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The conflict in Gaza reshapes the Middle East

Mushahid Hussain

Palestinians arrive at the Kuwaiti Hospital in the city of Rafah to receive treatment, December 15, 2023. /CFP
Palestinians arrive at the Kuwaiti Hospital in the city of Rafah to receive treatment, December 15, 2023. /CFP

Palestinians arrive at the Kuwaiti Hospital in the city of Rafah to receive treatment, December 15, 2023. /CFP

Editor's note: Mushahid Hussain, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is the Chairman of the Senate Defence Committee. He represented Pakistan at the International Conference on Palestine in Tehran on December 23. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

In the last 50 years, three events in October have been strategic turning points for the Muslim World, upsetting old calculations and spawning new realities.

On October 6, 1973, the Ramzan Arab-Israeli War, launched by Egypt and Syria, shattered the post-1967 Israeli occupation status quo, resulting in the courageous Saudi oil embargo against Western supporters of Israel and put Palestine on the global agenda.

On October 7, 2001, the U.S.-led "War on Terror" launched "Operation Enduring Freedom" with an attack on Afghanistan, which later led to the attack on Iraq and destabilization of Libya and Syria. 20 years later, after squandering $6.5 trillion on the "War of Terror," the United States signed the Doha Accords to facilitate the same Afghan Taliban's return to power, which the U.S. had ousted from power in 2001!

On October 7, 2023, Operation "Al-Aqsa Flood" launched by Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement) in Israeli-occupied Gaza has broader strategic implications for Palestine, Israel and the U.S., as well as the Middle East region.

Therefore, it is imperative to understand the context and consequences of "Al-Aqsa Flood," which could reshape the Middle East.

Basically, to counter the Iran-led "Axis of Resistance" and its determination to alter an inequitable status quo, the United States cobbled the "Axis of Repression" to create a new status quo, freezing disputes like Palestine and Kashmir to combat the "real enemy," China. Washington was endeavoring to connect an Israel-centered Middle East with an India-focused "Indo-Pacific," to supplement and support the American-led containment against China and, to a lesser extent, Russia.

Just a fortnight before the launch of the "Al-Aqsa Flood," three separate but related developments corroborate this view.

First, on September 22, Benjamin Netanyahu proudly unfolded the map of the "New Middle East" at the United Nations General Assembly, where the Palestinians were conspicuously absent.

Second, on September 20, following the G20 Summit in New Delhi, the India-Israel Middle East European Union Corridor (IMEC) was launched with much fanfare, touted as the West's copycat response to China's highly-successful Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Earlier, in May 2023, U.S. President Joe Biden's National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, personally took his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, to meet Saudi Arabian Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud to "advance their shared vision of a more secure and prosperous Middle East region interconnected with India and the world."

And on October 2, Jake Sullivan wrote in the influential magazine Foreign Affairs that "the Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades." Five days later, "Al-Aqsa Flood" shattered that calm!

In fact, the Biden administration is the first U.S. administration in 50 years that even dispensed with the fig-leaf or formality of initiating a "peace process" for the Middle East, content with the Israeli-propped status quo of a coercive occupation!

An injured man is transferred to a hospital in the central Gaza Strip city of Deir el-Balah, December 19, 2023. /Xinhua
An injured man is transferred to a hospital in the central Gaza Strip city of Deir el-Balah, December 19, 2023. /Xinhua

An injured man is transferred to a hospital in the central Gaza Strip city of Deir el-Balah, December 19, 2023. /Xinhua

Six strategic implications of a reshaped Middle East are noteworthy.

First, Israel and the United States were trying to "stage Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark," in other words, build a "New Middle East" minus Palestine: promoting Israeli ties with Arab and Muslim countries bypassing the Palestinians, as if the Palestine issue is no longer relevant. That policy is now in tatters: no durable peace or stability is possible in the Middle East without an independent Palestinian state.

Second, a myth had been created about the invincibility of the Israeli army and intelligence, that the Israeli Army and Mossad are the "best, brightest and strongest" in the Middle East, and Israel is an impregnable fortress whose security can never be breached as it is supposedly foolproof. However, 1400 Palestinian fighters blew up that myth through "Al-Aqsa Flood."

Third, Israel presented itself as a safe haven, the safest, the most secure place in the Middle East. Now they say they have suffered the biggest casualties since the Holocaust and almost a third of their "fifth-generation" Merkava tanks have been destroyed.

Fourth, the "Axis of Resistance" led by Iran has shown itself more resilient than the "Axis of Repression." Instead of the encirclement and containment of Iran, it is Israel that is now feeling encircled, thus the U.S.'s desperate dispatch of two aircraft carriers plus the cobbling together of an anti-Houthi coalition.

Fifth, now the U.S. is suddenly facing a three-front situation: the Ukraine conflict, the cold relationship with China in the Asia-Pacific and the storm in the Middle East, an untenable strategic scenario for Washington policymakers.

The United States is caught in a "damned if you do and damned if you don't" dilemma: continue unconditional support for Israeli genocide in Gaza and lose the "battle for hearts and minds" in the Muslim World, or, beat a retreat and lose clout and face, as happened when they humiliatingly quit Afghanistan on August 15, 2021.

Sixth, "Al-Aqsa Flood" has given birth to a clear, new global South-North divide. The Global South is presenting a strategic option, an alternative worldview, to the U.S.-led Global North, whether it's Gaza or Ukraine or the Belt and Road Initiative or the hegemony of the dollar. The global center of gravity is shifting inexorably to the South, and the "Al-Aqsa Flood" has accentuated this divide, as evidenced in the voting at the United Nations.

Israel has already lost the battle for narratives, even in the West, with virtually most campuses in the U.S. and Europe a battle ground between right and wrong as Gaza is the first televised genocide in history.

It's still time for the U.S. and Israel to read the writing on the wall: stop the genocide, end the occupation and take steps to establish an independent Palestinian state. Jewish history is itself a living testimony on breaking the Nazi myth of the "Final Solution."

Washington should learn from its own mistakes and failures in recent history: after ousting the Afghan Taliban in 2001, it took 20 years and $2.2 trillion wasted in Afghanistan for the U.S. to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban "terrorists" to return them to power.

Representing Palestinian aspirations, Hamas, is also labelled "terrorist" by the West. Accepting the legitimate right of Palestinians to determine their future in freedom is a small price to pay for lasting peace, security and stability in the heart of the Muslim World.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.)

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