The attack by Hamas on Israel on Saturday morning is the latest surprise in a year of similar incidents in the wider region, which stretches from Ukraine to Sudan. A part of the world, where the unthinkable is taking place, the redrawing of state borders.
Thus, the attack by this weekend must be viewed within a particular time and geopolitical frame, starting with the American departure from Afghanistan and the active engagement in Iraq. The United States, China and Russia used the latter part of 2021 to realign priorities and to get ready for the impending restructuring, which has been in the works since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The AUKUS agreement in the fall of 2021 is a good example of that restructuring, much to the chagrin of France at the time. Another example is that the United States was fully aware of the Russian intentions in Ukraine and was not in the least surprised with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February of 2022. In the twenty months that have followed the geopolitical restructuring has continued, with a war of attrition in Ukraine, and NATO expansion, an emerging India and a realigning more diplomatically engaged China. There are many examples of the realignment, but there is none better than the usual barometer of changing global patterns than the wider neighborhood of the Eastern Mediterranean. A region which stretches from Ukraine the Sahel is part of the Eastern Mediterranean basin, which continues to be volatile ethno-religious mosaic in an era, where the consolidation of the nation-state is required for the geopolitical realignment. Chechens, Armenians, Kurds, Palestinians, Houthi, Tigray, are just some of the most prominent ethno-religious conflicts that have marred the region for decades, which have also become convenient entry points for exogenous proxy wars. In last three decades these conflicts have dominated the wars in the region from Ukraine to the Caucasus, the Levant, the Red Sea area, and the Sahel.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine marked a departure from the status quo and the possible dawn of a new approach that of consolidation and annexation, which could be best characterized as back to the future. The possibility of success of the Russian annexations has troubled policy makers because the historical record of a century ago is clear and painful. The failed Ukrainian counter-offensive of last spring and summer has raised the possibility of the biggest fear becoming a reality. We heard from number of “leaked” reports from NATO officials over the summer, that maybe Ukraine can come to agreement with Russia, exchanging territory for peace. A statement which was immediately denied and downplayed by NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg in August.
However, over the last three weeks, there have been four events, which would indicate that we are in the very dangerous place that we feared, the start of revisionism and changing of state borders. There have been a number of ominous indications that we have entered the era of state revisionism in the region, especially in the region of Sahel, starting with Ethiopia and Sudan, but four events over the last three weeks, which are of particular interest in this quickly changing geopolitical environment. The three are international, while the fourth is concerning US politics, but with global ripple effects.
Dr Petros Vamvakas
The movement and the meetings of US National Security advisor, Jake Sullivan in Malta with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, with Taiwan prominently on the agenda and then his two weekend trips to Saudi Arabia should be assessed as one of these events, which due to the diplomatic nature it hasn’t been prominently displayed. The second and very important is the swift action of Azerbaijan in Nagorno Karabakh, and the complete evacuation of the Armenians, from lands which they occupied for centuries, and the complete deafening of what some might even characterize as ethnic cleansing. It is interesting the Google Maps changed the names of the region, hours after the evacuation of the Armenians begun. Although we haven’t seen the full effects of the changing of the map in the Caucasus following the consolidation by Azerbaijan, we witnessed some very interesting realignments in the region, which has been an area with the imperialist visions of Russia, Turkey and Persia have been historically active. The plight of the Armenians in the region in 2023, a century after the Treaty of Lausanne, has created a new reality in the region. Russia seems to be in retreat or is has been compromised due to its need for the energy resources of Baku. Consequently, Armenia seems to have disengage from the Russian sphere of influence and is moving toward the West, while Iran continues to be its only regional ally as Turkey and Azerbaijan are enhancing their pan-Turkic kinship. The Armenian relationship with Iran has prompted Israel to continuous support of Azerbaijan with military weapons, especially their very effective Harop drones. Although the end of Artsakh received limited global coverage, it has signaled the clear start of the possibility of changing of the borders of the region, especially vulnerable for unfulfilled state ambitions of ethnic groups in the region, including Chechens, Kurds, and Palestinians. The downing of the Turkish unmanned aerial vehicle over Syria few days ago by NATO ally United States, beyond being yet another unprecedented event, it was more of an indication of the limits set by the United States, that Turkey will be limited in its ambitions in the region, especially vis-à-vis the safeguarding of the autonomous Kurdish state in the region. The fourth event, which is not directly related, yet very influential and might even work as a catalyst is the vote in the US House of Representatives, last Tuesday, which vacated the position of the Speaker of the House and possibly jeopardize funding in support of Ukraine. The discontinuance of American support would be devastating for Ukraine’s efforts to defend against the Russians and the real possibility of Russia fulfilling its goals of annexation. An outcome with regional, but also global implications.
The attack of Hamas on Israel on last Saturday must be viewed within this time and geopolitical framing. There are many angles to this unprecedented event, which includes intelligence questions, readiness of the Israeli military, or the sophistication of the weaponry Hamas is using. Within the narrative of revisionism and the timing, it is another indication, that we are at the time that several actors are viewing as the opportune moment to alter the map, and that this might be a time to reach final solutions to ethnic disputes of centuries. There are two or three observations, which are worrisome, as to the war ahead. The Palestinian issue has been the issue since 1947 or 1967 or 1973, depending on the framing each analyst chooses, that has united or divided the Arab and the Muslim world. At times over the last 80 years the issue has been conveniently championed by various states, among them Egypt, or the Gulf States, or Turkey based on Arab or Muslim unity as in the case of Turkey. Just in August of 2020 President Erdogan in converting the museum of Ayia Sofia to a mosque, was mentioning Jerusalem being next. Over the last 24 hours Iran is the only country in the region in support of the attack in the name of Muslim solidarity against Israel, while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have taken advocated caution. Another important point, hours before the imminent invasion of Gaza by Israel is the statement by the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for the people of Gaza to evacuate, promising an unprecedent response. Unfortunately, what we are witnessing is not unprecedented, rather it’s the return of revisionism and the redrawing of the map, which will be an unprecedented humanitarian disaster, because in the 21st century, humanity is much more lethal.
* Petros Vamvakas, Associate Professor of Political Science, Emmanuel College – Member of ENA’s Advisory Board