Israel’s War on Gaza Could Spark Protests that Shape Entire Region

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Yves here. Confirming the thesis of this post, a new Garland Nixon interview with Laith Marouf of Free Palestine Video starts out (at 2:20) with a discussion of an armed Resistance in Bahrain, which has risen despite the size of its large US Navy base and airbase, and a large US army base nearby in Saudi Arabia. It raises the specter that supposedly safe US military installations my not be so.

Twitter is taking notice too:

By Paul Rogers, Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies in the Department of Peace Studies and International Relations at Bradford University, and an Honorary Fellow at the Joint Service Command and Staff College. He is openDemocracy’s international security correspondent. He is on Twitter at: @ProfPRogers. Originally published at openDemocracy

Though many analysts feared an uncontrolled military escalation between Israel and Iran last month, this seems to have been avoided for now at least. Many states across the world are, however, witnessing a political escalation – not least those in North Africa and West Asia, which are often overlooked in conversations about protest.

The United States is the most obvious example of state-level controversy. Pro-Palestine protests and occupations are taking place at university campuses across the country – many of which have been met by violent police-led actions – as people take issue with Joe Biden’s enabling Israel in its horrific seven-month assault on Gaza.

If unresolved by late summer, the likely beneficiary of these anti-Israel, anti-Biden protests will be Donald Trump. Should he be elected as president, Trump would rely on the support of Israel-supporting evangelical Christians and Christian Zionists – which could lead him to embolden the current or future Israeli government to take far greater control of Gaza and possibly also the occupied West Bank.

Widespread anger over the government’s support for Israel appears to also be having a political impact in the UK. There have been several pro-Palestine protests of well over a hundred thousand people over the past seven months, exacerbated by British arms sales and other military links to Israel, and this discontent appears to have reared its head at the ballot box during the local elections in England and Wales last week.

Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party had an awful night, losing 474 councillors. But Keir Starmer’s Labour Party failed to win the majority of these, gaining only 186. The rest were scooped up by the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and Independents – including many left-wingers who distanced themselves from Labour in part due to Starmer’s failure to meaningfully criticise Israel or call for an end to the war on Gaza.

It seems Labour’s massive lead in the opinion polls is a reflection of the Conservatives’ problems, rather than the party’s popularity. The voting pattern seen last week will certainly extend in some manner to the General Election later this year, which will offer little voting choice and much dissatisfaction for millions of progressive voters.

But while much media attention has been given to the protests and voting habits on either side of the Atlantic, what is happening across the Arab world has been largely overlooked.

Israel has for decades played a thoroughly useful role for autocratic regimes seeking to maintain control. Arab leaders have been able to encourage the public to direct their anger at the Zionist treatment of the Palestinians, thereby reducing the risk of protests directed at themselves.

That broke down with the 2011 Arab Spring, when a region-wide movement of people turned out to protest against their leaders. Some regimes, including Egypt and especially Syria, attempted to maintain control through brute force, while others used a mixture of limited concession and repression. Others, such as Jordan and Morocco, were rather more concessionary at least in the short term, and one, Tunisia, saw a change of power with the end of the Ben Ali autocracy after its 23 years of control.

After the violence of the Hamas attack on 7 October last year, public reaction across Arab states was muted, but that changed rapidly as the sheer ferocity of the Israeli assault on Gaza and the Palestinians emerged.

This was a tricky time for autocratic leaders. It was impossible to control public anger given the intensity of the killing of thousands of Palestinians and the destruction of homes and public buildings in Gaza. Demonstrations were allowed, including some organised by the regimes themselves in the early weeks.

That period is now long gone, but the hour-by-hour media coverage of the war’s impact on Palestinians means public anger cannot be assuaged. Many regimes across the region are now taking a tougher line as they fear risks to their own survival.

In Egypt and Morocco – where protesters have been critical of their countries’ increasingly close relations with Israel in recent years – authorities have clamped down on demonstrations and made arrests. In Jordan, meanwhile, 1,500 protesters have been arrested at protests outside the Israeli embassy since 7 October, according to Amnesty International.

Some regimes are conscious of the long-term link between the plight of Palestinians and the lack of rights in their own countries. As a report in The New York Times put it:

“For decades, Arab activists have linked the struggle for justice for the Palestinians — a cause that unites Arabs of different political persuasions from Marrakesh to Baghdad — to the struggle for greater rights and freedoms at home. For them, Israel was an avatar of the authoritarian and colonialist forces that had thwarted their own societies’ growth.”

For now, Arab regimes are retaining control – but this could change quickly. Israel this week launched an assault on Rafah, a city in southern Gaza that is sheltering 1.4 million Palestinians. And the bombardment of Rafah – which Israel said would be a ‘safe zone’ when it ordered evacuations from northern Gaza last year – came as Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected Hamas’s offer of a ceasefire.

There is another factor often overlooked in the West. Israel’s assault on Gaza followed a series of grievous failures by the Israeli Defence Force, border police and intelligence agencies on 7 October – which showed beyond doubt that Israel’s much-vaunted regional security supremacy is simply not what it seems. This feeling is only increasing as it is proving impossible for Israel to destroy Hamas. Many Arab activists are now thinking that if Israel can fail, why shouldn’t their own elites?

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  1. Louis Fyne

    >>>>which has risen despite the size of its large US Navy base and airbase, and a large US army base nearby in Saudi Arabia.

    (arguably) it is a “reflexivity” phenomenon.

    The US presence in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is a self-feeding cause-and-effect with respect to unrest.

    We’ve learned nothing in the near 30 years since the Khobar bombings.

    IMO, King Abdullah of Jordan is the proverbial canary. His regime has managed to “thread the needle” so far…will Rafah be the snowball that starts the avalanche?

    1. Feral Finster

      “The US presence in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is a self-feeding cause-and-effect with respect to unrest.”

      Are you kidding? From the point of view of the Pentagon, the US presence is a self-licking ice cream cone. The more attacks, the more troops are needed to fend off attacks. No attacks also means that troops are needed because their presence is obviously getting the desired result.

      1. jsn

        This is America, right?

        Just like you have to look at medical interventions through the lens of corporate profits, you have to look at institutional violence through the same lens. What with fiat money, the profitability is endless, hell Dick Cheney even knew this 25 years ago!

        I think we’re close to the point, maybe 2.0rump will get us there, of using the campus protests for DEI in the Prison Industrial Complex.

    2. Aurelien

      Bahrein is a mainly (70%) Shia state with a Sunni ruling class (although the Sunni themselves will tell you they are the majority.) There was a relatively brief uprising against the government in 2011, which was quickly put down by Saudi troops sent across the causeway (in spite of what’s suggested in the video there was no US involvement.) Unlike other Arab Spring states, the source of anger was not poverty (all Bahreini citizens get free housing, for example) but what the Shia majority considered excessive Sunni dominance, and a demand for greater rights. The uprising was non-violent and largely consisted of demonstrations and occupations. Nearly a hundred people died during the Saudi-led repression. However, the Saudis went back (except for those who cross the causeway every Friday to drink in the bars) and when I was there, contrary to the suggestion in the video, I didn’t see a single Saudi soldier, nor did anyone mention such a thing.

      Bahrein is a tiny country, mostly flat, and it seems inconceivable that there could actually be an Islamic militant group there without the authorities knowing, still less that they would somehow have acquired weapons with the range to hit Eilat and be able to fire them without being detected. Al-Monitor is reporting that the rockets were fired from inside Iran, which seems more plausible even if the personnel, involved were from Bahrein.

      Since the video gives no clues as to where and when it was filmed, none of the missile operators is identified and none of them speak (which would give away accents) I think we should suspend judgement until we know more.

  2. JohnA

    In response to the lacklustre performance of Starmer and his Zionist Labour Party, that unequivocably sided with the claim that Israel has the right to defend itself, to cut off power, water and food etc., not to mention bombing, Starmer and his cronies have backpedalled slightly, now saying Rafah is a red line and that if they do invade the IDF should be ‘very careful’ to avoid civilian casualties.However the dogs aren’t buying that dog food.

    So now, the media, plus Tory and Labour politicians, are busy smearing the main beneficiaries of voter disgust, the Green Party and Galloway’s new workers party, as antisemitic a la Corbyn smears.
    There is huge anger among the electorate about the genocide in Gaza and the West Bank but the electoral system does not allow much scope for this. Maybe we will soon be living in interesting times.

    1. Feral Finster

      Right now, the public is so radicalized, that there is no way to square that circle, that is reconcile any kind of support for Israel with even a pretense of a principled stance on human rights.

      For that matter, Labour could announce that it was air-dropping gas chambers and cremation ovens for Israeli use in Gaza, and the Tories would say that wasn’t enough, proof of antisemitism in fact, and that the Royal Marines should be sent to shove Palestinians into those gas chambers.

  3. Camelotkidd

    What’s profound is that the US’s fulsome support for Israeli genocide in Gaza is hastening the end of the American empire
    The “Axis of Resistance”, composed of China, Russia and Iran recognize America’s Achilles Heel, of having our foreign policies controlled by Zionists
    Indeed, 4 months before the TikTok ban, the US Envoy for Combating Antisemitism Aaron Keyak expressed fear that the Chinese could use the app to promote anti-Israel sentiment and discredit American institutions by pointing to the role Jews play within them.

    1. CA

      There is, of course, no evidence offered. As such, the article must be taken as incorrect and shockingly malicious:

      January 8, 2024

      Fueling online antisemitism is China’s new tool against the West
      By Josh Rogin – Washington Post

      The antisemitism became more unplugged, more free-flowing,” the State Department’s deputy special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, Aaron Keyak, told me in an interview. “And because we know that the Chinese internet is not free, that’s a conscious decision by the Chinese government to allow that kind of rhetoric to be greatly increased.”

  4. Lefty Godot

    So is the likely end for this sequence of events that (1) US bases are attacked with greater frequency, (2) Biden loses the election, (3) Trumps engages the US in a war with Iran that brings in its other allies, and (4) the US loses the war and suffers global humiliation?

  5. Oh

    I think it’s time the voter-sheep that vote for the duopoly to realize that there are other choices on the ballot. They need to see what the British voters are doing and learn.

  6. Feral Finster

    If the other Arab actors had wanted to act, they would have done so by now. Hell, the Saudis are still talking about normalizing relations with Israel, although tied to some conditions.

    By contrast, Ansarallah, aka the “Houthis” have no leaders that the West can touch with sanctions, no western assets to freeze, no shiny western toys to take away. Consequently, they are free to follow their conscience.

    Since the people here seem to have a thing for song lyrics, was it not taught from old that “freedom’s just another word, for nothing left to lose?

    1. Kouros

      The Saudis talk about getting a security arrangement with the US, who is conditioning it with normalization of relations with Israel, while KSA wants Israel to not stop the formation of a Palestinian state.

  7. Hastalavictoria

    On Moon of Alabama today one astute commentator suggested that Hamas and the Palestinians were engaged in a ‘slave revolt’.

    Quite an interesting paradigm and one that should be framed in MSM.

  8. Willow

    Egypt will be key. Will colonels overthrow the Western captured generals? Suggestions another colour revolution is coming but will lower levels of military intercede with a war on Israel to maintain control?

  9. David in Friday Harbor

    I’m sorry that the final paragraph repeats the canard of an IDF and Shin bet “failure.” People need to get a clue: there was no such “failure.” The October 7 hostage-taking incursion was clearly anticipated and “weak points” were created in order to funnel the hostage-takers toward HaAvoda– and Arab-friendly kibbutzim and the secular rave at Re’im.

    The investigative reporting by the courageous Israeli journalists of Yedioth Aranoth and Ynet bear this out, quoting an IDF Lt. Colonel stating that there was a “mass Hannibal” that day. The Arab press also appears to have picked-up on leaked gun-camera footage from IDF Apaches that show indiscriminate firing on civilian vehicles fleeing from and toward the breach of the Gaza fence.

    One simply has to look at the hundreds of blown-up vehicles collected and buried by the IDF to confirm this. While Hezbollah has high-tech weaponry, nearly 20 years of the Gaza blockade has prevented Hamas from obtaining missiles that can be aimed at moving vehicles. Their home-made garbage-dump rockets are launched indiscriminately (a war crime) and depend on household cleaners for fuel and scavenged unexploded Israeli ordinance for explosives. Hamas couldn’t have blown-up all those Israeli civilian cars.

    The “Arab street” now see a new and discouraging development: fascistic and authoritarian regimes are willing to kill their own and the Americans and EU say nothing.

  10. s.n.

    slightly off topic, but this short video snippet of Amsterdam police rampaging can only radicalize many in the euro zone…, including yours truly .Really impressive. I’m counting on two, three, many more of the same in the remaining days of May to come

    (“there are decades when nothing happens.Then there are weeks which are decades” once said someone who knew a thing or two about what he prognosticated]


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