The ongoing violent conflict between Hamas and Israel has recorded more than 19,200 Palestinian deaths with 52,200 wounded as of December 18 this year. The Israel Defense Forces continues its offensive ground operation throughout the Gaza Strip (including in the northern, central and southern areas), ensures a continuous advance and does not consider civilian targets (be it a school, hospital or residential neighborhoods). According to media reports, Israel has already dropped about 29,000 bombs on Gaza (about the same number of bombings were carried out by the US and British Air Forces in 2003 in Iraq).
Hamas attempts to resist with mortars and artisanal rockets against IDF locations are having little effect. However, Israel and its main ally, the United States, face the additional military challenge and distraction of Hezbollah rocket attacks from Lebanon, attacks on US military installations in Iraq and Syria, and naval strikes on Israeli and US merchant ships by Yemen’s Houthis in the Red Sea.
On the diplomatic front, Turkey continues to actively support the Palestinian resistance. Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, in talks with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, revisits the “Palestinian file,” suggests Washington’s intervention to immediately end the fighting in the Gaza Strip and return Israel to negotiations on the fate of Palestine.
The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip remains critical, Hamas warns the Israeli side to resume the truce and hostage exchange, otherwise threatens to destroy the remaining captives. Naturally, this practice can become a reality and has caused considerable outrage from relatives, loved ones and the public in Israel itself.
A few days ago, there were powerful anti-government demonstrations in Tel Aviv demanding the immediate release of Israeli hostages or the resignation of Prime Minister B. Netanyahu along with his cabinet. And this is not just people’s emotions, but a serious threat to the stability of the government in the context of the ongoing military conflict.
The US, which endorses Israel’s right to self-defense and provides the Jewish state with massive financial and military-technical assistance, will nevertheless have to reckon with growing anti-Israeli sentiment on the world stage. In addition, the USA is entering an election year and showing intense competition between two vying parties for power.
Joseph Biden can no longer promise another partner in the form of Ukraine increased aid, because the treasury is empty and the Republicans do not agree to irresponsible waste of the state budget. In the situation with Ukraine, the current US administration has so far shifted the main burden of material support for Ukraine to the EU with promises of 50 billion euros, although even there everything is not smooth due to the special position of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The latter does not only block European aid to Ukraine, but also demands the 30 billion euros promised by Brussels to the Hungarians.
It is clear that in the situation with Israel, the US behaves somewhat differently than elsewhere (including in Ukraine), because of the influence of influential circles of the Jewish Diaspora and Washington’s regional interests in the Middle East. Nevertheless, the election marathon is forcing the Administration of Democrat J. Biden to seek at least temporary pauses to cut spending and minimize new challenges to US interests in the Middle East. For example, Washington today is extremely uninterested in aggravating the already difficult relations with Turkey, which continues to block the ratification of Sweden’s accession to NATO and makes new demands on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Reuters News Agency has reported that Israel and Hamas are ready for a new truce in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, Egypt’s intelligence services confirm the difficult negotiations between Hamas and Israeli representatives on the resumption of the humanitarian pause and the exchange of hostages.
Meanwhile, a secret retreat of Hamas leaders was held in Turkey on the status of the ongoing conflict with Israel, both in the Gaza Strip and from Lebanon (including the issue of a likely captive exchange). Among the participants in the meeting, the Israeli Kan TV channel named Saleh al-Arouri, Deputy Chairman of the Hamas political bureau, who arrived in Turkey from Beirut, and Khaled Mashal, its former leader, who is currently stationed in Doha.
Turkey was chosen as the venue for such a meeting for two reasons: a) the consent of the political leadership of that country; b) for security reasons, given the strong warning of the Turkish intelligence agency MIT to the intelligence services of Israel against subversion of Hamas representatives on Turkish territory. Such a face-to-face meeting of Hamas leaders in Turkey, on the one hand, was intended to eliminate the possibility of a technical leak to Israeli intelligence, and on the other hand, demonstrated the group’s political activity.
The hostage exchange was also discussed at talks in Norway between Mossad Chief David Barney and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed al-Thani.
The Palestinian side and its partners (including Turkey) have information about the growing internal political crisis in Israel and the dissatisfaction of Israelis with the Government of B. Netanyahu. Bibi’s resignation under the pressure of the topic of releasing hostages (including the elderly) may become a reality and bring some division in society.
According to the Egyptian security service Mukhabarat, the Israeli negotiating side is showing willingness for a new deal on a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of Palestinian (including “high-ranking”) prisoners on their hostages. However, Hamas has an additional condition for the hostage exchange – a complete cessation of the military conflict.
How the outcome of the negotiations between Hamas and Israel through the mediation of Egypt and Qatar will turn out, the near future will show. However, in case of a short humanitarian pause in the Gaza Strip and subsequent resumption of hostilities, the Palestinian side expects to activate a strike coalition against Israel with the participation of pro-Iranian forces – Lebanese Hezbollah, groups in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. With the political accompaniment of the anti-Israel front by Turkey and key Arab states, the crisis situation in the Middle East will create additional challenges for the Joe Biden administration.
Turkey is obviously feeling more confident and is raising the degree of its demands on the US. It is no coincidence that the head of the Turkish Defense Ministry Yaşar Güler, returning to the topic of the military deal on modernized F-16 Block70 fighters, noted that Ankara has completed technical negotiations with Washington and counts on a positive decision of American allies (in particular, the agreement of this issue in the US Congress). In an interview with CNN Turk, Ya. Güler stated: “Our technical meetings with the US have been finalized. We tell our interlocutors that we expect positive and concrete steps on this issue, and we hope that the process will start as soon as possible.”
Earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, following talks with his US counterpart Joe Biden, also expressed hope for a positive solution to the issue of supplying modernized F-16 fighter jets. Accordingly, the deal will not only be a catalyst for the ratification of the Swedish issue at the Turkish Parliament’s General Assembly, but also a testament to the strengthening of Turkey-NATO interoperability and respect for Ankara’s views on the peaceful resolution of the Middle East crisis.
Under the current circumstances, it is better for the US to put pressure on the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, which is losing credibility, to end the military conflict in the Gaza Strip, exchange hostages and start peace talks (at least until the outcome of the US presidential election).
Aleksandr SVARANTS, Doctor in Political Science, professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.