Mirna Al Sarhan*
On October 7th, a military attack was witnessed by the Al-Qassam Brigades, which was met with an Israeli counterattack after a state of emergency was declared. As the war continued, there were reports of an anticipated ground assault and significant changes in the internal and external dynamics. To analyze and understand the dimensions of the situation, The Politics & Society Institute held an online seminar on Wednesday, October 25th to discuss the strategic situation in the Middle East today in light of developments in the Gaza Strip with the presence of prominent scholars, including Professor Nathan J. Brown, Dr. Amr Hamzay and Dr. André Bank. As well, this session was expertly moderated by Dr. Bader Madi.
The Politics & Society Institute organized this seminar to open the door for discussion and research into possible scenarios and what should be considered, paving the way for many upcoming discussions and sessions that the institute will hold.
Nathan J. Brown: Professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and author of six well-received books on Arab politics
Amr Hamzawy: Director of Carnegie Middle East Program. His research and writings focus on governance in the Middle East and North Africa, social vulnerability, and the different roles of governments and civil societies in the region.
André Bank: Senior research fellow. Giga German Institute for global and area studies. Hi main focus is on Political Reform, Democracy, and Governance Security.
Bader Madi: PSI’s academic consultant and Professor of Political Sociology.
The seminar featured two rounds of discussion, the first of which was about ” What 5 strategic changes that happened in the Middle East related to the war in Gaza accompanied by its effect regionally and world widely”. The second round was about “the most likely scenarios after the end of the war”.
And after the speakers were done with the two rounds of questions, there were many significant questions from the audience were discussed by the speakers, and one of them was Dr. Omar Al Razzaz’s commentary.
5 strategic changes in the Middle East:
Nathan J. Brown
Professor Nathan began by noting that he doesn’t know the outcome due to impulsive decision-making by various actors, including American, Israeli, and Palestinian leaders. There is a return of the United States on a regional level, now hardwired to Israeli leadership and actively participating in their decision-making, unlike past conflicts. The implications of this American involvement are uncertain.
On a regional level, the United States has returned not only as a central diplomatic actor but has firmly aligned itself with the Israeli leadership, even participating in their decision-making, an unprecedented move. Unlike the 1973 war, where the US kept its distance from daily Israeli decisions, the current American involvement in the region is unparalleled, and its consequences remain unclear.
• The second regional trend is essentially a polarization of the public in the region in a way that makes multilateral diplomacy very difficult.
• At a Palestinian level, if Israel carries out military campaigns successfully in Gaza, it could lead to a humanitarian crisis and the collapse of the government in Gaza, particularly if they aim to dismantle Hamas. There is uncertainty about how Gaza would be administered without a clear plan, and some international or Arabic presence may be required, especially if Hamas survives in some form, potentially disrupting international governance strategies.
That Israeli level:
• The security establishment’s return is influenced by divisions in Israeli society seen in the past year. The protests against the Netanyahu government were led by retired pillars, not students, showing the need to rely on these protest leaders.
• Israel’s shift to center-right leadership at a national level raises concerns. While attention is on Gaza, my worry is focused on the West Bank, where the National Religious Camp’s clear agenda may lead to something resembling ethnic cleansing.
• The goal is not just forced expulsions but also assimilation of the West Bank, imposing harsh conditions and denying inhabitants citizenship and mobility. This process will further entrench Israeli assimilation in the West Bank.
• The Palestine issue has global symbolic and mobilization significance. Demonstrations worldwide, including in Germany, have fueled polarization in domestic politics. It matters beyond Palestinians, Israelis, and neighboring Arabs.
• The Gaza War has had minimal impact on regional relations, including Jordan and Syria. Syria has avoided involvement despite Israeli attacks. Normalization between Arab states and the Syrian regime remains unaffected, and regional dynamics have seen little change.
• The region witnessed a noteworthy diplomatic process among former adversaries, particularly the Saudi-Iranian thaw, largely due to China’s facilitation. This brought together two significant regional rivals, with the involvement of an actor not traditionally present in the area.
• Hamas’s recent attack and the Gaza War in different territories have, in terms of Saudi-Iranian relations, seemingly halted any progress. However, it’s worth noting that both Saudi and Iranian officials have expressed ongoing interest in maintaining dialogue.
• The Gaza conflict is unlikely to greatly affect the normalization of relations between Arab states and the Bashar Assad regime, as their motivations extend beyond the Palestinian conflict.
• The crisis has increased the importance of the Jordanian-Egyptian alliance, although it poses challenges for leaders like El-Sisi and King Abdullah.
1. The Gaza war’s impact on the region extends beyond the humanitarian crisis, leading to a governance crisis in Palestine, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. This dual crisis is expected to persist and could create a governance vacuum if Hamas is uprooted, which regional and international actors may seek to fill, with lasting implications for the region.
2. Egypt and Jordan face a crisis related to concerns about their territorial integrity, distinct from previous challenges, leading to enhanced cooperation in the Egyptian-Jordanian Alliance. Both nations are deeply worried about potential issues stemming from the humanitarian and governance crisis in Palestinian territories, which extends beyond Israeli reports of displacement and the Biden Administration’s funding proposal, presenting a new and significant challenge requiring attention.
3. The Gaza war is presenting a long-term policy challenge for Egypt and Jordan due to concerns about their territorial integrity. Additionally, this conflict is reshaping the regional landscape, moving the focus away from economic integration towards security, peace, and war issues. It is likely to prompt a shift in regional diplomacy, bringing security arrangements to the forefront and reactivating discussions on the Arab peace initiative, the two-state solution, and addressing the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories
4. Polarization is evident in the Arab world in two layers. First, some Arab countries are experiencing a growing divide between popular sentiment and government policies, particularly notable in Morocco and the UAE, which have signed normalization agreements with Israel. Second, there is a broader polarization between the Arab public and Western policies. There’s a perception of double standards, dehumanization of Palestinians, and a bias toward Israel in Western policies. While not leading to radicalization, this has led to strong discontent in the Arab public space.
• In this scenario, it’s suggested that there won’t be a post-war scenario as this is not a typical war with clearly defined objectives and opponents negotiating ceasefires or arrangements.
• The war aims articulated by the government of Israel were initially quite extreme, but even their revised objectives seem unachievable in terms of dismantling all aspects of Hamas’s government and military organization.
• There’s a strong determination to continue the war against Hamas, potentially leading to further decay of Palestinian institutions and the Palestinian national movement.
• The West Bank is experiencing the decay of central Palestinian institutions, leading to a situation resembling Lebanon post the 1982 Israeli invasion.
• In this scenario, there’s hope for positive outcomes.
• It’s suggested that there needs to be a focus on governance, security, and addressing the underlying issues in the region.
• This would involve a realistic diplomatic and political process, potentially reviving discussions about a two-state solution or some other vision.
• It would also require Israeli leadership to see its interests tied to addressing Palestinian human rights and national rights.
• A renewed and coherent Palestinian national leadership would be needed.
The likelihood of the pessimistic scenario is estimated at about 90%, while the optimistic scenario is less likely, with a 10-30% chance, depending on various factors and the engagement of leaders.
1. Gaza-Only Scenario:
• This scenario focuses on the war primarily in Gaza, with the outcome depending on the behavior of the Israeli government, Israeli security forces, and the reactions of groups like Hamas or Jihad.
• If this scenario were to end with a significant military defeat of Hamas, it might take some time, but there could be a regional shift with more countries in the region, like those who signed the Abraham Accords, moving toward a closer relationship with Israel.
• This scenario might have unintended consequences for the Israeli government, potentially leading to a government change in Israel.
2. Broader Regional Violent Escalation:
• In this scenario, the conflict extends beyond Gaza to potentially include the West Bank, Jerusalem, and other regions.
• It could result in increased regional polarization and attention shifting away from Gaza, which could benefit the Israeli government.
• However, it may also delay any progress on regional issues and have broader implications for the Middle East.
1. Madrid-Like Scenario:
• In this scenario, it’s assumed that the conflict will remain focused on Gaza without broader regional involvement.
• After the war, a situation similar to the post-Kuwait Liberation War in 1990-1991 may emerge, with regional governments involved to varying degrees and a lack of unified Palestinian representation.
• The success of this scenario depends significantly on the position of the United States and its willingness to push for a security arrangement that involves a solution for Palestine.
• Domestic issues, such as U.S. elections, will also impact diplomatic efforts. Great Powers like Russia and China are factors to consider.
2. Return to Domestic and Regional Paralysis:
• In this scenario, there is no return to the pre-October 7, 2023, status quo, but rather a return to domestic and regional paralysis.
• Daily violence and continued military actions on the Israeli side, along with confrontations between Palestinian factions.
• Grand economic prosperity and cooperation projects may no longer be part of the regional discussion.
Dr. Omar Al Razzaz’s commentary:
1. Addressing the most likely positive outcomes, there is concern that the US and the West are disguising potential ethnic cleansing by temporarily caring for refugees on the Egyptian and Jordanian sides. Exposing this is crucial, as there is a real possibility that a right-leaning government in Israel might seriously consider transferring Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, which could lead to a genocidal situation.
2. Regarding preventing the worst-case scenario, scholars, activists, and academics should collaborate to make it clear to the West that their involvement is essentially a green light for ethnic cleansing and the transfer of Palestinians, with significant implications for the future.
*Assistant Researcher at the Politics and Society Institute