by Antonio Michele Storto
If from a humanitarian point of view, the disaster is now beyond the collateral damage of this new flare-up of the conflict – with more than 3,000 Palestinian civilian victims, to be added to the 1,400 Israelis mowed down by Hamas attacks – it is also disruptive in terms of international relations.
The most obvious diplomatic damage is probably the announced freezing of the Abraham Accords, the platform that had already led to the signing of an agreement between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in 2020, under the auspices of the US administration then led by Donald Trump.
It was hailed as an epochal event because, for the first time since the peace treaties with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994), we were witnessing the normalisation of relations between Israel and several Arab states. These were soon joined by Saudi Arabia, historically the most extreme defender of the Palestinian cause, which until a few years ago had often urged the other countries in the region to continue along the line of the triple ‘no’ laid down by the Arab League in the 1967 Khartoum Resolution: that is, ‘no recognition, no peace and no negotiations’ with Israel.
“In reality – explains Professor Tamburini, professor of History and Institutions of Afro-Asian Countries at the University of Pisa – the recognition of Israel by the Gulf monarchies is a false problem within the current framework of the Abraham Accords. The issue today is primarily economic, and the statements made by the Emirate Foreign Minister are emblematic of this. When asked about possible developments in the crisis, he explicitly said that he did not want to “mix politics with trade”.
The figures speak for themselves: in 2022 alone, according to Tamburini, “trade between the Emirates and Israel amounted to two and a half billion dollars, and to date almost 50 Israeli companies are operating in the Dubai area”. No less important”, says Tamburini, “is the relationship with Bahrain, which is more focused on military cooperation and, in particular, the arms trade”.
The new crisis also paralysed IMEC, the economic corridor between India, the Middle East and Europe, which was conceived at the last G20 meeting in New Delhi as a possible alternative to the Silk Road. “So,” Tamburini continues, “a strong economic dynamic has been set in motion in the region. And while it is reasonable to assume that it will resume, it remains very difficult to understand when and how”.
“Everything will depend on the military development of the crisis”, says the professor. “No one knows what the IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] is really up to, and it is not clear that there will be a ground invasion. I have just had the opportunity to consult some confidential NATO reports, and even they do not have a clear idea of what will happen: apart from the declarations, the Israelis themselves are well aware that they can at most eliminate Hamas cells, but they cannot undermine its leadership, which lives mainly in the Gulf States. And the human cost of an urban guerrilla operation would be very high for a country whose army won its last clear victory in 1967 and has since been in a period of slow but steady decline.”
“If the invasion does take place, it remains to be seen whether and how far the conflict will spread, depending on how Iran and its regional allies, Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah, react”.
“It is precisely Iran – cited by many as the deus ex machina of this new flare-up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – which currently appears to be the only real winner in this crisis, at least at the diplomatic level”. Donald Trump and Jared Kushner conceived the Abraham agreements themselves as part of a broader strategy to marginalise Teheran.
“In any case,” Tamburini explains, “Iran is unlikely to seek open war: it has so many economic problems and internal dissent that it could hardly bear the cost. Today, Tehran wants to be a destabilising force: it wants to create chaos while relying on very sophisticated diplomacy. And by supporting a Sunni force like Hamas, it has succeeded, at least temporarily, in breaking an international balance that would have been openly hostile to it.
As for relations between Israel and the Gulf monarchies, the thaw is no longer a hypothesis, but almost a certainty: “Once the dust has settled in Gaza,” the professor predicts, “the mechanism will be set in motion again. This could happen in a year or a year and a half, but it will be difficult to return to the previous situation”.
This is not good news for the future of Palestine: according to Tamburini, the Abraham Accords themselves represent “a stab in the back of Palestinian rights”. “To see this,” he explains, “it is enough to analyse the text of the resolution, which shows an obvious discrepancy between the English version signed by Israel and the one signed by the Gulf monarchies. While the Arabic text refers to an Israeli commitment ‘to halt plans to annex Palestinian territory”, the English version says that the agreements “will lead Israel to halt plans to expand its supremacy”.
“Which,” Tamburini continues, “despite the vagueness of the verb ‘to suspend’, may well mean that Tel Aviv takes it for granted it will maintain its position in the West Bank and in the territories it has continued to occupy since 1967, despite an endless series of UN resolutions; in the meanwhile the Gulf monarchies will be able to hide behind the semantic ambiguity of the text they signed so as not to be openly accused of pro-Zionism”.
“The tragic reality,” concludes Tamburini, “is that today there is no one to defend the interests of the Palestinians, except in an instrumental way. With any pan-Arab aspirations in the region gone, they have become pawns in a game much bigger than themselves. Hamas itself is using Gaza’s civilians as pawns, and can it be said that the PLO, with a leadership as corrupt and old as Abu Mazen’s, is protecting their interests? It is an open question that now sounds dramatically rhetorical.”
On the cover photo, Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani and Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan attend the Abraham Accords ceremony in The White House (Washington DC, USA – September 15, 2020) © noamgalai/Shutterstock.com