Strategic Implications of the Gaza Conflict
Ali Asghar Kazemi
January 14, 2009
Israel’s carnage and excessive violence in Gaza and Palestinian resistance to this date is drastically changing the balance of world public opinion in favor of Hamas movement on the one hand and strategic configuration in the Middle East on the other. Even moderate Arab states and intellectuals, who implicitly endorsed the Israeli operations by keeping silent initially, are being forced to condemn the Palestinian civilians suffering in the conflict. Indeed, it is no longer possible for American allies in the region to close eyes on the ongoing slaughters and this is causing a sharp division between the radical camp in the region led by Iran, including Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas on one side and the rest of pro-western Arab states on the other.
Disregard of the outcome of the conflict, which could be only an unfortunate loss of human lives and material devastation for both sides, Islamic leaders in Iran are proving to be right in the eyes of Arab people at large in their harsh position with regard to Israel. Perhaps, never before Israel has been so much low in international public opinion, even during the 33-days war with Hezbollah in 2006. Those who used to denounce Ahmadinejad rhetoric about Israel in the past several years may now change their minds in the wake of the heart breaking events in the Gaza Strip.
This is indeed a quite favorable strategic gain for hardliners in Tehran who have been giving wide coverage in the official mass-media, depicting relentlessly the horrendous aspects of the Gaza conflict including the shocking pictures of dead and injured children and women. Moderate Arab states should now be very cautious about their unequivocal approval of US policies with respect to Israel and the Middle East at large. This will certainly make the job of the new democrat president, who conquered the White House by his two magic words “hope” and “change,” very difficult. Indeed, Obama will be facing with a real challenge and deadlock in the Palestinian affaire and US allies in the region. No longer will any of the Arab leaders dare to shake hands with the Israelis.
This whole gloomy picture could not but please hardliners in Tehran who will eventually succeed to divide the Arab world and undermine the power of Palestinian Authority in favor of Hamas and other radical movements in pursuit of their grand strategy in the Middle East. As a necessary byproduct of this shifting paradigm, the Islamic regime may feel to have a free hand to pursue its nuclear strategy without much hindrance and mistrust, at least among the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. This will break the recent consensus among them against Iran’s nuclear project, reached under the patronage of the United States.
The Gaza crisis will have an unavoidable impact on Israel’s upcoming elections. It is not quite sure which faction may have upper hand, but there are vivid indications that Israelis are moving more to the right (Likud Party) because of policy failure of the incumbent government (Kadima-Labor Party) especially with respect to Gaza problem.
One should understand that Gaza conflict is different from the 33-days war with Hezbollah in summer 2006 in various aspects. Gaza has been under de facto Israeli occupation since Six-Day War in1967 and despite the fact that they have left the territory in 2005, they are still considered as occupying power. This means that Israel has a number of legal obligations according to the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949). Israel still controls access to the area, imports and exports, and the movement of people in and out. Israel has control over Gaza’s air space and sea coast, and its forces enter the area at will. Therefore, as an occupying power, Israel has the responsibility under the said Convention to ensure the safety and welfare of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.
As a consequence, when Israel finally ceases military operations in Gaza through some kind of settlement at the international level, it has to be legally accountable for its breach of obligations, namely excessive use of force against undefended civilian targets and causing unnecessary suffering to Hamas resistant groups by using forbidden lethal materials. This will have a wider impact on Israel arsenal of unconventional arms and materials in the future. The Islamic government Judiciary has recently set up a criminal tribunal for that purpose and has invited Islamic states to cooperate in the proceedings of this body.
Israeli leaders had mistakenly thought that they have gained experience in their previous war with Hezbollah in South Lebanon in 2006. They wanted to use that in Gaza against Hamas’ unyielding position on the path of peace process. However, they missed one important point: that is, unlike Israel’s mental vulnerability on human losses and casualties, Hamas resistant forces, despite their obvious shortcomings from strategic point and war equipment, have an unprecedented zeal and devotion for sacrificing their lives for their sublime cause. This factor is susceptible to change the balance in favor of those poor and subjugated people who have really nothing to lose in their resistance against the occupying forces.
Though one may argue that Israel is also fighting for its very survival in a hostile environment, yet, it will have extreme difficulty to restore the negative image it has created in handling the Gaza crisis in the foreseeable future. It will probably lose the support and sympathy of world public opinion including American citizens for its cruelty in Gaza. /
Ali Asghar Kazemi is professor of Law and International Relations in Tehran, Iran. For detail see: www.aakazemi.blogspot.com