The Israel-Hamas conflict has initiated multifaceted debates on related humanitarian, political, religious and economic issues at the regional and global levels, with subject experts trying to interpret the vastly intricate situation, predict outcomes and put forth solutions. The involved, agenda-driven parties, especially the non-state actors, would be busy evaluating the conflict’s short- and long-term implications and the future course of action. Indeed, the sponsors and followers of Islamic fundamentalism would be deliberating on the manifestations of the success or failure of Hamas on their religious agendas and the profitability or otherwise of barbaric terrorist actions.
As regards the humanitarian perspective, on one side are the Israelis residing in an anti-Semitic and volatile neighbourhood, and on the other are the Palestinians living in proximity to the mighty State of Israel, which has zero tolerance for violence against it. Israel, as evident in the ongoing conflict, shall leave no stone unturned to eradicate Hamas and avenge ‘7th October’ as well as to make the future safe for her land and citizens. Unfortunately, Hamas has little or no value for human life, including its very own people, in their quest to achieve their objectives. The Hamas Charter states that their struggle against the Jews is ‘very great and very serious’ and calls for the eventual ‘creation of an Islamic State in Palestine’, which entails ‘obliteration or dissolution of Israel’.
In such a scenario, the innocents are ordained to suffer, and there seems to be no solution to these sufferings, especially on the Palestinian side, where Hamas continues to use them as human shields. While the champions of Human Rights shall make noise, the probability of their affecting an end to human suffering is minimal until the Israelis achieve the laid-down objectives or Hamas is rendered ineffective. In a clash between State and Non-State actors, the burden of abiding by the international code of conduct related to Human Rights seems to lie with the State; however, to what levels should the involved nation-state be held accountable in situations as prevailing in the Hamas-Israel conflict is debatable. No war or conflict has ever been without the collateral of innocent blood. The solution to the said conflict does not lie in the humanitarian criticalities being created by the other side, though ironically, both sides clash to end human sufferings of their own.
The followers of the two Abrahamic religions clash over lands having religious connotations and sensitivities in a setting where one of them, namely Islam, is completely interwoven with politics. Consequently, the politico-religious dynamics of the Arab states are dominant in their actions against their non-Islamic neighbours. In the case of the Jews, the weightage is more to the safety of the homeland and human lives. In contrast, for Palestinians, the fundamentalist side of the religion that promotes a violence-based proactive approach is more pronounced.
Ideology-driven terrorist groups like Hamas exploit ambiguous interpretations of Islamic teachings to promote vested interests, irrespective of the human suffering of their own people. A powerful non-Muslim nation at the very heart of the Arabic World is an eyesore to the Islamic fundamentalists and needs to be done away with. However, Hamas does not represent the Palestinians and is not accepted by all Gazans. Yet, they are fighting to eliminate the Jews from their lands, and hence, the collateral of suffering is, by and large, acceptable.
Ironically, while on the face of it, all followers of Islam are one, there is extreme rivalry amongst its various factions when Islam becomes a common factor in the inner tiers of the Arab World. In such dynamics, on one side, Shia Iran’s support for Sunni Hamas is quite acceptable; on the other, the Egyptians, who once ruled the Gaza region, are not pro-Palestinians and resist their spillover into the Sanai.
Anti-Sematic terrorist groups like Hezbollah, Houthis and others who support Hamas have limited capabilities to impact the outcome in Gaza effectively. Hezbollah is a part of the Lebanese government, along with other factions who would not invite the wrath of the Israelis beyond a point and that essentially limits their support. Syrian groups remain embroiled in their civil war, which indeed takes priority over Gaza, and hence, unlikely to indulge in major anti-Israeli actions. Jordan, despite holding a large Palestinian population, is in the American sphere and, apart from a show of solidarity in the form of rhetoric, would stay away from the conflict.
Shia-dominated Iran’s anti-Israel agenda manifests its support to Sunni Hamas; however, to what stretch, in the face of the possible fury of the pro-Israeli world, remains a debate. In the power dynamics of West Asia and the Arab World, religion and politics are dangerously interwoven; which of the two components shall dominate the other at what time and to what levels, in the backdrop of the brotherhood frenzy of Islam, is possibly unpredictable. Unfortunately, the majority in the Arab World remain uneducated and religion-dependent for their way of life, and that makes it slightly easier for the religious bigots, in comparison to other religions of the world, to manipulate the masses for selfish power-grabbing agendas. Fanaticism in any religion has invariably caused human suffering of unimaginable proportions throughout the history of humanity and continues to do so.
The criticality for the Islamic fundamentalists lies in the evolving dynamics in the wealthy Arab nations where modernisation and economics are now gradually overriding religious primacy. MBS is turning the hardcore Islamic nation of Saudi Arabia into a modern state where blaring loudspeakers of the mosques have been banned, women now have full legal rights (abolishment of the male-guardianship system) and can drive cars, etc.
The socio-economic reforms of Saudi Arabia are setting the trend for the fence sitter nations who realise the constraining influence of religion on economic and social growth. The gradual improvement of relations between Israel and some of the Arab countries is an eyesore to the Muslim fundamentalists of all sects. The evolving social and economic changes being brought about by visionary leaders like MBS in Saudi Arabia and economically prosperous nations like the UAE are a threat to the fundamentalists of Islam.
The potential failure of Hamas has direct and adverse implications for the religious fundamentalist in the Islamic world as the sane voices realise the futility of religious conflicts concealed in the garb of rights to lands and utter disregard for lives of their very own. Religious fanatics are fighting this gradual realisation that religious extremism is holding modernisation and the economy back through extreme measures to retain pre-eminence over billions of followers.
All the stakeholders would want the Hamas-Israel conflict to end on terms most favourable to them. However, this would entail compromises from both sides. To decide what is acceptable to reach a compromise is a complex calculus in a maze of hearts, minds and ideologies for all stakeholders. The factors for consideration in making compromises would be humanitarian, including homeland, religious, political, military and economic. The order of priority of these factors would, however, vary in the case of each stakeholder as it would be contingent on their respective agendas.
Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah, recently stated that “these countries (supporters and facilitators of Hamas) will not send soldiers to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza, but people of the region expect the Arab and Muslim world to at least adopt a unified position and demand from the Americans to put an end to the Israeli offensive, open a corridor to deliver aid and provide medical treatment, even while Gaza continues to fight.’’ A sign that, apart from outside moral and material support, Hamas shall have to fight its war alone.
Whatever the conflict’s outcome, it shall have significant ramifications on the socioreligious and economic fabric of the region and the world in general.
Lt Gen Vijay Singh (Retd)