Thu, May 20, 2021

Experts React: What’s next after the Israel-Hamas ceasefire?

MENASource by Atlantic Council

Related Experts: William F. Wechsler, Kirsten Fontenrose, Barbara Slavin, Tuqa Nusairat, Thomas S. Warrick, Carmiel Arbit, Andrew L. Peek, Shalom Lipner, Jonathan H. Ferziger, Mark N. Katz, Jonathan Fulton, Ariel Ezrahi, Alissa Pavia, Joze Pelayo,

Israel Middle East Politics & Diplomacy Security & Defense

Israeli police stand in front of the Dome of the Rock during clashes with Palestinians at the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

After eleven days of cross-border fighting, Hamas and Israel have agreed to a ceasefire. During a conflict which was prompted in part by tensions in East Jerusalem—Hamas fired more than 4,000 rockets into Israel, most of which were intercepted. Israel responded with air strikes on Gaza. As of May 20, 219 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, 25 in the West Bank, and twelve in Israel.  

Below, Atlantic Council experts react to the news of the ceasefire, assess the significance of the recent surge in violence, and offer their thoughts on how the international community should deal with the conflict moving forward.

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Israel

Palestine

United States

The Gulf

Europe

Iran

Russia

China

Hezbollah

Energy

Israel

The fragile ceasefire that suspended hostilities between Israel and the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad (PIJ) factions carries only limited promise. Precedent suggests that, in the absence of genuine reconciliation, the parties, which will not even talk to each other directly, will return to the battlefield in due course.  

In the interim, Israel has plenty to reflect upon. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to “restore quiet and security” to Israel’s citizens. But the synchronization of this goal with conditions on the ground was lacking, with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) targeting a series of high-value enemy assets and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi—already faced with pressure for Israel to wind up its operation—telling Secretary of State Tony Blinken that Israel required still more time to accomplish its security objectives. Relatedly, Israel would be best advised to improve its coordination with the United States, which offered steadfast and principled support of Israel’s right to self-defense and resisted calls from other nations to censure the Netanyahu government.  

Maintaining harmonious relations with the Biden administration will be imperative for Israel as negotiations progress over a renewed nuclear deal with Iran. Other challenges for Israel include tightening its homefront defenses in order to cover residual gaps in Iron Dome coverage and bolstering Israel’s chronically deficient communications apparatus, which struggled to provide context for the damning images coming out of Gaza.  

A strategy for engaging President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority would create a more positive dynamic between Israelis and Palestinians, and shift momentum away from Hamas and PIJ—both of which are designated as “foreign terrorist organizations” by the US State Department.  

Finally, a resolution to the protracted political chaos in Israel, where repeated elections have been conducted in an elusive search for stable government, would make it considerably easier to formulate and direct policy. 

Shalom Lipner, nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs

The conflict was a potent reminder that Israel cannot wish away its Palestinian neighbors, not even through normalization. In many ways, Israel dodged a bullet (or several as it may be): The events teased the potential for a multifront war along its borders and inside its backyard. At the same time, the fighting that transpired was a dangerous reminder of what a one-state outcome could look like, and it offered a taste of just how problematic empowering the radical elements of Israeli society can be. Israel must take immediate actions to promote social cohesion, decrying and tackling Jewish radical extremism, while working to promote the political, social, and economic integration of its Arab citizens. With respect to Gaza, Israel should help facilitate a reconstruction effort, allowing the transfer of essential goods and services. At the same time, Israel should pursue confidence-building measures that will benefit the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has been further imperiled by Hamas’s show of strength. 

 
Carmiel Arbit, nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs. 

The Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and four Arab nations, will gradually recover after the Gaza missile battles come to a negotiated end. Israeli tourists will return to Dubai’s glitzy hotels and Emirati investors will look for more Tel Aviv technology start-ups to finance. Some of last year’s euphoria, though, will need to be muted. 

While the agreements were never truly vulnerable to opposition from Hamas—a terrorist organization spawned from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and loathed by the rulers of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain—they face a political battle now in winning real backing from the Biden administration. That’s because, as far as the current US leadership is concerned, this set of Middle East accords was born in sin. Brokered by former US President Donald Trump and leavened with insults to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, the deal needs to be adapted to the priorities and style of a new Democratic president to get any lift from Washington. 
 
Further Arab-Israeli rapprochement will also need to factor in the impact that Israel’s devastating air attacks against the Gaza Strip, killing more than 230 Palestinians, have had on public opinion in the United States and throughout the Muslim world. More than 3,200 Palestinian missiles fired from Gaza sent Israelis across the country scrambling for shelter and killed twelve people. 

For Israel, blowing up high-rise buildings and killing Hamas operatives may have brought Hamas leaders to seek a ceasefire, but it galvanized popular anger against the Jewish state internationally. Heavy-handed police actions in putting down rioters at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, and in cities across the country also set back Israeli efforts to project a gentler face. 

In this month’s eruption of Mideast violence, Israel, its Arab partners, and the new US administration will need to tread carefully as they plot a new path toward greater engagement. 

Jonathan Ferziger, nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs

Palestine

Eleven days ago, the situation in Jerusalem was the most volatile in years, with violence escalating between Israelis and Palestinians. Hamas leadership then made an intentional decision to go to war.  Their tactical intent was to kill innocents and their strategic intent was to seize the mantle of leadership from Mahmoud Abbas, who had just cancelled the first Palestinian elections in fifteen years.  They did so while knowing with absolute certainty what Israel’s military response would be, and as a result hundreds of Palestinians died and many thousands more continue to suffer.  In the end, entirely predictably, Israel reestablished deterrence and degraded Hamas’s capabilities, but at a terrible price. A price that will undoubtedly lead the Hamas leadership to conclude that the war of their choosing was a successful one. They will happily return to living under the type of embargo that denies their people basic sustenance but yet somehow allows them to build enormous arsenals.  For honest observers, however, including those who suffer under Hamas’s iron grip, the clear lesson learned is a reaffirmation of the terrible nature of Hamas and its leadership, though for some that lesson seems oddly elusive. 

William Wechsler, Director of the Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East Programs. 

With a ceasefire declared, we can now return to the status quo of illegal Israeli occupation, settlement activity, forced displacement of Palestinians, and discriminatory policies that represent the root cause of decades of “flare-ups” of violence. It’s important to recognize that these facts on the ground that Palestinians are protesting, from occupied East Jerusalem to Gaza to Lod, are not going away once Israeli shelling and Hamas rockets stop raining down on civilian populations. To put this into perspective, Israeli authorities destroyed over 700 Palestinian homes, businesses, and humanitarian infrastructures in 2020 alone according to the Israeli human-rights group B’Tselem. And more Palestinians lost their homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2020 than in every year since 2016. Still, several significant shifts occurred over the course of the last month that will have an impact on any future settlement or international engagement with the ongoing conflict.  

First, Palestinians have been able to take greater control of their own narrative through a grassroots campaign that is most visible on social-media platforms. No longer relying on mainstream international media outlets to tell their stories, young and tech-savvy Palestinians have taken to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to generate international support by broadcasting in real time the impact of the Israeli occupation on their daily lives, the collusion between extremist settler organization and Israeli authorities, and their ability to organize collective non-violent protest. This is a key turning point for Palestinians being able to tell their own story to the world.  

Second, and relatedly, Palestinians united across the Occupied Territories and within Israel to reject and protest numerous Israeli policies that impact them in different ways. The general strike of May 18 represented the first time in over four decades when both Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the occupied territories engaged in a united display of civil disobedience to bring attention to their cause. If the momentum continues, this movement can have a significant impact as traditional politicians are sidelined in favor of a new generation of leaders.  

Third, we saw a visible shift in rhetoric from the US policy community, primarily represented through Congress. This was most visible on the progressive Democratic side through statements and attempts to hold Israel accountable for its disproportionate military response and the role of US funding in this regard. But it was also clear in statements by strongly pro-Israel members of congress. The events of the past month will not change US support for Israel overnight, but holding Israel accountable for its use of US military funding is not as distant a principle as it has been the past several decades.    

Tuqa Nusairatdeputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs. 

United States

Just two weeks ago, one heard a lot in Washington about how peace in the region would inevitably follow from a reduction in US presence and influence.  Without any hint of irony, some of these same voices denounced the Biden administration for its perceived lack of leadership as Israel’s air war in Gaza escalated.  But governance is not the same as advocacy, diplomacy is best not performed on social media, and US leadership once again proved essential.  After near-continuous engagements at the highest levels with all necessary regional actors to put the pieces in place, a mere one day passed between President Biden’s blunt call for de-escalation and the Israeli Security Cabinet vote to support an unconditional ceasefire with Hamas.  It has long been unfashionable to refer to the US as an indispensable nation, but in this case like so many others, there is as yet no other actor that can replace Washington’s power in time of crisis.  Of course, like all that came before it and all that will undoubtedly come after, this ceasefire is inherently fragile and does not address the underlying conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians.  But it did stop the carnage, at least for a time.  By any measure, it is a success for the professional, competent diplomacy of President Biden and his team – and hopefully also a lesson to those who carelessly discount the importance of maintaining American leadership in the region. 

William Wechsler, Director of the Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East Programs. 

First, the Gaza crisis was an early reminder to the Biden administration of why a pivot away from the Middle East is futile. While the administration arrived with the intention of downgrading its engagement on Israel/Palestine, the volatility of the situation and the confluence of domestic and international pressures will force it back into the region time after time. US President Joe Biden should without. delay. name a senior team of experienced emissaries—including an ambassador and consul general to the Palestinians —who are able to not only manage flare-ups but also promote a more lasting resolution to the conflict.  

Second, in contrast to former US President Barack Obama’s public disputes and Trump’s unequivocal embrace, Biden proved that when it comes to influencing the Israelis, private engagement often works best. Biden offered public support and private pressure. And when he called time, Israel obliged. It may not have been a popular approach among the American left, but it was certainly an effective one. Biden should continue to exert private pressure on the Israeli government to take unilateral steps to improve the lives and livelihoods of the Palestinians and promote shared-society efforts within Israel. 

Finally, Biden should leverage partnerships with US allies—particularly countries that normalized relations with Israel—to continue to dangle carrots and sticks with both the Israelis and Palestinians to promote progress between the two sides. Biden should name a special envoy for normalization—one who will work not only to solidify the normalization agreements while pursuing new ones, but also to ensure that supporting the Palestinians and advancing a two-state solution remains an integral part of existing and future agreements. The office can also prioritize ensuring that when pledges are made to Gaza, states are held accountable for delivering.  

 Carmiel Arbit, nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs.  

It is hard to be optimistic when fighting ends this way: a ceasefire that—apart from the welcome end to attacks—satisfies almost no one. This, unfortunately, is the pattern of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Commentators will talk about the political advantage that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, or Hamas will all claim to reap from this round of fighting, but the reality is there were far more losers than winners.  

What makes this round different, however, is the sea change in Washington with the arrival of President Biden and his narrow Democratic majority in the Congress. President Biden is determined to stay focused on his domestic agenda and needs to keep the Democratic caucus together. Efforts by Senator Bernie Sanders and several House members to try to halt arms deliveries to Israel will not succeed, but they highlight divisions among Democrats. The reactions in Washington and Europe demonstrate the return of the importance of international public diplomacy to Israel and its adversaries.  

It is now important for Israel to open up publicly on why the Gaza media center was a legitimate military target. Giving the US government classified intelligence is not enough. Equally, US critics of Israeli military targeting need to demonstrate a lot more attention to the almost constantly indiscriminate nature of Hamas’s rocket attacks into Israel and Hamas’s decades-long, cynical practice of putting military targets in proximity to civilians. A majority of Americans support Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism, and many are struck by the lack of attention by Israel’s critics to what Hamas is doing. The fact that the United States and Europe have more influence over Israel’s actions than does Hamas does not justify the lack of a serious Western effort to pressure Hamas—as a start—to end its approach to targeting and basing. 

Tom Warrick, nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs

In his public remarks in connection with the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, President Biden reinforced US longstanding support for Israel. That support is not going away, although voices in the President’s party will continue to criticize Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and its own Arab population. While US support for Israel will continue to be unshakeable, the Israeli leadership should be under no illusion that there will not be a new normal with a new Administration. After the dust has settled, President Biden should send a message outlining the new normal to Bibi. It should be delivered either personally or through a trusted emissary, and that message should be reinforced by subsequent public statements. It should include the following:

  • The United States continues to support a two-state solution and will work in good faith with you, the Palestinians, and others in the international community to promote it. We will draw private and public attention to activities by any party that makes that goal more difficult.
  • Normalization with Arab states is not a substitute for a two-state solution, and we do not believe new diplomatic relations with Arab or Muslim-majority states provide any serious leverage over either the Palestinians or Israel. All states should have full diplomatic relations with Israel because it’s the right things to do and we will urge them to do so. However, we will not reward them for doing the right thing with unrelated concessions.
  • Israel is a trusted partner of the United States and we will consult with you closely as we pursue a renewed JCPOA. We are clear-eyed about Iran and its nuclear activities as well as its attempts to exert influence through its proxies and we have been clear with you about our intentions.
  • It would be a mistake for Israeli governments to continue the course followed in attempting to turn Americans against each other regarding policy towards Israel. The partisan behavior exhibited by Israel during the last two US Administrations is unacceptable and counter productive. We need a pledge from any government that emerges in Israel that such partisan behavior will stop.

Richard LeBaron, nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs

The Gulf

Those who say the Gaza conflict called the Abraham Accords into question forget that the accords resulted in the only step toward peace in recent years; the UAE is the only country to get Israel to commit to a suspension of annexation plans. Western diplomacy did not work. Gulf refusal to formalize relations did not work. It is short-sighted to write normalization off. But while normalization is important to Israel’s long-term goals, the wolf at the door is the arsenal of thousands of rockets, Iran-provided Chinese guns, and increasingly sophisticated drones modeled on the Qasef and Ababil 2 that enable Hamas to make unilateral decisions about how Palestinians engage with Israel. Unless this is dealt with, a ceasefire will be short-lived. 

Statements saying the past week “points to the dire need for a political solution” don’t get us closer to one. But two steps that could get us to enduring de-escalation are: one, to replace the international tacit approval for Hamas’s violence with international insistence that it is not acceptable for Hamas to use 3,000 rockets to speak for the Palestinian people without a mandate; and, two, to provide international assistance for dismantling the facilitation networks that arm Hamas so that this dismantling is not conducted by ongoing Israeli airstrikes. These concrete actions would create lasting pressure on both sides to refrain from violence. The first requires no resources. The second requires putting a little skin in the game. But isn’t that what both sides deserve? 

Kirsten Fontenrose, director of the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative. 

While the normalized states certainly expected that, at some point, fighting between Israel and Hamas would start again, none anticipated that it would happen so quickly. The conflict was an early stress test for Israel’s new Arab allies. And yet the short duration and limited casualty numbers allowed for a response that was largely muted. Relations continue apace: no ambassadors were recalled, no agreements withdrawn. But the events of the past month also serve as a critical reminder that the absence of a Palestinian state will continue to inflame passions and that the resulting suffering is formidable. The Gulf states should be among the first in line to not only rebuild Gaza, but also to pressure Israel to pursue confidence-building measures. They should also demonstrate support for a beleaguered PA by supporting projects and programs that empower the PA at the expense of Hamas. 

Carmiel Arbitnonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs.

Europe

The European Union (EU) failed once more to provide any real response to the recent escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Although Joseph Borell, the EU’s foreign-policy chief, made a statement condemning the violence on both sides, the EU failed to issue a joint call for a ceasefire after Hungary vetoed the declaration. Borrell’s statements were thus void of any institutional backing.  

This failure on the EU’s side demonstrates the inability of the Union to have a meaningful impact on the peace process and underscores the difficulties of having a shared foreign policy that reflects the interests of all twenty-seven member states. It is concerning that the EU, which is estimated to have provided $254 million in aid towards the Palestinians from 2007 to 2019, lacks the capacity to implement diplomatic action in the region. Member states should put their differences aside and act decisively to have a seat at the negotiating table and help end the conflict. In this regard, a joint statement should have called for Hamas to end all rocket-firing towards Israeli civilians, while also insisting that Israel avoid civilian casualties. 

Alissa Pavia, assistant director with the North Africa Initiative. 

Iran

President Joe Biden’s main priority when it comes to the Middle East is reviving the Iran nuclear deal, and talks made progress in Vienna throughout the latest violence in Israel and Gaza. Given how unpopular Netanyahu already was among US Democrats—before Israel caused the deaths of so many civilians in Gaza—he has even less standing to criticize US policy now. Those who tried to argue that Iran was somehow responsible for Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel neglected to mention that Israel started this cycle by invading the Al-Aqsa mosque during the holy month of Ramadan and seeking to evict more Palestinians from East Jerusalem. Also, most of Hamas’s rockets are now homemade and it is doubtful that Iran had a role—apart from cheerleading—in Hamas’s actions. 

Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative.  

The lesson learned for Iran is that Israel is again a winning issue. With the Biden administration’s desire to lift some JCPOA sanctions, Iran will be more able to assert its regional influence against a broadly pro-US, anti-Iranian coalition of Gulf states and Israel.    

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has historically been used by rejectionist states like Iran and Syria to degrade such coalitions as they emerged by cutting away at the domestic support of pro-US Arab states. At their core, the Abraham Accords were a codification of the growing strategic alignment between Israel and the most anti-Iranian of these states, which they felt enabled to pursue openly because of the political support offered by the Trump administration. This included a belief that the United States would both deprioritize the peace process and not hang them out to dry publicly by being more concerned about Palestinians than the Arabs.  

However, there is a far less consolidated position within President Biden’s own party on the value of this balancing, and indeed on the value of the US-Israel relationship at all. During the current fighting, political splits emerged rapidly as the administration sought to conduct private diplomacy. Given that the Biden administration has been at least somewhat interested in competing with Iran for regional influence, Israeli-Palestinian flare-ups increase pressure on President Biden to focus on the nuclear and not the regional file—and on some of the not-quite-Abraham Accords countries, like Saudi Arabia, to back away.    

The foreign-policy advice for Iran would be that more is better. Lean in, rearm Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other local proxies, and support starker red lines for Hamas in returning to violence if political progress is not made. 

Andrew L. Peek, nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs

Russia

Moscow has issued statements calling for a halt in the conflict between Israel and Hamas but has largely played a peripheral role in the recent crisis. In a meeting with the Israeli ambassador in Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov “expressed extreme concern over the escalation of tensions and stressed the impermissibility of steps fraught with more civilian casualties,” according to the government news agency TASS. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov adopted a decidedly neutral approach when at a press conference he said, “We condemn attacks from both sides, targeting residential areas. Strikes against civilian targets are completely unacceptable.” In discussing the fighting with the Russian Security Council, President Vladimir Putin observed that, “The escalated Palestinian-Israeli conflict…is happening in the immediate vicinity of our borders and directly affects our security interests.” 

While some Western observers saw Russia as pressuring Israel to halt its campaign, one Russian journalist—Marianna Belenkaya, who writes for Kommersantdeclared that Moscow has taken an “emphatically neutral” position on the conflict. Although it wants to see the conflict come to an end, Moscow is not going to risk rupturing its multifaceted relationship with Israel—involving trade, deconfliction in Syria, and the warm Putin-Netanyahu relationship—for the sake of Hamas. Moscow, though, may take the opportunity—after pointing out how the US-sponsored Abraham Accords did not prevent the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian conflict—to offer its services as a mediator. It is doubtful, though, that Moscow seriously expected Israel to take up such an offer. 

While Moscow has relatively good relations with Hamas, the two have been at odds over Syria, where Russia supports the Bashar al-Assad regime and Hamas has been highly critical of it. The Kremlin would face a more difficult situation if conflict erupted between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah—which is fighting on the same side as Russia in Syria. Such a scenario could bring about greater pressure from Russia on Israel. 

Mark N. Katznonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs.  

For Russia, the conflict in Gaza is gift. The costs of Israeli-Palestinian violence are small to Moscow: Putin and Netanyahu have a productive, transactional relationship aided greatly Israel’s realism in Syria. This transactionalism will certainly survive the Gaza conflict, and the benefit to Russia is huge. The conflict embarrasses the United States, a zero-sum enemy to Putin, and causes genuine political harm to American regional influence. It stresses the Israeli-Emirati-Bahraini relationship, a key counterweight to Russia’s regional partner Iran. It decreases the likelihood that Saudi Arabia will join the Abraham Accords, which seemed increasingly unlikely. It helps prevent an Israeli-Turkish rapprochement that was fitfully in the works before the current round of fighting started. It occludes Russian-linked violence elsewhere, especially in Syria. And it gives Russia the opportunity to burnish its somewhat tarnished image as a responsible great power by joining the European Union, United States, and United Nations in helping mediate the conflict. All of these good things happen without Moscow having to make any serious policy sacrifices. 

The advice to Putin would be simple.  Provide responsible diplomatic cover for the hardest of the rejectionist states, like Iran. Keep this issue in the spotlight, urge high-profile negotiations, and absolutely batter the US with it, even if it irritates Netanyahu. 

Andrew L. Peek, nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs

China

The crisis in Gaza has been a nightmare, and it would be crass to think of it as anything but. At the same time, viewed through a dispassionate geopolitical angle, Chinese leaders would not be wrong to see it as an opportunity in their ongoing rivalry with the United States. China is now presiding over the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and as a result, its representative Zhang Jun was seen as a central actor in the UN’s attempts to mediate, chairing emergency sessions and issuing statements that would play well among Arab publics. He called on Israel to “take necessary measures to prevent violence, threats, and provocations against Muslim worshippers,” making it clear that Beijing identifies Israel as the aggressor. The contrast between China working to help coordinate a UN resolution while the United States blocked UNSC public meetings and statements condemning the violence was an easy public relations win for Beijing.    

This is not to suggest that China was only playing politics. Beijing has always self-identified as a developing country and has used cooperation with the developing world in international organizations to garner support; there are a lot of UN votes in the global south. Under Mao Zedong, China described itself as a leader of the third world and support for Palestine was always explicit—after all, Israel was the last Middle Eastern country to formalize diplomatic relations with China in 1992. Rhetorical support for Palestine is consistent with Chinese foreign policy values and practice, but it also serves more practical purposes. It helps build legitimacy among other Arab countries, for one thing, and helps China distinguish itself from the United States, which consistently undermines its own rhetoric on values and human rights with its unconditional support for Israel. It’s a low-cost diplomatic win for China, even more impressive since its economic relationship with Israel is leaps and bounds beyond that with Palestine. 

Jonathan Fulton, nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs

Hezbollah

With incidents along the Lebanese border with Israel increasing in the past few days (rockets, drones, rioters trying to cross, etc.), it is worth asking what the strategy is, or would be, coming from the north on Hezbollah’s frontier now that a ceasefire will be in place. If there is anything to be learned from Hezbollah’s role of “resistance” against Israel, also at a time when Israel was in conflict with Hamas to the south, it is the massive toll it had on Lebanon and the Lebanese after the 34-day war in 2006. While it is unlikely that this time around Hezbollah will escalate—as it is aware of its inferior military capabilities—and despite Hezbollah claiming it had no role in this conflict, it is also extremely unlikely it was unaware of the existence of plans to launch rockets from Lebanon towards Israel.  

Although the usual tit-for-tat between Hezbollah and Israel has not escalated way beyond that in years, any escalation of tensions and its effects on Lebanon—already on the brink with its own multilayered crisis—would be disastrous. Israel, along with the lifesaving Iron Dome, should avoid, if possible, responding disproportionately to any provocations by Hezbollah (if they come), but especially against Lebanese civilians caught in the line of fire who are now basically hostage to the Iran-backed militia. What is certain is that Gaza, with the multiple Israeli strikes against buildings and civilians caught in the middle, will continue to present ammunition for Hezbollah to further its “resistance” claims of fighting against greater and “evil” powers in the region and facilitate its anti-colonial imperialism narrative. The crisis and the branding Hezbollah is likely to spread around would probably enable the group to continue to gain popularity, not only at home by supposedly standing for the disempowered, but also overseas, and drift away from any blame for its own role in Lebanon’s ongoing debacle. 

Joze Pelayoprogram assistant with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs. 

Energy

Gaza was suffering a deficit of over 60 percent of its energy needs before the recent conflict. Various projects and initiatives have been under way with political and financial support from the international community to finally address this deficit and to enable Gaza to embark on a track for sustainable economic growth.  

The recent conflict has set Gaza back. At low points, the energy supply represented 15 percent of demand. It all demonstrated the acute challenges Gaza faces in terms of energy security and diversification of supply sources. The “day after” efforts initially will focus on immediate measures such as repairing medium-voltage electricity lines from Israel and bringing diesel fuel into the Strip, especially for the power plant. As Gaza emerges from the wreckage and the international community looks to support efforts to rebuild, it is important to learn from previous lessons and support politically viable projects that that are cost-efficient and sustainable.  

Projects such as Gas for Gaza will naturally form the backbone of longer-term sustainable solutions providing Gaza with the ability to generate electricity on a scale not seen before, while contributing to significant carbon emission reduction. The move from diesel-based generation to natural gas alone will reduce the entire emissions for the whole Palestinian territory by nearly 10 percent. High-voltage electricity connections from Israel and Egypt will be necessary to contribute to the energy security mix. This will need to be augmented by swaths of renewable energy projects throughout Gaza. Coupled with battery storage solutions, such renewable energy projects will help cope with electricity grid intermittency challenges. While these steps will alleviate the hardship of the Gazan people and provide a key enabler for other sectors such as water, there will be regional beneficiaries as well, specifically Israel and Egypt. Adequate energy supply will help prevent Gaza from disintegrating even further and place her on a trajectory of solid economic growth. With the failed states bordering Egypt and Israel and with the unrest within Israel demonstrated in the recent conflict, can these countries afford for their Gazan neighbors to be without electricity and water? 

Ariel Ezrahi, nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs