A global conflict in the Middle East

The uncertain future of a war that was avoidable

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinian population was possible but unexpected. Israel has dominated the West Bank for many years. Only the Gaza Strip has never resigned itself to the state of defeat. But it was also isolated, with borders blocked by the Mediterranean on one side and Israel on the other. Gaza, moreover, was not a problem for Israel, or at least that is what the various governments that have succeeded one another in the last twenty years believed.

Under the government of Netanyahu, and after over 70 years of control of the territory, Israel found itself surprised and unprepared. For the first time it was invaded, forced to leave over 1,400 dead on the ground, and unable to prevent the capture of over 200 hostages. Israel's response, as we know, was not long in coming.

The Gaza Strip was attacked with Israel's air power. Thousands of Palestinians were victims. The hospital in Gaza was bombed. “There are not enough hospital beds, doctors or nurses, nor enough medicine or anaesthetic. The majority of the wounded… would be operated on without anaesthetic”. (Mosab Abu Toha “Cheating death in Gaza - Financial Times,27 October). One million Palestinians have had to abandon their homes, seeking refuge in the southern areas on the border with Egypt. The objective of the Israel government is an unlimited attack aimed at liquidating Hamas which holds control of the Gaza Strip.

For the Netanyahu government, this should be the last chapter of a conflict that seemed resolved with substantial Israeli control of the West Bank governed by Abu Mazen and the isolation of the Gaza Strip. According to army commanders, Israeli troops should enter the Gaza Strip, take control of it and eliminate the threat from Hamas.

Once the danger from Gaza is eliminated, Palestine should no longer be a problem. A part of the Palestinians (around one million eight hundred thousand live in Israel), a relatively small share south of Jerusalem: the majority, around two million eight hundred thousand, live in the West Bank governed by Abu Mazen (always opposed to Hamas). According to the Israeli government, once it has taken control of the Strip and liquidated the power of Hamas, Palestine would be disintegrated and definitively under Israeli control.

The United States, as Biden explained during his trip to Israel to meet Netanyahu, is against the invasion of Gaza, first of all because they do not consider it necessary, being already under Israeli air control; secondly, because the US intends to obtain the consent of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Invading Gaza would make US relations with Riyadh and Cairo more difficult.

However, the American strategy encounters an obstacle in the Middle East. Last spring, under the direction and mediation of Xi Jinping who went to Saudi Arabia, an agreement was reached that, for many years had seemed impossible, between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The agreement was then finalized in Beijing under the direction of Xi. The Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip creates difficulties for Saudi Arabia which intended to consolidate good relations with Israel made now impossible by the war against an Islamic population.

Ultimately, the most relevant issue for Israel and the United States is Iran's position vis-à-vis Hamas. Direct intervention by Iran could force an equally direct American response. In essence, a conflict capable of involving the entire Middle East.  But despite being a country with a population ten times larger than Israel, Iran does not want to risk a clash involving the United States.

This does not mean that Iran is indifferent to Middle Eastern events. It has a direct relationship with Iraq and Syria which, in turn, have an anti-Israel position. But the most important aspect is Hezbollah's position in Lebanon where it has a strong presence and an army estimated at 70 thousand fighters.

An avoidable war in the Middle East?
What we know is that the war was avoidable and that Yitzhak Rabin, first general at the head of the war against Syria and Egypt, then twice head of the Israeli government, had agreed on a policy capable of making Israel and Palestine coexist peacefully in the same land, giving a solution to the biggest problem in the Middle East. And Bill Clinton celebrated the announced resolution of the conflict together with Begin and Arafat who were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres

But the beginning of peace was short-lived. The government, long dominated by right-wing exponents (except for a brief interlude at the turn of the century), assumed the belief that Israel had to expand its sovereignty throughout all the territory, including the part inhabited by the Palestinian people.

After more than twenty years, possible peace has been replaced by war under Israel's right-wing government still led by Netanyahu, who has now passed the longest period of government in Israeli history. The war has gone beyond the borders of the Middle East to take on a generally global character. The Us is in favor of Israel, and European countries are essentially on the American line.

China and Russia are not directly involved, but their position is in favor of a Palestinian state alongside the Israeli one. The Middle East is a sort of boiling pot. Abu Mazen, head of government that controls the West Bank, was in opposition to Hamas. In essence, Palestine, under the armed control of Israel, recalls the old colonial condition of countries, in Asia and Africa, before gaining their independence.

The occupation of Gaza, however, poses a problem for Israel. According to Western findings, Hamas has an army of about 40,000 armed fighters. On the north Syrian frontier of Israel t Hezbollah is equipped with long-range missiles that can hit Israelian territories distant from the Lebanese border.

What can be said is that the Palestinian question was in the past solvable. Today the conflict has exploded. And the world is divided as ii has been shown in the United Nation assembly on October 27, were 120 countries, the vast majority, voted against the Israeli attack on Palestine.

The future is extremely uncertain. Rabin's policy aimed at peaceful coexistence between Israel and Palestine as an independent state. That policy has been (wrongly) cancelled. Now, instead of peaceful coexistence, we are faced with a worldwide conflict. A picture in which Europe remains powerless, and while, within each country, .the population is divided in the face of a war that affects the global scenario, and which could have been averted by recognizing the right of two peoples to have two independent states.

Antonio Lettieri

Editor of Insight and President of CISS - Center for International Social Studies (Roma). He was National Secretary of CGIL; Member of ILO Governing Body and Advisor for European policy of Labour Minister. (a.lettieri@insightweb.it)