The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been overshadowed in the media for a long time by the turbulent events in the Middle East – that is, primarily by what was happening in the region as a result of the Arab Spring. These were bloody conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. Maybe also Lebanon, which is bogged down in long-term structural problems, has started to be talked about a bit more. It is also true that many times more people died during the decade of the mentioned conflicts than during almost the century of conflict between Israelis and Arabs. But under this cover of the post-Arab Spring, dramatic changes were taking place also within Israeli – and, as can now be seen – Palestinian politics.
And now the media situation has reversed and it is less clear what is happening outside of Israel and Palestine. It will be interesting to see what the new destructive Israeli-Palestinian dynamic will do with the blunting of the blade between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and whether the Americans will manage to make a comeback-revival in the Middle East, where their influence has visibly declined in the last decade.
Another aspect is the impact of the developments happening on other continents. And here it is impossible to avoid mentioning the Russian invasion of Ukraine that had impacted the Middle East to a certain extent. However, there was talk mainly about the economic impact on food prices there. Russian ties are the strongest in Syria, and we cannot currently find them in such a prominent form elsewhere in the region. Putin’s recent conflict with the Wagner group, which in earlier times promoted Russian interests much more prominently, could also have affected their weakening. Otherwise, Russia is playing its “policy of all directions” in the Middle East, which can be seen, for example, in parallel relations with Israel and Hamas, in oscillating but persistent relations with Erdogan, in the departure from Armenia and greater support for Azerbaijan and so on.
As for the Arab-Israeli normalization process in light of the recent attack of Hamas against Israel, I do not think that the current events in Gaza would have such an influence that it would directly disrupt the new (and older – for example, Israeli-Jordanian or Israeli-Egyptian) diplomatic relations. However, we can imagine that it can seriously cool them down, or in the case of a follow-up – for example with Saudi Arabia – seriously slow them down. Thus, for example, some economic or weapons projects between Israel and Arab countries may come to a halt. Arab leaders are often unscrupulous pragmatists, but they are not completely immune to the pressure of their streets.
Besides Russia, there is also China that is pursuing a more ambitious diplomacy in the region. With this regard, Beijing’s greatest diplomatic success happened last spring, when it was able to reconcile, at least on a diplomatic level, the conflicting regional powers of the last two decades – Saudi Arabia and Iran. China plays a lot on its soft power in the Middle East in the form of its growing economic strength. As if the Chinese Middle Eastern motto was: “Stop your quarrels and come and do business with us instead…”
Another topic of international interest has been Iran’s foreign policy and I believe that Iran does not wish to go into open conflict with Israel. Teheran is far more comfortable with its current policy of influencing, or provoking, events in the Middle East with the help of its proxies, for instance, Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Houthis in Yemen. But even they are not complete stooges of Iran. In addition, Iran has several allies in the Middle East – perhaps even Hamas, or some Iraqi and Syrian politicians. But they fall under direct Iranian influence even less.
As for the Czech foreign policy, it is characterized by a completely one-sided line of support towards Israel. It is a specific long-term tendency across most of the Czech political spectrum for at least two decades. Especially around the renewed crisis in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this tendency has come to the fore again. But then the Czech Republic also had very specific relations with countries such as Assad’s Syria, which was demonstrated by the controversial activities of the outgoing Czech ambassador in Damascus. Relations with Turkey and some other regimes in the Middle East are also good. Czech foreign policy would like to play the “human rights” note in the spirit of former president Václav Havel, but it seems that it is not much succeeding in the Middle East.
About the author: Dr. Marek Čejka, Ph.D., (1975) focuses on the Middle East, relation between religion and politics, international law, religious radicalism and terrorism. He published books: Judaism and Politics in Israel (2002, 2009), Israel and Palestine (2005), Encyclopedia of the Middle Eastern Terrorism (2007), History of Modern Israel (2010), photographic book People of the Holy Lands (2012) and he is co-author of the book Rabbis of our Time (2016, Routledge). He maintains a blog about the Middle East that can be accessed via http://blizky-vychod.blogspot.com_.
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