue Line.
With Israel in the midst of this weak situation, Saudi Arabia appears with an olive branch. Early in the conflict, on October 11, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman called Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi to discuss the already appalling bombing. Saudi Arabia began to make gestures to suggest that the India-Middle East-Corridor, which would have tacitly normalised relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, was off the table. At Davos, however, Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said that Riyadh would consider ‘normalisation’ with Israel in exchange for a ceasefire and a ‘regional peace’. Such an offer, already sniffed at by Netanyahu, would provide Israel with an exit: Netanyahu could very well return to the Israeli public, say that he is in talks with Hamas, draw down the conflict since his ‘complete victory’ is anyway impossible, and then announce ‘normalisation’ with Saudi Arabia. It is almost as if Saudi Arabia is prepared to sell the Palestinians down the river in the name of saving Palestinian lives.
A Saudi-led deal, with Egypt’s backing, will not contain either the Palestinian resistance or Arab unrest. In mid-January, journalists held an unplanned manifestation outside the office of their Journalists’ Syndicate. ‘The Zionists are in control of us’, they said. ‘We are cowards, ashamed, humiliated’. ‘Egypt’, they said, ‘is a partner in the siege’. At the fence between Gaza and Egypt, children harassed Egyptian soldiers, saying, ‘They say Egypt is the mother of the world. Have you ever seen a mother leaving her children alone?’. These are powerful messages both to president Sisi, and his principal backer, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, and powerful messages to the other rulers in the region who will face serious political costs if they turn their backs on the Palestinians.