Global power play tests Israel’s gambit on chessboard

| Updated: 18 October, 2023 7:59 pm IST
Hamas and Israel have reached another week of conflict

One name you are unlikely to see in the deluge of information and disinformation on what’s happening in and around Israel/Palestine is China.

While Russia may occasionally come into focus concerning Syria, and references to ‘the global South’ emerge from time to time, as evident in the public statement made by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, it is crucial to recognise that all three of these elements play pivotal roles in shaping the ongoing events.

Without China’s backing, Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman may not have had the chutzpah to keep US Secretary of State Blinken waiting several hours this past weekend—and then tell him sternly that the siege and impending invasion of Gaza must stop.

Iran, Qatar, and Turkey are all firmly, and visibly, behind Palestine. They (and their mentees closer to the scene of action) may have held off from joining the fray so far, but have made their alignment clear.

None of them may have been willing if it were not for the lurking backing of China, and Russia. The global balance of power is shifting away from the West, as the recent BRICS summit, and the ongoing BRI summit in China, showed.

Two other factors have been crucial with regard to Israel. One is the host of countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America that have refused to buy into the Israeli and Western narrative about civilisation standing up to barbarian terrorism.

And two, the large numbers of migrants as well as Leftist citizens who have demonstrated their support for Palestine on the streets of many Western capitals.

Indeed, India has stood out as the country from which Israel has received aggressively posted support on social media. The External Affairs Ministry’s reiteration of India’s longstanding support for a two-state solution has been overshadowed by an avalanche of pro-Israeli tweets.

Oil Is The Key: 

However, the harsh fact is that India has relatively little leverage in West Asia. Oil is the key to the positions big powers and superpowers choose to adopt regarding most of the conflicts there.

Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE could dramatically escalate energy prices, which have already been so volatile since the war in Ukraine began almost 20 months ago that inflation has become endemic in many countries—and some European economies, such as Germany’s, are tanking.

If the conflict in Israel escalates, the economic impact could become intolerable—in Europe more than elsewhere. The uproarious support to Israel from Indians, which has been noticed across the world, may also negatively affect Indian negotiators’ seeking competitive rates.

Russian oil supplies could partially offset India’s woes if OPEC were to turn inimical. In that light, India’s leaders ought to avoid making unnecessary observations, as the Chief of Defence Staff did in the course of a lecture in Bangalore—that Russian power would inevitably wane.

It might be strategically better for representatives of India to focus on such points as that, internally, Russia stands more united than ever, that its humungous oil and gas reserves remain the base of its economy, and that the opening of the Arctic owing to global warming will immensely boost Russia’s economic potential.

If OPEC flexes its pricing muscle against the West, it will surely seek closer cooperation with Russia—and China. Plus, the presence of Russian forces in Syria will give it leverage in West Asia.

Meanwhile, India’s tightrope between the US, France, and Russia may become more tautly challenging if the struggle in Israel escalates.

A Strategic Russian Doll:

The likely strategic moves in and around West Asia are like a Russian doll: opening one leads to another, and then another, and so on.

My first instinct when I heard of the Hamas attack on kibbutzes near the Gaza border was that this had been allowed to happen. I could not believe that the all-enveloping Israeli intelligence systems would not have picked on what was impending. I wondered if the attacks—and the lack of response for several hours—might have been allowed in order to pave the way for razing and taking over Gaza.

I was also struck by the fact that the attacks had targeted traditionally Leftist kibbutzes and a peacenik music festival. Those present at these would be the kinds of Israelis (and Western visitors) whom the hardliner Prime Minister Netanyahu and most of his then-coalition partners might treat with contempt, if not ire.

Indeed, it became known over the next few days that Egypt had warned Israel that Hamas was about to initiate violence. No action was taken, either to prevent the attacks or to fight back as soon as the attacks began.

At that time, there was speculation about the potential reactions from Iran, Turkey, Qatar, and even Saudi Arabia and how events might unfold. However, it is now clear that all these influential nations have adopted firm positions against Israel.

Not just that, a large number of countries outside the West (plus countries like Ireland) have not bought into the argument that Gaza has brought its destruction upon itself.

Strategic Consequences:

No wonder, Israel appears to be dialing back its ferocious ‘there are no innocents in Gaza’ stand. As a start, it is turning Gaza’s water back on.

As with Afghanistan and Ukraine, the Biden administration seems to have miscalculated—if indeed the CIA told it a fortnight ago what was afoot.

If it now waffles (as seems almost inevitable) just a year before general elections, the administration may shoot the Democratic Party in the foot, for that party includes strongly committed supporters of both Israel and Palestine.

Russia will gain, if only from the global South calling out the hypocritical responses of Whites with regard to Ukraine and Palestine respectively.  President Zelensky has provided grounds for comparison by stating that Russia was planning to destroy Ukraine’s electricity infrastructure (with winter around the corner). As if that was not enough, videos are going around showing beheadings, allegedly by Russian soldiers.

As for the bottom line, the volumes and prices of Russia’s oil and gas exports could be boosted in case OPEC powers squeeze production. In the much wider contest of superpowers, China might gain ground. It has dismissed Israel’s basic argument by calling its responses ‘beyond the scope of self-defense.’ China could well gain ground by portraying itself as a champion of the weak—and of the global South.

Read: India’s turn to learn from Israel how to combat disinformation warfare

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