How Israel-Hamas war fuel border sectarian rivalries in the Middle East?

  • For over a week now, Israel is at a ‘state of war’ in response to a series of shocking cross-border attacks by Hamas on October 7, resulting in the deaths of 1,400 individuals who were shot, mutilated, or burned to death.

Mausam Jha
First Published18 Oct 2023, 02:26 PM IST
A Palestinian girl carries a blankets as she walks past the explosion science at al-Ahli hospital, in Gaza City, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. The Hamas-run Health Ministry says an Israeli airstrike caused the explosion that killed hundreds at al-Ahli, but the Israeli military says it was a misfired Palestinian rocket. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled)
A Palestinian girl carries a blankets as she walks past the explosion science at al-Ahli hospital, in Gaza City, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. The Hamas-run Health Ministry says an Israeli airstrike caused the explosion that killed hundreds at al-Ahli, but the Israeli military says it was a misfired Palestinian rocket. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled)(AP)

The recent massive terror attack carried out by Hamas against Israel has had a devastating impact. Since the Israel-Hamas war's outset, reports indicate that up to 2,778 Palestinians have lost their lives and at least 1,400 Israelis and foreign nationals have been killed in Israel.

Although the Palestine issue has long been at the core of regional geopolitics, the recent focus on geoeconomics in the region could face significant challenges in the future.

In conversation with Mint, Dr Oshrit Birvadker, an Indian Israeli based in Tel Aviv, and a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), emphasised how the war will contribute to the border sectarian rivalries in the Middle East.

In what ways could the Hamas-Israel conflict influence the strategies and alliances of non-Middle Eastern countries, such as the United States and Russia, in the region?

The most salient transformation is poised to transpire on the Russo-Israeli axis. While Russia actively seeks strategic alliances, its proximal ties to Iran can be interpreted as stemming from an overarching anti-Western inclination. This coalition presently incorporates entities such as Hamas, an Iran-backed organization implicated in the atrocities against Israeli civilians. Moscow's intensifying rapport with Iran, in conjunction with its initiatives to cultivate deeper diplomatic ties with Israel's adjacent Arab states, largely resonates with the erstwhile Cold War posture of the USSR vis-à-vis Israel.

Historically, Israel has endeavoured to uphold equilibrated relations with Russia. Subsequent to Russia's military intervention in Ukraine in February 2022, Israel has manifested a preference for neutrality with respect to the Russo-Ukrainian War.

Also Read: White House rejects Russian claim that Western fatigue over Ukraine conflict would grow

This disposition can be rationalized by the juxtaposition of two principal concerns: Israel's aspiration to remain congruent with the geopolitical objectives of Western powers, predominantly the United States, in their support for Ukraine; and the trepidation that pronounced endorsement for Kyiv could imperil the Jewish diaspora in Russia and constrict Israel's strategic manoeuvrability in Syria, a state intrinsically allied with Russia.

How might the recent conflict impact the prospects for regional peace initiatives like the Abraham Accords, which aimed to normalize relations between Israel and Arab states?

The vision for a new Middle East is essential for the region's future for the flourishing and prosperity of millions of citizens in the region. The vision will shape the region for the next 100 years with infrastructure projects and collaborations aimed at upgrading the lives of the people in the region and finding ways to deal with global challenges.

I firmly believe that this is the time for the countries that have already normalized relations with Israel to leverage their newly established ties with Israel to mediate or exert influence in future conflicts, positioning themselves as pivotal players in regional peace efforts. Of course, these countries will be under public pressure to cut relations with Israel. 

To what extent might the Hamas-Israel conflict contribute to the broader sectarian tensions and rivalries in the Middle East, particularly between Sunni and Shia Muslim groups?

The Hamas-Israel conflict is primarily a political and territorial dispute, but it occurs within a broader regional context where sectarian divisions, especially between Sunni and Shia Muslim groups, play a significant role. Hamas, a Sunni organization, has received varying degrees of support from predominantly Shia Iran, showcasing that political alignments in the region can sometimes transcend sectarian divisions

Also Read: Iran warns of possible ‘pre-emptive action’ against Israel, may join war with Hamas

This relationship, however, has been a point of contention among Sunni Arab states, which have their own reservations about Iran's regional ambitions. Some Sunni-majority countries have been warming ties with Israel, driven by mutual concerns about Iran.

The conflict with Hamas might strain these budding relationships, as public opinion in these countries might see the Israeli actions against a Sunni group like Hamas through a sectarian lens, even if state policies are dictated by broader strategic concerns.

What implications does the conflict have for energy security and the flow of oil and natural gas resources in the region, given the proximity of key energy transit routes to the conflict zone?

Conflicts in the Middle East often have implications for global energy markets due to the region's significant oil and natural gas reserves, as well as its strategic energy transit routes. Since it started, it has increased by 3 dollars, which may also be due to other factors. Until Iran intervenes, I don't see it crossing it.

How does India's stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict influence its current foreign policy in the region?

India's stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict has evolved over time, and this evolution has had direct implications for its foreign policy in the region. Israel is a significant arms supplier to India and is involved in joint production projects with India.

Also Read: Palestinians will do better without long-distance lovers

Apart from this, the normalization between Israel and the Arab countries has opened up unique opportunities for India to strengthen its global and economic position through the economic corridor. India has a great interest that there will be no escalation in the region.

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First Published:18 Oct 2023, 02:26 PM IST
HomeNewsworldHow Israel-Hamas war fuel border sectarian rivalries in the Middle East?

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