Above photo: Iranian President Ebrahim Raeisi and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the 16th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Summit in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on November 9. Rapproachment among once rival powers in the region, over Gaza, marks a changing dynamic in defiance of US designs. Andalou Agency.
And its crimes.
A large number of Arab and other West Asian countries have defied the US pressures and openly taken a stand against the Israeli war in Gaza for the first time in decades.
The responses to Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza from some of the West Asian countries have set an interesting pattern. These responses defy a decades long trend of muted opposition and behind the curtain compromises. More importantly, this is yet another indication of growing assertion and independence of these countries from US hegemony.
Since the 1980s, the US was able to use its military and economic power to create a complete hegemony over the ruling classes in the West Asian region. The countries which maintained their independence were exceptions, such as Syria and Iran.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was forced to seek a compromise with the occupation, after governments in the region threatened to withdraw their support, under clear US pressure. In this sense, the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993 and in 1995 is seen as a part of the US scheme for the region.
The absence of any strong opposition to Israel’s repeated wars and large scale human rights violations in Gaza and other occupied Palestinian territories in the intervening period can be explained in the context of that US hegemony.
In a general way, one can see that the countries which did not fall in line with the US were forced into endless wars starting with Iraq, then Yemen, Libya, and Syria or isolated through prolonged sanctions such as in Iran.
Egypt and Jordan, highly dependent on the US, had long established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1979 and 1994 respectively and played a crucial role in forcing Palestinians to accept the unviable Oslo agreements. Those who could not establish formal relations with Israel were persuaded to maintain a kind of neutrality by not criticizing Israeli war crimes in the occupied territories.
The dependence on the US arms and military assistance led some of the Gulf countries and Morocco to even sign a normalization deal with Israel in recent years.
War on Gaza changes the calculation
Ever since the beginning of the Israeli war on Gaza, however, the positions of tacit and explicit compliance with Israel have changed. Many countries in the region, including those who had signed the so-called Abraham Accords, have taken assertive positions on the issue, with many calling Israel an aggressor and demanding an end to the occupation.
The visits of the US president Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken were ineffective in getting any public assurances from the regional leaders prompting the US to deploy more armed personnel and more warships in the region.
Egypt has refused to open Rafah borders as requested by Israel and the US so that they could push millions of Palestinians out of Gaza for an indefinite period. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi even advised Israel to relocate the displaced Palestinians in its Negev desert.
Egyptian authorities allowed large scale gatherings of people in solidarity rallies for Palestine, perhaps for the first time since the military coup in 2013.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly called the bombings in Gaza a massacre and criticized Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as someone “not worth talking to.” Turkey eventually withdrew its ambassador from Israel.
Jordan, the only Arab country which had signed peace accords with Israel, after the Oslo Accords, also criticized Israeli bombings despite Biden and Blinken making multiple stops in Amman. It refused to take the Israeli position of criticizing Hamas which was held solely responsible for the attacks on October 7. It finally withdrew its ambassador from Israel.
Death of normalization rhetoric?
Bahrain, which was the first country to sign the Abraham accords in 2020, was the first Arab country to announce severing of its diplomatic and economic ties with Israel in October and expel Israeli diplomats from the country.
Saudi Arabia, the most trusted Arab ally of the US, had been moving closer towards formal normalization before October, but has since withdrawn from such talks held by the US and has repeatedly criticized Israeli killings of innocent Palestinians. Contrary to the US position, it has aligned with Iran over its stand on Gaza. This is significant considering that Iran is often seen as the regional rival to the Saudis by the US and its allies until very recently.
In a rare event, Arab foreign ministers are expected to meet in Saudi Arabia on November 11 and 12 for an emergency Arab League meeting over Gaza.
A preparatory meeting for the same was held on November 9 in which Hossam Zaki, Egyptian diplomat and assistant secretary general of the League, said that the summit is expected to chalk out a way forward for Arab countries to “move on the international scene to stop the aggression, support Palestine and its people, condemn Israeli occupation, and hold it accountable for its crimes.”
Saudi Arabia is also holding a larger conference over Gaza which will see participation of Iran and Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, making it his first official visit to Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia collaborating with Iran is particularly hurting the US standing in the region given the US narrative that Iran is a mortal threat to not just Israel but also Saudi Arabia.
Iran has consistently raised the issue of Israeli crimes against Palestinians and has been seeking a greater regional and international collaboration against the Israeli occupation. This is despite the fact that both Biden and Blinken have threatened Iran with military action.
Most Arab governments have moved to rethink their stand on Israel and Palestine, which can be attributed to increasing popular pressures that view Israel’s war as a genocide. Over 11,000 Palestinians have been killed since October 7 with almost half of them being children and more than 70% of all Palestinians killed being children and women.
This shift is also a result of the changing geo-political scene in the region since the rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia mediated by China earlier this year. The growing engagements of China and Russia have provided opportunities to the countries in the region to assert themselves in defiance to the US hegemony and move towards a multipolar world system.