The Gaza crisis heralds a new step in the emerging global order. The aftershocks of the Gaza crisis are highly likely to reach far beyond the Middle East and Africa region given the unexpected scale of the recent conflict as well as the Western stance on the crisis. Thus, it can be classified as a global event rather than a regional one. Irrespective of the result, the West is likely to lose its geopolitical and ‘supposed’ moral superiority not only at the regional level but on the global level. Russia, China, and the developing countries of the world overall are expected to draw lessons from the current crisis that will be to the detriment of the West. The ongoing conflict in Gaza affects the global power balance, eases pressure on Russia, and presents new opportunities for China.
The Israeli invasion of Gaza is a turning point in near history just like the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The global order that was put in place after World War II is on the brink of collapse following the outbreak of the Gaza crisis. The norms and institutions established in the aftermath of the Second World War have proven to be dysfunctional (even absent due to Israeli impunity) in the face of the vicious, deliberate, and indiscriminate Israeli attacks on Gaza. Therefore, it can be said that the world order’s transition from US-dominated unipolarity toward multipolarity will accelerate.
The US has reprioritized the Middle East after the outbreak of the Gaza crisis. Washington now cannot solely focus on China which is coded as the biggest threat to the US hegemony. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was a serious blow to the US hegemony, and it forced Washington to shift its focus to Europe. The October 7th attacks on Israel conducted by Hamas constituted a new blow to the US. After Donald Trump took office in the US, Washington aspired to pivot towards the Indo-Pacific to contain China and accelerated its efforts in this direction. Nonetheless, the Hamas attack brought back the Middle East in general and the Palestinian issue in particular to the US elites ’consideration. The Gaza war has spurred members of Washington’s foreign policy community to attempt to expand the narrative of a ‘new Cold War’ and merge what is considered a national and racial conflict between Israelis and Palestinians into a broader context of a conflict between regional powers—Israel, Iran, and their regional proxies.
That being said, the situation in Gaza does not seem to be favorable to Washington either in the middle term or in the long run. China and Russia have sought to undermine the international system supported by the United States for a long time. While Washington focuses on the Middle East, Russia may be the most apparent beneficiary of the widespread disruptions.
Although the US still has the upper hand in terms of military and economy in its great power rivalry with Russia and China, Beijing is inching closer to the US every single day. It increases its impact through giant investments, specifically in the Middle East and Africa regions. Additionally, it increases its military capabilities. China is also amplifying its clout on the diplomatic front as crystallized in the deal in Beijing between Saudi Arabia and Iran, bypassing the US in April 2023. The oil-rich countries of the Gulf have been hedging their bets by striking deals with Russia and China. Specifically, Saudi Arabia is slightly trying to move away from the US orbit. On October 6th, the traditional wisdom was that Israel and Saudi Arabia, as part of an ambitious American strategy, were on their way to normalizing relations. This process could have led to the formation of an Arab-Israeli alliance supportive of America, aimed at containing Iran and its regional partners, Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran. Such an American diplomatic victory would have dealt a strong blow to the interests of Tehran, especially considering that the Saudi-Israeli rapprochement was to be accompanied by a security agreement between Washington and Riyadh. The Gaza war shattered the US efforts to broker a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Overall, with the current Western stance on Gaza, the countries of the MENA Region are likely to amplify their efforts to move away from US orbit and increase their regional agency by hedging their bets in foreign policymaking. Thus, Beijing and Moscow are getting a foothold in the region at a time when the US is losing ground to its competitors during a time of great power rivalry. While Moscow is increasing its impact in the security and military realm Beijing strikes giant economic deals with regional countries.
The Gaza crisis is proving to be a boon for Washington’s primary geopolitical competitors. China and Russia are increasingly utilizing the current crisis in their rivalry with the US, while Washington unconditionally throws its support behind Israel. Despite this, it is obvious that the Chinese and Russian reactions to the Gaza war have been opportunistic, seeking to capitalize on America’s challenges. This contrasts entirely with the suggestion that their strategic interests align perfectly with Iran’s or that they support Hamas. Russia maintains close ties with Israel, home to hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants. It has allowed Israel to target military sites in neighboring Syria, which are practically under Russian protection. This partially explains Israel’s resistance to American pressure to join the pro-Ukraine alliance.
Similarly, China maintains a dynamic cooperation with Israel in technological and scientific fields. As in Russia, Israelis do not endorse the US strategy against China. Furthermore, China and Russia don’t necessarily share the same interests in the Middle East. On the other hand, China’s involvement in West Asia, primarily driven by economic interests, has become more arbitrary. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that both Russians and Chinese have capitalized on the troubles faced by Israelis and Americans in the short term and will continue to do so as long as they can.
In a nutshell, the US-backed ‘rule-based’ global order is fading away. Until a new order is put in place, the world will feel the pang of transition to a multipolar world.