Middle-East on October 7, the day of Simchat Torah- the last day of the public reading of the Torah, Israel and the world woke up to a horrific missile assault by Hamas across the Gaza Strip into the southern Israeli towns. This was an unprecedented firing of a barrage of missiles across the Israeli borders breaching Israel’s flagship Iron dome defence system.
Israeli defence force IDF is reportedly planning a ground invasion of Gaza named ‘Operation Swords of Iron’.
Era of Detente in the Middle-East
Abraham Accords signed in September, 2020 overhauled the geopolitics of the region resulting in exchange of Ambassadors between the Arab states of UAE and Bahrain with Israel. Other two Arab states Morocco and Sudan followed suit. The Trump Administration championed the Accords as ushering in an era of thaw in Middle-Eastern affairs.
The emerging trend of normalising with Arabs has further antagonised the Shia state Iran which claims to eradicate the map of Israel from the Middle East. Iran’s fear of the newly emerging Arab-Israeli nexus in the region is augmented by the Biden Administration’s push for a peace deal between Tel Aviv and Riyadh and the fear of Saudis gaining access to nuclear technology.
Iran’s ambitions in the region
Iran is being viewed with the lens of suspicion against Hamas’ attack. Tehrans has supported Hamas since its inception as its proxy in the war against Israel. The geopolitical anxieties emerging from the normalisations between Sunni Muslims of the Middle East and Jews might have prompted Shiite Iran to plan an attack on Israel. Tehran has ever since criticised the Abraham Accords as betrayal of the Palestinian cause.
Hamas, a designated terror outfit which has less to care about civilian casualties, might have achieved its anticipated objective of derailing the peace process between Arabs and Jews. The Muslims in the Middle-East and across the world have staged pro-Palestinian protests. The assault has churned pro-Palestine sentiments in Arab Muslims and Saudis cannot afford to engage with Israelis at this juncture given their symbolic leadership status of the Islamic world.
Diminishing America in the region
Exacerbated by the continued withdrawal of the United States especially during the Trump Administration, China sees it as an opportunity to engage more intensely with the region. Trump withdrew America from the JCPOA which prompted Iran to restart uranium enrichment. Israel has ever since resented an Iranian Nuclear program.
The Jewish state thinks Iran is building up nuclear capacity to strike Israel and overhaul the regional balance of power. Israel has officially criticised Trump’s decision to unilaterally pull back from the Obama brokered nuclear agreement with Iran comprising France, China, Russia, UK and Germany. The JCPOA was believed to push Iran’s design of achieving weapons grade nuclear capability further into the future in lieu of uplifting the sanctions imposed on Tehran.
Dragon in the Middle-East
The Arab state look to China as an alternative investment option to the United States. The Chinese liquidity has less strings attached for the islamic world. China’s economic presence in the region is undeniable. Beijing is a larger trading partner than the US for most of the Middle East countries.
China’s increment in West Asia’s geopolitical space was testified by its ability to broker a peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The deal was celebrated as a benchmark in international peace and security mitigating the prospects of Shia-Sunni rivalry in the Islamic world.
China’s military capacities cannot tower America’s military strength and presence in the region but Beijing is committed to capitalise upon Arab states frustration with America’s condition based support to them. Amidst the ongoing conflict Beijing has avoided condemning Hamas which struck a nerve in the western world.
China’s energy security is at stake amidst the expansion of the conflict. Beijing by far is the largest oil import from Saudi Arabia and Iran, therefore projecting itself as a neutral geopolitical player in the Middle-East.