Russia, China eye gains as West gets caught up in two debilitating wars
New York: While the West faces two debilitating wars involving its allies, Russia, China and Iran are looking to gain from the raging Israel-Hamas conflict.
Those countries and their putative allies like North Korea and Venezuela could benefit in different ways from setbacks to the USdiplomacy in the Middle East, the added strains on support for Ukraine, and the lessening of attention to their areas of interest.
While a prolonged war would exacerbate these factors, the global economy could also face the impact of the conflict on energy prices.
The Israel-Hamas conflict does not have clear endpoints or a post-invasion plan making an already murky situation murkier.
The West rallied around Ukraine, the victim of Russia’s invasion, pouring not just sympathy but money, weapons and relief to a beleaguered Kiev.
Now they have to also aid Israel, and set some apart for relief to Gaza, straining their resources.
Russia was nearly isolated and in the UN General Assembly in October last year, 143 nations joined in condemning the invasion and demanding it withdraw from Ukraine.
But now the focus has turned to the Israel-Hamas conflict and Moscow now finds itself on the same side as the majority of 120 countries — mostly nations from the South — that voted on a resolution demanding a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict, which it unsuccessfully pursued at the Security Council.
Moscow scored points with the US veto of that resolution. and its own veto of a resolution backed by Washington.
Amid signs of weariness with Ukraine setting in, the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives voted on Thursday to only give Israel aid (amounting to $14.3 billion) cutting off, for now, Ukraine assistance that the Democrat-majority had passed twinning it with the Israel aid.
China which had made a foray into Middle Diplomacy by brokering a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia will savour any setbacks to the US efforts to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia together.
Like Moscow, Beijing too will benefit from the isolation of Washington on the world stage because of its unstinting backing for Israel from which even allies like Britain and France step back.
President Joe Biden had turned a significant portion of its diplomatic resources to the Indo-Pacific region in a policy of containing China, while in effect lessening the focus on the Middle East.
The Middle East consuming a greater bandwidth of US diplomacy could be seen by China as favourable to it.
As Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping meet this weekend or next week in San Francisco, Beijing may have hopes that the US will soften – or at least not further harden – its stance towards it.
The risk for the US is from the images of the destruction wrought by Israel after having pledged full support to it that would make it seem party to the havoc.
In the first reaction to the Hamas terrorist attack that killed about 1,400 people and took hundreds hostages, Biden offered unconditional support to Israel without an inkling of how far its retaliation would go.
The pictures of an attack by Israel on a convoy of ambulances near a Gaza hospital are reverberating across the world to the advantage of Palestinians and their supporters.
Realising the immensity of the risk to Washington’s standing, US Secretary of State Antony Bliinken is trying to persuade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting and to lessen the ferocity of the attacks to safeguard civilians.
Iran, which has been pummeled by both the US and Israel (through sabotage and killing of key nuclear scientists), does not seem to be itching to join the fray, even as its ideological allies have – even the Houthis in Yemen have launched rockets at Israel.
It can’t send material support to Hamas and it has no powers over it or Hezbollah, but it could play a role in helping determine the course of their action.
What a desperate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could do is unknown, but Iran could hope for some respite even as it continues its nuclear pursuits.
Here is a tally of how some other countries and the UN fare in the fallout of the conflict:
The UN is entangled in the coils of powerplay between the veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and the US, unable to stop the war.
But it has redeemed itself to a degree through the unrelenting efforts of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to get relief supplies into Gaza through Egypt. He was not able to get Israel to agree to all that is needed, but at least some relief is going through.
More than 13,000 UN employees work for the UN’s Palestine relief arm in Gaza, and at least 70 of them have been killed in Israel’s air strikes.
Guterres has been even-handed in his criticism of the attacks on civilians by both sides, infuriating Israel, which made the improbable demand for his resignation.
Egypt, though not an ally of the three adversaries, gains in different way by becoming a nodal point for diplomacy and relief for Gaza and Washington has to mute criticism on human rights.
Other Middle Eastern countries too will acknowledge its role.
Qatar, often at odds with its Gulf neighbours and mistrusted by the US for its dubious links, is again at the centre of action as it was in Afghanistan.
Its lines to Hamas have helped in dealing with the hostage crisis and for the West’s communications with Hamas.
Saudi Arabia’s hopes for normalising relations with Israel have been setback.
Internal opposition of the radical variety can get a boost from the public’s disgust at the civilian casualties of Israel’s massive retaliation in Gaza.
The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE)close ties to the US and developing relations with Israel, for example through the I2U2 partnership that also includes India, is under strain.
But while opposing the US over the Gaza conflict, it has not taken any precipitative action so far like Bahrain, which withdrew its ambassador from Israel and stopped trade with it.
Jordan fears attacks either at it or aimed overhead at Israel from Iran’s proxies in Syria and Iraq with which it shares borders.
It has asked the US for Patriot missile defence systems.
A bigger risk to Amman from the unrest in the West Bank spilling over to it and refugees streaming in.
Jordan has recalled its ambassador from Israel protesting its actions in Gaza.
In the West Bank, the Palestine Authority is caught between the task of maintaining its risky hold on its power while keeping Israel at bay and a further challenge to its authority from people enraged by the casualties in Gaza attacks by Israel and seeing its powerlessness.
If the protests, further inflamed by terrorist attacks, widen, that will strain Israel’s resources in the conflict and have a punishing effect on the people of the West Bank and its leadership.
Syria, which has been subjected to Israel air strikes, can hope for a respite if that country is bogged down in Gaza.
But it will also have to contend with groups from the country getting involved and making it vulnerable.
Lebanon faces the prospect of being drawn into a conflict with Israel through Hezbollah which controls wide swaths of the Shia-majority areas, especially along the southern border.
Already, the Hezbollah and Israel have been embroiled in clashes along Lebanon’s southern border. Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has threatened to escalate the fighting at a time of his choosing.
The US moved an armada to the Mediterranean, which can bomb Hezbollah positions in support of Israel and get it more directly involved in the conflict. A massive Hezbollah attack would bring Israel into a war on two fronts.
A fractured Lebanon, already in deep economic distress, would sink deeper into the financial abyss.
India is caught in the middle and even as it projects itself as the voice of the Global South and a new centre of leadership for the developing countries, it finds itself at odds with the majority which supports Palestine.
China’s position is more closely aligned with that of the South.
With a large diaspora in the Gulf and dependence on energy and capital from the region, New Delhi has to mollify the Gulf nations even as it tilts to Israel because of the shared revulsion to terrorism and the defence tied.
The India-Middle East-Europe corridor announced during the G20 summit is at risk if the situation in the region deteriorates further and Israel is isolated.
India gets a measure of independence because its oil deals with Russia lessen dependence on the Gulf. (India now gets 40 per cent of its oil from Russia.)