This article originally appeared in the Hamilton Spectator.
By Raheel Raza and Mohammed Rizwan, November 20, 2023
After the recent terrorist attacks in southern Israel carried out by Hamas, the world is dangerously hanging on the precipice of a wider Middle East conflict; one that may involve a different cast of characters than we’ve seen so far and even a different theatre of conflict.
In the aftermath of unprecedented barbarity unleashed by Hamas on Israeli civilians, it’s futile to ask Israeli for restraint. And even if they do exercise such “restraint,” would the problem of Hamas/Hezbollah terrorism in the Levant vanish into thin air? Most certainly not.
Let’s take a look at some of the reactions to the Hamas attacks that left more than 1,400 Israelis dead and hundreds more taken hostage.
Former Russian president and current deputy chair of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, said in a post on X , “What can stop America’s obsession to incite conflicts all over the planet? Looks like nothing short of a civil war on the US territory.”
Medvedev is among Putin’s most trusted deputies; perhaps one of the few true loyalists left in the Russian president’s inner circle. He is implying here that U.S. has encouraged Hamas/Hezbollah to attack Israel and then goes on to wishfully invoke a second American Civil War to bring an end to American foreign meddling. Amazing.
Last time I checked, the U.S. and Hezbollah can’t stand each other, as Hezbollah and Hamas are both proxies of Iran — a regime the U.S. cut diplomatic ties with over 40 years ago. And then this out-of-left-field allusion to a coming civil war in America. This is clearly the language of an adversary hoping to inflict wounds on Israelis through terror proxies, with the endgame of ushering in a wider Middle East conflict.
Now look at what Iranians are saying, unsurprisingly, in response to Hamas’ brazen attack on Israel. “This victorious operation will certainly expedite the collapse of Zionist regime and promises its imminent annihilation,” senior Iranian foreign policy adviser Ali Akbar Velayati told the international press over the weekend of Oct. 7.
Though the Hamas assault has pushed back the timeline of the impending Saudi-Israeli peace deal under the banner of Abraham Accords, it hasn’t killed it entirely. The Saudi reaction to Hamas’ attacks reflects no traditional animosity toward Israel as the kingdom released a boilerplate statement that simply called for restraint on both sides.
The voices from United Arab Emirates, Oman and Turkey are not condemnatory toward Israel either. Perhaps, for once, all these countries that have been traditional champions of the Palestinian cause see the pointlessness of supporting a terrorist entity, Hamas, that no longer serves their interests.
Increasingly, the Middle Eastern monarchies (plus Turkey) see the normalization of relations with Israel as a path to peace and prosperity. Supporting terrorism carried out in the name of Israel’s destruction doesn’t fit this equation.
So, this leaves Israel, the U.S. and Europe to deal with a cast of state and non-state actors hell-bent on destabilizing the region before the “Abrahamic” era of peace and economic co-operation can begin. For Putin’s Russia and Iranian clerics, this is a zero-sum game. Sabotaging the Abraham Accords and plunging the region into chaos could lure the U.S. and its western allies into a protracted Middle East conflict that allows Russia to extract concessions on Ukrainian front. For Iran, supporting terrorism in the Middle East is a ticket to geopolitical relevance and leverage.
For Israel, the U.S. and its western allies, it is imperative to figure out a way to eliminate terrorism from Palestinian territories, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq without provoking an all-out Middle Eastern war. The answer lies in blunting Iran’s capacity to support terror groups in the region and weakening Russian influence in Syria and Iraq. Unlike past Middle East conflicts where traditional Arab powers like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf kingdoms were hostile to Israel, this time the task of rooting out terrorism from Middle East looks doable.
But this doesn’t mean it will be quick or painless.
Raheel Raza is a Munk Senior Fellow in Human Rights with The Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
Mohammed Rizwan is a former Pakistani journalist who has worked with numerous international media outlets, including the Washington Post, the Telegraph and the Khaleej Times.