By William Tucker
It is not uncommon for multiple ‘what if’ questions to arise in the midst of conflict, and while many can be easily answered or dismissed, the question of how the Arab Spring will impact the recent Israeli-Hamas bout deserves attention. To be sure, speculation is rife over how the regional changes will impact U.S. interests and other dynamics in the Middle East. All told, the Israeli-Hamas conflict is just one issue out of many. While it is true that political changes in Egypt and Syria are changing Israel’s strategic picture, we cannot ignore the impact that these changes will have in the Palestinian territories either. With the Palestinians divided between two political entities, Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank, it is difficult to continue to describe the conflict in Gaza and Southern Israel as a Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This is just one of many arresting factors that prevent more direct Arab support to Hamas in Gaza during times of military engagement. Furthermore, many of these new regimes are not yet firmly entrenched and still have many hurdles to clear before tangible foreign involvement becomes even remotely possible.
In this time it is important to remember that the Arab people are not politically united. As we have discussed here before, political borders only divide people on a map. The Arab people are spread over a large geographical area and are forced to accept and abide by local realities despite their ethno-linguistic ties. In other words, overcoming distance is more of a challenge than stepping over a political border. Their governments, of course, are no different. Despite the rhetoric emanating from many Arab states there is little they can do beside offer moral support for Hamas and the question of intervening militarily is simply beyond the capabilities of most. Consider the violence in Syria and Iraq, or perhaps the dire economic situations in Egypt or Jordan and see that these issues are solely among Arab peoples and some minorities, and yet, there was little done by the so-called Arab world to rectify these issues. In essence, these problems are left to local governance and leave little bandwidth for foreign adventures of the affected nation-state – no matter how unifying the political cause may be.
The nations of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Iraq, and Syria have undergone unique, yet profound, political changes. These changes are still very recent and the underlying problems that were present before are still there for the new governments to struggle with. Naturally, these problems will not be solved overnight, and are unlikely to be solved even in the next decade. Attempts to support Hamas directly may be popular in the short term, but it can’t mask the need for these nations to facilitate more robust economic development and solidify the writ of the state. New governments must show that their time at the helm is well worth the blood and treasure used to gain power in the first place. The calls to support Hamas directly may be popular, but popularity and practicality don’t always intersect. This situation may prevent more active support for Hamas at this moment, but as these governments become more established that could change. Right now, the ‘what if’ questions should be levied towards the stability of these new regimes as the question of foreign intervention is a bit premature.