Farahang Jahanpour a British scholar who traces his roots in Iran offers sharp insights on the Israel-Hamas war
Hamas’s barbaric incursion into Israel, killing some 1,300 Israeli citizens and taking some 150 hostages, followed by Israel’s massive retaliation against Hamas and indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, killing thousands and wounding tens of thousands of Palestinians, have given rise to a new crisis in international relations which might spread further if not brought under control quickly. At a time when the world is grappling with a terrible war in Ukraine, the latest conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians has added a new dimension to global instability. In the following interview,
Professor Farhang Jahanpour, a British scholar of Iranian origin, with vast experience in the academia and more, deals with some of the aspects of the latest tragedy in a deep-dive interview with Dr. Shubda Chaudhary.
- Q) What led to the emergence of the Hamas-Israel Conflict?
The roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict go back to the Second World War and the Holocaust, and even earlier to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which was issued by the British government announcing its support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine before it was even a part of the British Mandate. At the time, Palestine had a majority of Muslim and Christian Arabs and a small minority of Jewish population. It should be remembered that at the time that Britain was promising a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine it had also promised the Arabs through written documents that the Arabs would have full independence if they helped the allies in the First World War, which they did. However, after the war most of the Middle East was divided between Great Britain and France, with Iraq and most of the Persian Gulf littoral states coming under British control and Syria and Lebanon coming under French control. In Winston Churchill’s words, “We sold the same plot of land to two people”. He should have added that it did not belong to them in the first place to sell.
After the Second World War, the United Nations proposed a Partition Plan of Palestine into two independent Arab and Jewish states with a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem which is sacred to both the Jews, Christians and Muslims. The plan was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 29 November 1947. During Israel’s pre-emptive war against Egypt, Syria and Jordan in June 1967, Israel occupied the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the whole of Jerusalem. U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 declared Israel’s occupation of those territories illegal and called on Israel to withdraw and return to the Partition Plan, but Israel with US support has ignored those resolutions.
The negotiations led by the United States with Israel and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) led to the signing of the Oslo Accords in Washington in 1993, which recognised the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. The Oslo Accords led to the creation of the Palestine National Authority which would exercise limited Palestinian self-governance in the West Bank and Gaza. Although HAMAS (the Islamic Resistance Movement), which is a religious movement as opposed to the PLO which is a secular movement, was not a party to the negotiations, it accepted the provisions of the agreement and even changed its Charter, recognising the existence of the Israeli state, but it vowed continued armed resistance to the end of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands.
In order to weaken the power of the PLO, President George Bush insisted on new elections in Palestinian territories, and in 2006 HAMAS won the Palestinian legislative election and subsequently took control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah in 2007. The Oslo Accords clearly have not led to a two-state solution, and as HAMAS continued its resistance against Israel there have been repeated clashes between HAMAS forces and Israel.
The latest barbaric HAMAS attack on Israel came about as the result of major clashes between Israeli occupation forces and the Palestinians living in the West Bank and repeated Israeli attacks on Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque since the establishment of the latest right-wing government led by Binyamin Netanyahu. On 4th October, thousands of Israeli settlers forced their way into the Al-Aqsa Mosque Complex to perform “Talmudic rituals” on the fifth day of the Sukkot holiday. That move was regarded by many Muslims as a major violation of the sanctity of the compound, which provided the excuse for Hamas’s barbaric attack. The Israelis have responded with similar barbaric attacks on Gaza, so far killing more than 2,000 Palestinians, wounding tens of thousands and driving hundreds of thousands out of their homes, while also imposing a siege, blocking water, power, fuel and food to more than 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza.
- Q) Was there an intelligence failure on the side of Israel?
Clearly there was a massive intelligence failure. Israelis wanted the world to believe that they had the most efficient intelligence services and also that their country was invincible. The savage HAMAS incursion has proved both those assumptions to be false. All this has happened under Netanyahu who, instead of trying to reach out to the Palestinians and give them at least a small measure of freedom and dignity, continued with the building of more illegal settlements in the West Bank and openly talked of annexing the whole of the West Bank. The last straw was when in his disgraceful speech at the UN General Assembly he said that there should be a serious nuclear threat against Iran and showed a poster of the region with the entire Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Golan Heights as parts of Israel, thus wiping out the whole of Palestine from the map. He holds the major responsibility for the latest tragic events and for all that might follow if the conflict spreads to the rest of the Middle East.
- Q) What impact would it have on the Saudi-Israel deal and the future of Abraham Accords?
The so-called Abraham Accords were a series of cynical and illegal moves to bribe some Arab regimes to normalise relations with Israel by bypassing the Palestinians. The Americans had designated Sudan as a terrorist state, but under former President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, they said that they would lift the terrorist designation if the Sudanese government would normalise relations with Israel.
— Global Order (@TheGlobalOrder) October 19, 2023
There has been a long-lasting dispute between Morocco and the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, about the ownership of the Western Sahara. The issue had to be settled by the UN through consultation with both sides. Trump unilaterally and illegally gifted the Sahara to Morocco if she normalised relations with Israel.
The UAE and some other Persian Gulf littoral states have had covert relations with Israel. The UAE wanted to buy some advanced US weapons, including F-35 fighter jets. They were promised that they would be able to buy them if they normalised relations with Israel. After doing so, the United States reneged because Congress opposed the sale of those sophisticated weapons to the UAE.
Then it was the turn of Saudi Arabia which came under enormous pressure to normalise relations with Israel, but Saudi Arabia had some tough conditions, including the acceptance of the two-state solution by Israel, the sale of sophisticated US weapons, a firm guarantee of US support for Saudi Arabia similar to NATO countries, and US help in building nuclear reactors and enriching uranium. Those were tough demands that Israel and Congress would not agree to, but now as the result of the latest developments those deals are dead in the water.
Of course, genuine peace between Israel and the Arab states would be very Welcome, provided that it brought with it positive gains for both sides and was not at the expense of the Palestinians.
- Q) What is the role of Hezbollah, Qatar and Iran according to you?
For many years, Netanyahu has tried very hard to push the United States to carry out military operations against Iran, in the same way that he successfully did prior to 2003 Iraq war. Trump nearly obliged as some confidential documents that he showed to some friends seem to suggest, but President Biden refused to follow that plan. Although he did not reverse Trump’s illegal sanctions on Iran and return to Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) through executive orders, as he did in the case of nearly all other violations by Trump, nevertheless, he tried to lower the tension with Iran by following a policy of less-for-less. He arranged for a prisoner swap, Iran releasing the dual-national Iranian-Americans that she was holding in return for the release of some dual national who had been imprisoned in the United States on charges of violating US sanctions on Iran.
For a very long time, Qatar has mediated between nations to resolve the issues.
The recent release of 3 #Ukraine children is an example of it
Earlier, Qatar played an imp. role in the #Iran–#US prisoner swap
Now, #UnitedStates has again called Its friend #Qatar to mediate in b/w. pic.twitter.com/ugNnlWF3V5
— jehovany mena (@jehovanymena) October 19, 2023
He also promised to release some of Iran’s illegally frozen funds, if Iran would also freeze its uranium enrichment at 60% or less. The money has been transferred to a bank in Qatar for Iran to use on non-sanctioned items, but there are some reports that the United States is reneging on that arrangement too under intense pressure from Congress and is calling on Qatar not to release those funds to Iran. However, the latest events have provided Netanyahu with another opportunity to agitate for action against Iran, despite the fact that both the Pentagon and the State Department have said that they have not seen any sign of Iranian involvement in Hamas’s incursion into Israel, and according to some reports Iran was also surprised at the Hamas incursion into Israel.
Hamas is a radical Sunni movement that has received more aid from Turkey, Egypt, Qatar and initially from other Gulf states, but it is no secret that Iran too has helped it with financial and maybe military assistance. However, Hamas and Hezbollah are independent organisations and do not take their orders from Iran. Trying to get Iran implicated in the latest conflict is a purely political move by Netanyahu and his US supporters to drag the United States into another war in the Middle East. If they succeed in extending the war to Iran, the whole of the Middle East will be set on fire.
- Q) How would this conflict transform the current status-quo in the Middle East?
It is difficult to predict what the future holds. Although some Middle Eastern regimes have remained relatively quiet, many people in different countries have taken part in massive demonstrations against Israel’s actions in Gaza. In Amman, the security forces had to use teargas in order to stop a large crowd that was moving towards the border to help the Palestinians. Since the latest Security Council meeting on Friday, more Arab states including Saudi Arabia have condemned Israel’s indiscriminate attack on civilian targets in Gaza. If Israel goes ahead with its land invasion of Gaza and the transferring of more than 2.3 millions Gazans to the south or to Egypt, there will be much greater support for the Palestinians in many Muslim countries.
On the positive side, if Western leaders had any intention of finding a long-term solution, and sadly there is no sign of it at the moment, they would use this terrible tragedy to force Israel to end its brutal 56-year occupation of the Palestinian territories and implement UN resolutions for a two-state solution, or establish a single democratic state for Jews and Palestinians by lifting all the current apartheid policies.
Police in London estimate that over 100,000 people staged a rally there yesterday, Saturday, in support of Palestine. They called for the bombing and war to stop. When we report on these rallies taking place around the world, those who live in a bubble get upset.
— Simon Ateba (@simonateba) October 22, 2023
After all, for many centuries Jews and Arabs had lived relatively peacefully together in Palestine, and there is no reason why this can’t happen again.
- Q) What would be the impact of the Israel Hamas War on I2U2?
I believe it is right for India as one of the leading states in the world and an economic superpower to have multiple relations with other countries, including many states in the Middle East who are in a state of conflict with each other. The last section of I2U2, namely the part that involves Haifa, may be problematic at the moment, but it should not stop the sections of that route which go through the UAE and maybe Saudi Arabia, Iraq and ultimately Turkey to go ahead regardless of what happens to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The connection to Haifa may be added to it once the conflict has ended.
India is already developing Iran’s Chahbahar port on the Indian Ocean, which not only provides India with access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, but as the result of the recent agreement between India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia on INSTC (International North-South Transport Corridor) India will have another option to increase connectivity with Russia and Western Europe. It will greatly shorten the access to Europe and will reduce transport costs by $2,500 per 15 tons of cargo. For the time being, that route is a more promising option, as most of the infrastructure for it is ready or can be completed easily and can be put into action fairly quickly.
- Q) Would the current escalation have any effect on the India Middle East Europe Economic Corridor?
It is clearly advisable for India and other regional countries not to limit their options, but to have a number of alternative plans for cutting costs and increasing connectivity. It all depends on how long the current crisis lasts and what its outcome will be. One thing is certain that the events in Israel and Gaza have changed former equations and there is a need for fundamental changes in the Middle East and beyond.
- Q) How can India help resolve the conflict?
As a leading player in global politics and as a country that has good relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as with leading Middle Eastern and Western countries, India can play a unique role in helping to resolve this conflict. No other country can play the same mediation role that India is capable of. The United States is no longer trusted as a mediator by the Palestinians due to her one-sided support for Israel. As an honest broker between the two sides, India can play this role and can achieve historic glory. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi can bring the two sides together, call for immediate halt to the clashes, and find a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict not only will he be deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize, but he will achieve and a remarkable political legacy, and go down in history as someone who ended the most intractable conflict of the past 100 years.
(Farhang Jahanpour received his PhD in Oriental Studies from the University of Cambridge where he also taught for five years. Of Iranian-origin, he is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Isfahan and a Senior Fulbright Research Scholar at Harvard. He spent 20 years working at the BBC Monitoring, ending as Editor for the Middle East and North Africa. He has also taught Middle Eastern politics for over 30 years as a part-time lecturer at the University of Oxford.)