The heart of the Middle East, known for its intricate geopolitics, ever-evolving conflicts, and tumultuous history, is once again in the throes of change. As I stand here in Oslo, my thoughts are irresistibly drawn to Lebanon, my homeland, and the crises that have unfolded in the region to which I am closely connected.
Amidst this chaos, I find it challenging to encapsulate my academic and professional journey — a blend of legal intricacies, Middle Eastern complexities, and a deep concern for the unfolding events.
The Tumultuous Turning Point: October 7, 2023
On October 7, 2023, a significant and pivotal moment etched itself into the annals of this enduring conflict. It was a day when Hamas executed a surprise attack on Israel, an event that drew comparisons to the 1973 attack. However, this attack bore a unique distinction — it unfolded within the borders of Israel itself, marking the closest proximity to conflict that Israel has encountered since the 1970s. As rockets blazed and hostilities rekindled, the delicate equilibrium of the Middle East once again shifted, further entangling the web of regional dynamics.
The Gaza Strip, nestled along the Mediterranean coast, tells a story of unyielding hardship. Within its borders, two million residents bear the weight of relentless challenges, many of which lie far beyond their control. Under the governance of Hamas, Gaza has remained entrenched in turmoil since 2006, exacerbating existing divisions within the Palestinian populace.
The people of Gaza have been deprived of their right to vote since 2006, effectively solidifying the unchallenged rule of Hamas. With Israel taking on the role of overseers, questions naturally arise concerning the legitimacy of Hamas’s leadership. Can a governing body that has sidestepped electoral scrutiny since 2006 rightfully guide its people into a conflict they never had the chance to approve? It’s a question that becomes increasingly challenging to answer, especially in times of desperation.
Turning our gaze to the broader Palestinian political landscape, the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority comes under scrutiny as well. Without elections since 2006 and a long-standing president, Mahmoud Abbas (born in 1935), this leadership may not fully represent the aspirations and ambitions of Palestinian youth. Progress in negotiations or advancing the Palestinian cause has remained elusive, fueling doubts about representation and accountability. Even during the latest events, the authority has remained surprisingly silent or, at times, even engaged in quelling the protests of Palestinians in the West Bank.
Navigating Multifaceted Crisis: Israel’s Internal Unrest and External Challenges
Netanyahu’s leadership has seen a deepening commitment to right-wing policies, supporting the settlers’ movement and aggression. Additionally, the introduction of a series of reforms challenging the nation’s democratic institutions has raised significant concerns in Israel.
The Hamas operation against Israel and the hostage situation involving more than 250 Israelis have sent shockwaves through the Israeli government, including its intelligence and security apparatus. This unexpected crisis has left them in a state of bewilderment and heightened pressure on an already embattled government. The unforeseen nature of the events has prompted many in Israel to demand answers.
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu grapples with this critical juncture, his political career teeters on the brink. Adding to the complexity, the growing influence of Itamar Ben-Gvir, the Minister of National Security, further complicates the situation. His controversial track record, which includes support for a designated terrorist organization and incitement to violence against Palestinians, raises concerns about the direction of Israel’s policies under Netanyahu’s leadership.
Moreover, this attack has spurred heightened Israeli military action, escalating tensions and casting a shadow of potential regional conflict. Hamas’s audacious move, coupled with the ensuing turmoil, has not only deepened Israel’s internal and external challenges but also triggered significant shifts in the nation’s political landscape. This ripple effect is particularly evident in Lebanon, where Hezbollah holds substantial influence over decisions regarding war and peace. Their extensive presence in Syria, along with alliances with Iraqi militias, further underscores their regional sway.
Additionally, the Israeli economy faces severe challenges as the shekel hits a historic low, with the Central Bank selling foreign currencies for the first time ever. The stock market also plunges, and government bond prices drop. This disrupts the image that Israel has worked so hard to achieve of being a country of investment, tourism and innovation, to be attractive to countries in the region.
As Israel grapples with these multifaceted challenges, the nation’s leaders must navigate a treacherous path forward, one that not only addresses the immediate crisis but also charts a course towards stability and security in an increasingly turbulent region. But one might wonder: Can Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose policies have at times stirred unrest and division, truly be the ultimate savior in these trying times, or does the situation call for a more comprehensive and collective approach to prevent a larger, more devastating war in the region?
A Powder Keg in Crisis: Lebanon’s Political and Economic Woes
Lebanon, a nation marked by political divisions and sectarian tensions, continues to grapple with a prolonged crisis since the October 17, 2019 uprising. The country’s economic situation has drastically deteriorated, intensifying the multifaceted challenges it faces.
Simultaneously, Lebanon finds itself at the epicenter of regional tensions, particularly along its southern borders. Recent escalations of hostilities have ignited concerns about the potential for a broader conflict.
In this precarious situation, Hamas and other Palestinian groups, operating with Hezbollah’s tacit permission, have used southern Lebanon as a launching pad for attacks on Israel. It’s essential to note that Hamas would not undertake such actions without Hezbollah’s approval. This has led to Israeli retaliations targeting Hezbollah, resulting in casualties on both sides.
This escalation marks the most significant and sustained hostilities since the 2006 war, characterized by daily skirmishes. Reports suggest that approximately 25 Hezbollah members have lost their lives in the conflict. On the other side, Israel has also suffered losses, including an officer and several soldiers. Consequently, Israel is responding by evacuating its northern communities, while a wave of Lebanese residents is fleeing the south.
Lebanon’s internal crisis, characterized by political instability, economic collapse, and a shrinking space for freedoms, has created an environment where the prospect of war is both feared and, in a sense, reluctantly accepted due to the belief that there is little more to lose. In Beirut, Lebanese citizens, alongside Palestinian refugees, have taken to the streets to protest the recent Israeli attacks, with some even calling for a forceful response.
As Lebanon edges closer to more conflict, it’s evident that the Middle East is a highly sensitive region. With various complicated issues and conflicting interests, it’s like a powder keg ready to explode at any time.
Moreover, numerous airlines have halted flights to Lebanon, and the Lebanese airline has relocated its planes outside the country, fearing potential attacks from Israel. Many countries have issued warnings, advising their citizens against traveling to Lebanon due to the precarious security situation. This has further isolated Lebanon and exacerbated its woes.
Furthermore, amid rampant corruption within the country’s political elite, all Lebanese political parties, including Hezbollah, have come under intense scrutiny. Hezbollah, in particular, finds itself at the forefront of blame, seen as the de facto ruler of Lebanon. This perception has not only strained its relationships with other Arab nations but has also led to growing skepticism about its role as a force for liberation. One can’t help but question: can a party accused of suppressing the Lebanese, manipulating presidential elections, and impeding the Beirut blast investigation be trusted to lead us, or are we headed for more war and destruction?
Amidst the ongoing turmoil in Gaza, Israel, and Lebanon, the Middle East stands at a critical juncture. These interconnected crises not only challenge regional stability but also raise pressing humanitarian concerns and invoke the principles of international humanitarian law. The pivotal question that weighs on us is whether diplomacy and international intervention can prevent a larger catastrophe, or if the intricate web of regional complexities and competing interests will ultimately spark a conflagration that engulfs the entire Middle East.
A Battle Against Imperial Colonialism: A Quest for Justice and Freedom
In conclusion, the conflicts in Gaza, Israel, and Lebanon awaken us to a world where wars are waged in the name of interests rather than justice, and where suffering knows no side. These wars have evolved into battles for the interests of third parties, waged by both aggressors and resistors who ultimately oppress their own people. The pawns on this global chessboard are the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, while the players emerge with clean hands after the game is done.
Zooming out, a larger battle unfolds, transcending specific actors or interests — a struggle against a form of modern colonialism. In this context, Israel represents a potent symbol of lingering traditional colonialism in the 21st century. While former empires have reconciled with their former colonies, Israel appears as an exception. It’s a battle too significant to overlook or underestimate, embodying a quest for justice and freedom resonating across history.
For a region that has seen numerous cycles of conflict and negotiation, the lessons learned from the past must not be forgotten. To disregard this battle is to surrender our humanity and freedom. It’s to accept a role as sheep, following shepherds who make us fight over morsels on the way to the slaughterhouse. The conflicts in these lands, their root causes, and their implications affect us all, transcending borders and politics. They demand that the global community recognize that our common humanity must prevail over the politics of power.
- Khaled Zaza is a Research Associate at PRIO
- This text was first published in Norwegian by Trønderdebatt 25 Oct 2023