How are Israel’s Arab neighbors reacting to the terrorist attacks by the militant Hamas on Israel and the war in Gaza?
Since its founding, Israel’s relationship with its Arab neighbors has been fraught with conflict. After a deadly explosion at the crowded Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday that killed scores of people, most Arab states in the region accused Israel of being responsible. Israel, on the other hand, speaks of the impact of a misguided rocket from the militant Palestinian organization Islamic Jihad.
After the terrorist attack by the militant Islamist Hamas on October 7, most Arab states – including those that had maintained dialogue and cooperation with the Israeli government for decades – blamed Israel for the escalation of violence. They particularly referred to Israel’s ongoing settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and its actions in relation to the Gaza Strip.
How are the Arab countries directly bordering Israel behaving in the face of the current conflict?
On October 15, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi criticized the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) response to Hamas attacks. These went “beyond the right to self-defense” and amounted to collective punishment.
Egypt has enjoyed a decades-long partnership with Israel since relations between the two countries normalized under the 1978 Camp David Accords and the subsequent 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
The peace treaty has survived several crises, including the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the first and second intifadas, Israel’s re-occupation of the West Bank cities under the Palestinian Authority in 2002 (Operation Shield), and numerous conflicts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority Hamas. During one of these conflicts, the 2014 Gaza conflict, Egypt even advocated for Israel to take more forceful action. But Israel hesitated, fearing it could lead to chaos and a power vacuum in the region.
Despite its close ties with Iran, Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by the US, EU and several other countries, also has complex ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement in Egypt. The government in Cairo fears the consequences that these relationships could have on religious extremism and security at home. At the same time, they also enable the Egyptian intelligence services to mediate between Israel and Hamas via secret channels.
In the current Israel-Hamas conflict, Egypt is ready to facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries to the Gaza Strip, according to officials. However, it does not want to allow Gaza residents to cross the border into the Sinai Peninsula. Al-Sisi stressed in a press conference on Wednesday that millions of Egyptians are vehemently opposed to the forced relocation of Palestinians to Sinai, saying it could turn the Egyptian peninsula into a base for attacks against Israel. This resistance to accepting Palestinian refugees has also been linked to the dire economic situation in Egypt and the continued number of people fleeing the civil war in Sudan.
Jordan and Israel have officially been at war for decades. However, they maintained contact throughout this period, which ultimately led to the conclusion of a peace treaty in 1994.
Jordan has supported Israel on several occasions, including during the Jerusalem riots in November 2014 over access to the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque. At the time, Jordanian officials worked with the IDF to ensure security at the holy sites. Israel, in turn, cooperates with Jordan on various projects in the areas of trade, agriculture, industry and public health.
Nevertheless, tensions still arise. On October 11, King Abdullah of Jordan underlined the central role of a two-state solution in a speech: “Our region will only be secure and stable once we have achieved a just and comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution. “
Jordan has also been very reluctant to accept new Palestinian refugees, insisting that Palestinians must remain in their homeland if they want to establish their own state. The country with its 11.6 million inhabitants already offers refuge to several million migrants from the Palestinian territories, Syria and Iraq, making it one of the countries with the highest proportion of refugees.
In Lebanon, the Shiite political organization Hezbollah poses a significant threat to Israel. The organization’s military wing, which is also classified as terrorist by the US, EU and other states, has a significant arsenal of weapons and has significant political and political power within Lebanon economic influence. Over the past decades there have been repeated armed clashes between Israel and Hezbollah.
Tensions between Israel and Lebanon date back to 1948, when Lebanon, along with other Arab states, declared war on the young Jewish state shortly after its founding. Since then, many Palestinian refugees have lived in Lebanon.
Israel has repeatedly occupied parts of southern Lebanon. After extensive mediation efforts by the United Nations, Israel withdrew from the occupied Lebanese territories in 2000. However, the border between the two countries remains disputed and armed clashes continue to occur.
Following Hamas’ unexpected attack on Israel, Hezbollah declared its solidarity with the Palestinian people. There have been repeated clashes in the border area in the past few days.
Syria – like Lebanon – officially views Israel as an enemy. Since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, Syria and Israel have been at war. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel captured the Golan Heights, a hilly area that has been occupied by Israel ever since. Syria also has an alliance with Iran.
Following peace efforts by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Israel agreed to an exchange of territory in 2007. However, it set the condition that Syria had to break off its relations with Iran and anti-Israel guerrilla groups. Syria rejected this.
There have also been exchanges of fire between Israel and Syria in the past two weeks. Over the years, rockets have repeatedly been fired from Syria into Israel, mostly when there was unrest within Israel. However, these mostly landed in open areas.
Since the war began in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out various air strikes on Syria. These were primarily aimed at disrupting arms supplies to Hezbollah and hitting Iranian and its proxies’ facilities in Syria. Last week, Israel attacked Syria’s two main airports with missiles, shutting down airports in the Syrian capital Damascus and Aleppo.