Opinion| Will Netanyahu’s invasion of Rafah end his government and Israel’s peace?

Hatem Sadek
7 Min Read

The Middle East has been like a complex puzzle for nearly 40 years, but it is now on the brink of falling apart, or at least rearranging its pieces in a new way that signals a completely different stage than before.

We are witnessing many complicated conflicts. The most recent and dangerous one is the Israeli threat to invade Rafah in the Gaza Strip, which is a red line for Egypt that cannot be crossed. Cairo is handling the situation very wisely, and it is also ready for any scenario that Netanyahu’s divided government may choose, including freezing the historic peace treaty (Camp David), and the consequences that may follow.

No matter how foolish or extreme the Israeli leaders are in Gaza, they will not dare to cross the Egyptian red line. Instead, they will comply with almost all of the demands from Cairo, the most important of which is protecting the lives of more than one and a half million Palestinians living in Rafah before any invasion, as well as reaching a truce and a deal to release the prisoners and the Palestinians. This is because any rash move by Tel Aviv in this part of Gaza will have a domino effect. No one will be able to cope with the aftermath. It is not an exaggeration to say that this violation alone is enough to reset the Middle East to the starting point of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the risks will be many:

Israel will face Egypt, the strongest army in the region. This confrontation will end any Arab division, and it is the only one that can revive the idea of Arab nationalism, which is still relevant.

Israel will not get more military aid from its American ally, which is busy with the presidential elections, if it attacks Rafah. Washington has also threatened to cut off aid and even recognize a sovereign Palestinian state and has not ruled out leaving Israel alone in the UN Security Council. This is especially true since the relations between US President Joe Biden and Netanyahu have deteriorated to the point of insults, threats, and intimidation.

The United States is also in crisis. For a while, successive American administrations have shown their intention to withdraw from the region, focusing instead on the challenges posed by China’s rise. Moreover, the Biden administration is also dealing with Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has further reduced its involvement in the Middle East.

By 2023, American officials had lost hope of reviving the nuclear deal with Iran and instead pursued informal de-escalation measures with their Iranian counterparts. Meanwhile, the administration had been trying to boost regional military capabilities to reduce some of the security burden on Washington. The war in Gaza did not cause major changes in Washington’s main political direction.

The war’s increasingly complex dynamics may make Washington more reluctant to intervene in the region. Deepening commitments to the Middle East is unlikely to be a successful strategy for either American political party in a critical election year.

The Europeans will also have no interest in helping Tel Aviv. This is especially true since they are already facing the consequences of the Russian-Ukrainian war, and the war in Gaza and the situation in the Red Sea have worsened their economic woes. Even Britain, which is seen as a staunch ally of Israel, refuses to invade Rafah.

The picture will get bleaker with the oppositional stance of the United Nations Secretary-General, who thinks that Israel’s invasion of Gaza is an unwarranted violation.

Adding to this the positions of both Russia and China that oppose Israeli actions, then the path that Netanyahu is taking will be the biggest disaster that Israel has ever faced.

The invasion will give Iran a stronger reason to support its influence not only in four Arab capitals with military and sectarian backing but also in other capitals. Perhaps this is what Tehran has been waiting for a long time to integrate politically and economically into the region.

Over the past three decades, Israel has been investing in peace relations with Arab and Gulf countries in an attempt to integrate into the region, and it has achieved a lot, more than it hoped for. Israel has close and strong relations with most Arab countries, even those that have not signed a direct peace treaty with it. These relations secured trade and tourism routes that Israel never had before, and through them, it established a presence in the Arabian Gulf, which is a magnet for capital and business.

These relationships will certainly be jeopardized. More importantly, even the economic corridor project between India, the Middle East, Israel, and Europe, which was launched at the G20 summit in New Delhi in September last year, and is part of the efforts of the United States and the European Union to counter China’s major global infrastructure project, will also be threatened, and Tel Aviv’s involvement in it will be unacceptable. Therefore, the repercussions of crossing the Egyptian red line will be severe.

The most urgent task at present, before even considering the post-war situation, is for the regional powers to pursue new and stronger regional security arrangements that can ensure stability. This is necessary regardless of whether the United States leads the way or not. The Middle East needs to establish a permanent regional security forum that provides a lasting platform for dialogue among its actors. To turn this tragedy into an opportunity, it will take sustained efforts and commitment from the highest political levels. Although this vision may seem unrealistic today, the leaders in the Middle East have the power to end the cycle of violence and guide the region toward a more positive direction.

Dr. Hatem Sadek: Professor at Helwan University

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