The Hamas attack, the ensuing conflict, and the looming Israeli invasion of Gaza represent a watershed moment in regional affairs. These events affect the process and dynamics of the regional reset. Prior to the outbreak of the current conflict, talks of normalization and de-escalation dominated discussions on regional politics. There were different modes of regional restructuring. “Thaw” was the order of the day in relations between the Gulf-Arab states, Türkiye, and Israel. More tension was on the horizon between Israel and Iran, and more friction between Turkey and Iran. Plus, there were great uncertainties over the fate of the many regional conflict zones.
With the eruption of the conflict, this picture is set to change. The process of Israel’s regional normalization has come to a halt, at least for the foreseeable future. The prized Saudi-Israeli normalization has stopped. Even if such normalization pops up again in the future, Riyadh would demand a higher price for it from the US and Israel, including a more prominent Palestinian dimension. Whether there will be a reversal of Israel’s existing normalizations has become a more pertinent question.
With the looming carnage in Gaza, there will be more societal pressure on Arab states to cut ties with Israel. This conflict and the anticipated humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza will widen the gap between people and regimes across the Arab world, hence aggravating the security concerns of said regimes.
Finally, to build on the regional de-escalation, there has previously been much discussion about how normalization can be leveraged to lay the ground for increased regional cooperation. One idea was that the road to regional cooperation passes through cooperation on issues of low-politics, such as climate change, energy transition, migration and natural disasters. This conflict once again laid bare the fact that there is not much distinction between the high-politics and low-politics when it comes to the question of regional cooperation. Tension in the high-politics realm, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, significantly reduces the prospect of cooperation on low-politics files.
To prevent the war from spiraling out of control, the region's countries have been active on the diplomatic front. Egypt, Qatar, Türkiye, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia can play important roles. As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tops the regional agenda, this would particularly boost the diplomatic stature of Cairo in regional affairs. There is, however, a need for more coordination between regional actors for their diplomacy to be impactful, both at regional and international levels.
The growing multipolarity in the region’s relations with external powers will gain further steam after this conflict. The US and other Western actors’ unreserved support for Israel is set to further deepen the discontent between them and regional actors. China and Russia will undoubtedly capitalize on this discontent and make further inroads into the region. Plus, this conflict should not be seen solely through the regional prism. It is a global event. Russia’s war on Ukraine has shaken the foundation of global order, flagrantly violating international law, norms and institutions. Similarly, the US war on terror after 9/11 gravely undermined the global order, breached international law, and sidestepped international institutions. Given the ominous prospect of mass displacement, death and collective punishment in Gaza, this war is likely to be another nail in the coffin of the international system and law. China, Russia, and the Global South will draw lessons and conclusions from it.
This text was originally published as part of a series of viewpoints by researchers for the Middle East Council on Global Affairs website.
Galip Dalay is a nonresident senior fellow at the Middle East Council on Global Affairs. He is also an associate fellow at Chatham House and a doctoral researcher at Oxford University.