The Region November 13 - 2023

The Region November 13 – 2023

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Veterans Day Reflection
Rising Stakes in the Middle East as Israel-Hamas Conflict Hits Day 38

By: Rania Kisar Co Founder & COO

  • Special Veterans Day Message from ACLS:

As we observe Veterans Day, we at the American Center for Levant Studies extend our deepest gratitude to all our veteran readers. We thank you for your courage, your sacrifices, and your invaluable contribution to global security and peace. 

  • Breaking Developments from Gaza:  The Frontline Reaches Shifa Hospital As Hostage Negotiations Stall

The battle in the Gaza Strip intensified over the weekend as Israeli forces reportedly surrounded Al-Shifa Hospital, which the Israelis claim to be Hamas’s main military headquarters. On November 11, the IDF announced the killing of 150 Hamas terrorists in a large battle near an important Hamas outpost. Despite losing six soldiers, the IDF successfully destroyed Hamas military headquarters, munitions sites, and an underground network, significantly degrading Hamas’s military capabilities in northern Gaza. Meanwhile, in a high-profile incident over the weekend, Shifa hospital ran short of fuel as a result of a standoff between the IDF and the hospital director over an Israeli fuel delivery. The situation illustrated how the Gaza battle is being fought not just on the ground, but as a propaganda war in which each side shapes a narrative to gain international support. 

Outside Gaza, the intensifying ground fighting has complicated diplomatic negotiations for a potential hostage exchange deal. Qatar released a statement highlighting the difficulty in reaching an agreement with Hamas amidst ongoing clashes, while a high-level Israeli delegation arrived in Cairo to negotiate with Hamas via Egypt. The potential deal being mediated by Qatar, Egypt, and the U.S., would involve the release of  Palestinian female prisoners in Israeli custody and the delivery of fuel to Gaza in exchange for Hamas releasing Israeli female hostages. The negotiations reportedly exclude the Israeli soldiers Hamas is holding.

  • Northern Front Update: Hizballah-Israel Border War Heats Up in Lebanon; Iran Hits U.S. Bases in Syria

On Israel’s northern borders with Lebanon, the military situation grew more tense over the weekend as Hizballah struck Israeli territory near Dovev, injuring eighteen Israelis, one critically. Israel reported that the targets included some civilian Israel Electric Corporation employees, while Hezbollah claims to have targeted soldiers. The incident followed Israel’s defense minister Gallant‘s warning to Hezbollah leader Nasrallah that “What [Israel] can do in Gaza, we do in Beirut.” In response to the Dovev attack, the Israelis struck a Hizballah target in Al-Zahrani, 40 kilometers inside Lebanon. The fact that the Israeli strike was so deep inside Lebanese territory prompted U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to call Gallant to express U.S. concerns that Israel should avoid escalating the war in the north. 

Also on Sunday, Israeli Air Force jets conducted airstrikes on terrorist infrastructure in Syria in retaliation for projectiles fired towards the Israeli Golan Heights. The IDF also struck Syrian facilities linked to a drone attack on a school in Eilat, and the Israeli army warned Bashar al-Assad that Israel would hold the Assad regime responsible for attacks originating from Syrian territory.

Elsewhere in Iraq and Syria, Iranian proxies struck three American military bases with armed drones, damaging their infrastructure. The Kharab al-Jir airport base in northeastern Syria was hit by explosive drones but with no immediate reports of casualties. The “Islamic Resistance in Iraq”–a moniker Iranian-backed Iraqi militias have adopted over the past month–claimed responsibility for targeting the Rmelan base in Syria and the Al-Harir Airbase in Erbil, claiming that their attacks directly hit targets. The Iranian proxy militias claim that the more than 50 strikes on American facilities in Iraq and Syria in the past month are in response to U.S. support for Israel in the Gaza conflict. 

Washington has been restrained in its responses to these attacks in hopes of avoiding a wider escalation with the Iranian regime, but Tehran’s continued proxy provocations are forcing the U.S. to step up its response. After the latest Iranian-back drone attacks on U.S. troops, the U.S. military on Sunday struck facilities in eastern Syria linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, reportedly killing eight Iranian-backed militamen. The U.S. airstrikes were followed immediately by an Iranian drone attack on a base used by U.S. troops in Al-Hasakah, Syria.

  • Riyadh Summit Highlights Rifts Between Arab States and Iran over Israel

The Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference met in Riyadh on November 12 to discuss the Gaza crisis. This significant meeting of Arab League and OIC leaders marked Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s first visit to Saudi Arabia in over a decade. The conference revealed deep divisions among the Islamic nations regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict. While the summit participants condemned Israeli actions in Gaza, Iran’s calls for tougher actions against Israel, including economic sanctions and designating the Israeli military as a terrorist organization, found little support. 

Bashar al Assad’s attendance at the summit to discuss the civilian toll of the Gaza war prompted international criticism given Assad’s 12-year campaign against his own civilian population in Syria. Israel’s Culture Minister Mickey Zohar, for example, criticized Assad for his stance on the Palestinian situation in Gaza, contrasting it with the dictators’ brutal actions in Syria. Zohar highlighted the irony in Assad speaking against Israeli actions in Gaza while being responsible for extensive violence and human rights violations in Syria.

Iran’s stance of rejecting Israel’s existence and opposing the Arab nations’ support for a two-state solution is a contentious issue among Arab countries that have been normalizing or considering normalizing relations with Israel. Despite the war in Gaza, the UAE has decided to maintain diplomatic relations with Israel so as to influence Israel’s actions in Gaza and to protect Emirati interests not just in the region but with the United States. In a significant step, the UAE military revealed the arrival of Israeli military reinforcements off the coast of Yemen on Sunday. The UAE noted that Israeli forces and bases are present on the islands of Socotra in the Arabian Sea and Mayun in the Red Sea as part of a joint coalition under American supervision to secure the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab, the first official acknowledgment of Israel’s involvement in the coalition in Yemen since March 2015. The open acknowledgement of Israel’s presence near the Bab al-Mandab is a response to the Iranians’ recent use of the Houthis to conduct attacks on Israel and indicates that the Israelis and their Arab allies are preparing for escalation on the Yemen front. 

Meanwhile, Turkiye’s stance towards the Israel-Hamas war sharpened as President Erdogan strongly criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions in Gaza. At the Riyadh Summit, Erdogan condemned the Israeli offensive and called for a united response from the Islamic world. Later, in Istanbul, Erdoğan warned Netanyahu directly:  

“Hey Netanyahu, these are your good days right now. Different days are waiting for you. Why? Those babies, those puppies, those 3-year-old, 5-year-old mothers wrapped in shrouds, smelling the bodies of those martyred children and taking them to the grave. Their curses will not cure you. Netanyahu, know this, you are going, you are going. You are a goner.”

Turkiye’s diplomatic efforts regarding Gaza, while not yielding immediate results, have strengthened its ties with Iran. President Erdogan’s refusal to label Hamas as a “terrorist” organization and his description of it as a “mujahideen liberation group” aligns with Tehran’s stance. This rapprochement is evident as both countries explore resolving bilateral issues and unite in support of Palestinians. However, their approaches fundamentally differ and will limit the potential for their newfound cooperation on regional issues: Turkiye advocates for a Palestinian state within 1967 borders, while Iran rejects Israel’s existence, proposing a joint state for Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s bilateral meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi in Riyadh, the first of their kind in years, have sparked discussions about potential Egyptian rapprochement with Syria and Iran. Sisi’s talks with Assad focused on the Palestinian issue and the situation in Syria, while his meeting with Raisi focused on the Gaza Strip crisis and regional security. Despite recent interactions between officials and efforts to boost Iranian tourism in Egypt, a major breakthrough in relations remains unlikely in the short term. While Iran has shown interest in strengthening ties with Egypt, Cairo has been cautious in its approach to Tehran.

In another development on the sidelines of the Riyadh summit, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, President of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, met Raisi to explore expanding bilateral relations between Sudan and Iran. Al-Burhan reportedly expressed his government’s keen interest in advancing and strengthening its relationship with Iran.

  • On the Geopolitical Front:  The Israel-Hamas War’s Impact on EU Policy, International Diplomacy, and Investment Trends

The Israel-Hamas war is creating reverberations far beyond the Middle East. In Europe, both the UK and EU are considering ramping up economic sanctions and designations against Iran and Hamas. Meanwhile, Israel is reportedly considering appointing former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as a humanitarian coordinator for Gaza in a move meant to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza and reduce international pressure on Israel. Discussions about Blair’s role are ongoing, focusing on medical and evacuation needs in Gaza. 

Economically, October saw a significant withdrawal of foreign investments from US stock funds associated with Saudi Arabia, Israel, and other Gulf countries. Over $200 million was pulled from these funds, reflecting investor concerns about regional instability. This trend extended to funds exposed to Qatari, Emirati, and Israeli stocks. The outflows from Gulf country ETFs surpassed those from most emerging markets during the same period, with Israel also experiencing above-average withdrawals. ETFs tracking the region have shown resilience overall, bouncing back from immediate losses post-Hamas’s attack on Israel, but the ongoing conflict raises concerns about the long-term economic impact on these countries, especially regarding their diversification efforts and foreign direct investment.

Even as it fights a major war in Gaza, Israel is continuing with its unprecedented arms deals in Europe–including a new deal clearly aimed at Russia. Israel has signed a landmark agreement with Finland for the sale of the “David’s Sling” missile defense system in a deal valued at approximately 317 Euros. “David’s Sling” is known for its capability to intercept a range of advanced threats, including ballistic and cruise missiles, aircraft, and drones. The sale marks a significant step in defense cooperation between Israel and Finland and has received approval from the US government. But more importantly, the deal is one of a number of steps Israel has taken over the past year to help arm European countries against the strategic threat posed to them by Russia.


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