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Arab world’s voice grows louder amid wars in Europe, Middle East

Protesters wave Palestinian flags during a rally at the entrance of the French embassy complex in Beirut on Oct. 18, 2023. (AFP)
Protesters wave Palestinian flags during a rally at the entrance of the French embassy complex in Beirut on Oct. 18, 2023. (AFP)
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30 Oct 2023 05:10:56 GMT9
30 Oct 2023 05:10:56 GMT9

Germany last week promised to provide an additional “winter aid” package of €1.4 billion ($1.48 billion) to Ukraine. Chancellor Olaf Scholz stressed Berlin’s aid to Ukraine would not be affected by its support for Israel in its conflict with Hamas. But how can one measure the impact of the Hamas-Israel war on the Ukraine war so far? In particular, what impact (if any) has it had on the financial, diplomatic and military aid being sent to Kyiv by Western countries, which may have to choose between Israel and Ukraine when directing their energies and resources?

Further, what are the potential objectives behind Russia’s response to the Israel-Hamas war? It appears to have moved away from a position of balancing between the two sides, as illustrated by its hosting of a delegation from Hamas last week. Is this part of Russia’s geopolitical move toward the Muslim world or simply a matter of backing the side least close to the West? Finally, on the broader scale, what may the Israel-Hamas war mean in the context of a developing multipolar global order?

Despite some diplomats and officials’ concerns that the West would cease offering resources (especially military and financial aid) to Ukraine in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, the Ukraine war remains the key priority for Western security.

On Oct. 20, US President Joe Biden shared with the American people his administration’s priorities, which included deepening its support of both Ukraine and Israel in the midst of two vastly different wars. He stated that, although “these conflicts can seem far away,” they remain “vital for America’s national security.” He has asked the US Congress for $105 billion in assistance for Israel and Ukraine, including for both military and humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, the EU’s two-day summit last week confirmed that the bloc will not be able to sign off on a multiyear program of financial support to Ukraine worth €50 billion and military aid of €20 billion because they are part of a greater budget plan. Nonetheless, EU leaders urged a pause in the bombing of Gaza to get humanitarian aid into the territory. 

The response of the Muslim world to the war with Ukraine has been crucial — and very much appreciated — by Russia.

Dr. Diana Galeeva

At the state level, countries have taken a variety of approaches. In addition to its promise of winter aid to Ukraine, Germany has promised to support Israel with both military help and diplomatic force, such as to crack down on Hamas at home. Scholz stressed Germany’s historical responsibility for Israel’s security. Meanwhile, Slovakia and Hungary have threatened to break EU unity on military aid for Ukraine. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s “club” has been joined by Slovakia’s newly elected Prime Minister Robert Fico, who has stated that he will not back further military aid for Ukraine or sanctions against Russia.


Meanwhile, Moscow welcomed a Hamas delegation to discuss the release of Russian and other foreign hostages in Gaza. The delegation was led by Mousa Abu Marzook, a senior political leader of Hamas, who met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. Despite Moscow’s initially cautious response to the fighting, balancing between the sides, this visit has been seen as the Kremlin siding with Hamas in this war. President Vladimir Putin also stressed that an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza could lead to a broader regional conflict, as “our main task is to stop the bloodshed and violence … otherwise, further escalation of the crisis is fraught with grave and extremely dangerous and destructive consequences. And not only for the Middle East region. It could spill over far beyond the borders of the Middle East.”

On social media, Russia’s position has been categorized as “Cold War-style,” alluding to the time the Soviet Union supported the Palestine cause in opposition to the Western support for Israel, which is indeed relevant to the current realities. However, at the same time, there are other explanations for Moscow’s thinking. For example, the response of the Muslim world to the war with Ukraine has been crucial — and very much appreciated — for diplomatic purposes.

Moscow’s policy toward the East can also be understood in conjunction with its growing “no-limits” partnerships with China, India and other players, which includes the growing importance of the Muslim world. Especially at the start of the Ukraine war, the circles that can be identified as “Muslim Russia,” or those Russians that work with the Middle East, have appreciated the role of the Muslim world in Russia’s foreign policy. Moscow has been actively integrating and playing on this identity factor over the last year. In other words, Moscow’s position toward Hamas fits into these narratives of its foreign policy. Finally, Iran historically backs Hamas and, with the growing military and defense partnership between Russia and Iran, this move has significance for the progression of such collaborations. 

The Hamas-Israel war has not as yet caused a definite shift in the West’s priorities regarding its support for Ukraine.

Dr. Diana Galeeva

At the same time, the Hamas-Israel war is shaping the debate on a so-called multipolar global order, since it shows the ongoing role of external powers in the Middle East as well as the global importance of the regional players. For example, Qatar has reportedly emerged as a key intermediary in talks over the fate of more than 200 hostages held by Hamas militants since the attack on Israel.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan last week visited the UAE and Qatar to raise the prospects of a Turkish mediation role. Furthermore, Turkiye and Qatar have slammed the “double standards” of Western nations, particularly in their reaction to this conflict. Queen Rania of Jordan has also condemned the West’s “silence” over the Israeli bombing of Gaza and stressed a “glaring double standard.”

All of these might suggest a cautious response by Arab leaders to the events in the region, but at the same time it echoes their independent voices, which are becoming louder daily and may eventually shape the composition of the multipolar world order, with important places for regional actors in the medium term.

To sum up, the Hamas-Israel war has not as yet caused a definite shift in the West’s priorities regarding its financial, diplomatic and military support for Ukraine. Ukraine remains important and last week’s Russian ballistic missile test at a site in the Arkhangelsk region only adds weight to this view. So, it is to be expected that the Ukraine war will remain a key priority for the West, in addition to the main players, Russia and Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Moscow’s move toward Hamas might positively affect its relations with the Muslim world, as the voices of Arabs are becoming louder by the day. The Middle East conflict will certainly not eclipse what is happening in Eastern Europe, but how it develops will have repercussions both in the immediate term for Russia’s diplomatic efforts and in the long term for the shape of global politics.

• Dr. Diana Galeeva is an academic visitor to Oxford University.

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