One month of Israel-Hamas war: US and China losing credibility, Saudi Arabia and Iran in quandary

Posted on : 2023-11-07 16:54 KST Modified on : 2023-11-07 16:54 KST
The outbreak of war in the Middle East is having broad ramifications across the world
Israeli bombs fly toward the border with Gaza on Nov. 2 as fighting between Hamas and Israel escalates. (AFP/Yonhap)
Israeli bombs fly toward the border with Gaza on Nov. 2 as fighting between Hamas and Israel escalates. (AFP/Yonhap)

On the quiet morning of Saturday, Oct. 7, Hamas, the militant group that controls the Palestinian territory of Gaza, breached the 65-kilometer-long, 6-meter-high smart fence that Israel built on its border with Gaza.

Hamas militants killed more than 1,400 people in Israel and took more than 200 hostages to Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war that morning, saying that “our enemies will pay an unprecedented price.”

As of Monday, a month into the war, Gaza is in the eye of the storm. As Israeli forces prepare to launch an all-out assault on Gaza City, the strip’s largest urban area, the maelstrom that began in the 41-kilometer-long, 10-kilometer-wide bit of land is leaving a profound mark on the world beyond Israel and Palestine.

Two powerhouses of the Middle East wavering

The Middle East is in a state of flux. Saudi Arabia, a leading Sunni Islam state, is being accused of providing the kindling for the current war.

Reuters reported that the assault by Hamas on Oct. 7 “coincides with US-backed moves to push Saudi Arabia towards normalising ties with Israel in return for a defence deal between Washington and Riyadh,” noting that Hamas “took aim at efforts to forge new regional security alignments” between the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

With the support of the US, Saudi Arabia recently brokered a deal to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, and the US has been negotiating a security pact with Saudi Arabia.

Many Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, have not recognized Israel as a state since it was founded in 1948 in the Palestinian territories, but that changed in 2020 when the United Arab Emirates became the first Gulf state to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, with the US acting as a mediator.

Sunni countries in the Middle East have been reaching out to their old arch-enemy Israel because of their confrontation with Shiite Iran, and recently, Sunni Saudi Arabia has also moved toward establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.

Iran is also in a quandary. Iran, which has consistently backed Hamas and Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, hailed Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7 as a “new historical turning point” for the world, but there is more going on beneath the surface.

The country’s economic woes, coupled with the outrage over the case of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who died in police custody after being hauled away by morality police in September 2022 for not properly wearing a hijab, have led to fierce anti-government protests for more than a year, impeding Iran’s ability to spend large sums of money to support Hamas.

On the other hand, for Iran to sit idly by and watch Israel’s incursion into Gaza would significantly undermine its position.

“Iran’s top leaders have been quick to deny any direct involvement in the war, while expressing their full support and solidarity for the Palestinian cause,” reported Foreign Policy, a US diplomatic and security publication, adding that the country is “playing a game of strategic ambiguity in the Israel-Hamas war, keeping its level of involvement and intervention unclear [. . .] to avoid a direct clash that could harm Iran’s interests and security.”

China and the US lost in the Middle East

The US and China are also in a tricky position. Initially, the US hoped that the normalization of Saudi-Israeli relations would ease its burden in the Middle East so that it could focus more on its Asia-centric policy.

However, the US is now being criticized for turning a blind eye to Palestinian suffering in the region, setting the stage for the conflict, and ignoring Israel’s killing of civilians.

On Oct. 18, 2023, The UN Security Council voted on a resolution submitted by the current chair Brazil calling for “humanitarian pauses” in the conflict. The resolution garnered support from 12 of the 16 council members but was vetoed by the US, a permanent member of the council, preventing it from being adopted. An African diplomat told Reuters that the US “lost credibility” within the international community by exercising its veto.

The US has argued that a ceasefire would only benefit Hamas and has insisted on a temporary, limited “humanitarian pause” in the region to allow for civilian relief, but even that has been rejected by Israel.

A rival of the US, China saw the war as an opportunity to expand its presence and influence in the Middle East, but has realized that it lacks leverage. Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi appeared to side with Israel early in the conflict, saying that “all countries have the right to self-defense,” but then later changed his tune by stating that “Israel’s actions have gone beyond the scope of self-defense,” drawing criticism from both Israel and the Muslim world.

The German think tank European Council on Foreign Relations pointed out on Friday that “Beijing sees an opportunity to differentiate itself from the West’s unconditional support for Israel and gain favour in the global south. But the conflict has revealed China’s lack of political weight in the region.”

The Ukraine-Russia split on the Middle East conflict

With the world’s attention focused on the Israel-Hamas war, Ukraine is concerned that Russia’s invasion is being consigned to oblivion in real time.

“I think it is one of the goals of the Russian Federation,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said during a meeting with European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, who visited Kyiv on Saturday.

Indeed, on Thursday, the US House of Representatives passed a US$105 billion package submitted by the White House with the intention of coupling aid for both Ukraine and Israel, but the funding for Ukraine (US$61.4 billion) was excluded while the funding for Israel (US$14.3) was passed.

The US online news outlet Axios reported that tens of thousands of 155 mm artillery shells that had been destined for Ukraine were instead sent to Israel, news that benefits Russia.

The war has also prompted some to criticize the West’s attitude toward the “Global South” — the emerging economies of Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania in the lower latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.

In a piece for US magazine Time, H.A. Hellyer, a British expert on global security, wrote, “The US-led international order is preferable to a ‘might is right’ approach favored by Russia and China. But it needs to be reformed, applied consistently, and based on international law.”

By Hong Seock-jae, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles