War has resumed in Gaza following the end of the seven-day ceasefire between Hamas and the state of Israel, with each side claiming the other caused the collapse. Beyond the blame game, however, where do things go from here?
Hamas and the hostages
To date, Israel has grappled with two key objectives: destroying the Hamas threat and recovering all hostages. With the breakdown of negotiations and the revelation that many hostages are in the hands of groups other than Hamas , the second objective has become more difficult. Nonetheless, the White House is reportedly pressuring both sides to come back to the bargaining table.
Some US politicians would take a different approach. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that the hostage impasse could be resolved by threatening Iran , the sponsor of Hamas. “I would go to Iran and say listen, you need to tell Hamas to let these hostages go,” he said. “If you don’t, you’re going to start paying a heavier price.”Another pressure point could come if Israel achieves more of its military objectives , including the assassination of senior Hamas leaders. Israeli political analysts said the death of Yahya Sinwar, the presumed architect of the Oct. 7 attacks, would be considered a victory. “If the Israeli military succeeded in assassinating a major Hamas figure, I expect Netanyahu would seek to take credit,” said Anshel Pfeffer, a columnist for Haaretz newspaper, and author of “Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Bibi in the balance
At stake is not just the fate of the remaining hostages and the Palestinians in Gaza, but the political future of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A whopping 80% of Israelis believe Netanyahu was responsible for security failures that led to the attacks of Oct. 7. Netanyahu is now facing even greater criticism after it emerged that his government dismissed intelligence reports about potential Hamas attacks a year ago.
Since the start of the war, Netanyahu’s polling numbers have declined steadily. In the most recent poll released on Friday by the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, 30% of respondents said that Bibi was the best fit for prime minister, while 49% preferred former Defense Minister Benny Gantz. On top of this, Netanyahu’s trial on corruption charges, which had been suspended, resumes today in the Jerusalem District Court. If convicted, Bibi could face several years in jail unless his political allies come to his aid, either by legalizing some of the “crimes” he is accused of or stopping his trial entirely.
Hard Numbers: Gaza truce breaks down, Germany looks to ease deportations, Eurozone inflation surprise, Meta busts fake Chinese Facebook accounts
7: The pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas collapsed after seven days, but Qatar says negotiations to implement a new pause are ongoing even as combat resumes. Israeli society was also rocked by a bombshell report indicating the government was aware of Hamas’ plan for an Oct. 7 style attack for over a year .
23: How hard is it to get 23 countries to agree on something? Ask the coalition of 23 OPEC+ countries, which are struggling to agree on how much crude oil production to cut to keep prices up in 2024. The deadlock has already forced the group to push back a meeting set for this weekend. One key question is whether production leaders Saudi Arabia and Russia will extend their current cuts into next year. Both countries are counting their halalahs / kopeks carefully – Riyadh is attempting a major overhaul of its economy while Moscow is financing its ongoing war in Ukraine.
40: The government of Germany, the EU member that takes on the largest number of migrants, has proposed a new law including more than 40 measures that would make it easier to deport asylum-seekers. View from the far right (AfD Party): “only brings tiny micro changes.” View from the left (Green Party): “a massive encroachment on fundamental rights.”
4,700: Meta is seeing a surge in fake and misleading Facebook accounts based in China ahead of America’s 2024 elections. Facebook’s parent company wrote in a recent quarterly threat report that they foiled a network of more than 4,700 China-based accounts that were posing as Americans while spreading polarizing content about American politics and US/China relations. China is now the third-largest home of such fake accounts, behind Russia and Iran.2.4: The EU says annual inflation across the Eurozone will come in at 2.4%, down half a point since October, a faster drop than markets expected. Importantly, the new mark is getting closer to the European Central Bank’s 2% inflation target, showing that the bank’s interest rate hikes since July 2022 are working to tamp down inflation, even as they also raise concerns about slowing economic growth.
After weeks of devastating fighting, Qatar helped mediate a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas that opened the door for exchanges of hostages and prisoners. So how has Qatar, a nation that doesn’t have official diplomatic relations with Israel, played such an outsized role in this process?
Why Qatar: The Gulf state has repeatedly served as a mediator in conflicts across the Middle East and beyond, offering itself as a bridge of communication between historic, bitter adversaries like the US and Iran , the US and the Taliban , Ukraine and Russia , and Israel and Hamas. The tiny, gas-rich, wealthy nation has sought to boost its global profile over the past decade or so by serving in this capacity – and it’s had help from the US government along the way.
Qatar is home to the largest US military base in the Middle East – Al Udeid Air Base, which the US has been operating out of since 2001 – and its role as a mediator has “been largely a strategy pursued in coordination with Washington to deal with different regional issues,” says Ayham Kamel, head of Eurasia Group’s Middle East and North Africa research team.
But it’s also in Qatar’s DNA. Mediating conflict, says Patrick Theros, former US ambassador to Qatar, is “quite literally in Qatar’s Constitution,” and it’s seen as a key part of the country’s national security strategy.
Stability starts at home. Qatar views mediation as a vital means of maintaining regional stability and reducing its own security risks. “Qatar is, by citizen population, the smallest state in the Gulf region and, per capita, the richest in the Gulf and arguably the world. It is surrounded by predatory larger and stronger neighbors,” Theros notes.
Qatar was blockaded from 2017 to 2021 by Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries that accused Doha of supporting terror groups and of being too close to Iran. This episode highlighted the risks that Qatar’s approach to foreign affairs can pose, but those risks have also paid off in big ways.
The US, which played a role in ending the blockade, clearly sees Qatar’s desire to be a peacemaker in a prickly region as advantageous to its interests. In October, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken lauded Qatar as a “close partner” to the US on a range of crucial issues.
Doha has secured the “protection of powerful outside powers” like the US by making itself “indispensable” with its mediation efforts, Theros said.
Elements of leverage: Qatar has been engaging with Israel since the 1990s, and since 2012, it has also hosted a political office for Hamas, which Doha says was opened at the request of the US. This gives Qatar a degree of influence over the militant group, and some exiled senior Hamas officials live in Qatar, which has also poured hundreds of millions of dollars of aid into Gaza.
Doha maintains “good credible relations with a lot of less than nice parties” that Washington can’t engage with directly and has hosted groups like Hamas and the Taliban “at the express request of the US,” says Theros.
Some prominent Israeli politicians are not thrilled that Qatar has been tapped as a peacemaker in the conflict given its relationship with Hamas. There has also been some pushback regarding Qatar’s ties to Hamas from pro-Israel politicians in the US . But Doha maintains that keeping the Hamas office open allows Qatar to be a channel of communication, which benefits the US and Israel, as we’ve seen this past week.
“In the Israel-Hamas conflict, Qatar has proven itself to be one of the few viable channels to pressure Hamas to conduct deals on releasing Israeli hostages,” Kamel says. “At this point, the US is leveraging Qatar's influence to release as many hostages as possible while still maintaining support for Israel's objective of eliminating the Hamas threat.”
replay season, for those of us out of step with the cultural zeitgeist). In the spirit of everyone sharing their most-played tracks of the year, the GZERO team decided to look back at some of our top-viewed articles of 2023. You’ll never guess who wrote our top pick …
Plus, check out GZERO’s totally real and definitely not photoshopped 2023 Spotify Wrapped playlists from some of your favorite politicians.
#5 What should Israel do next? , by Ian Bremmer, October 2023
Hamas’ surprise Oct. 7 attack – and Israel’s subsequent offensive in Gaza – was a giant inflection point for global politics this year, so there’s no surprise that our audience looked to Ian Bremmer for emotion-free analysis amid a trove of disinformation about the war. TL;DR: Ian says Israel has the right to defend itself from attacks on its civilians, but perpetuating a humanitarian catastrophe for the world to see will reduce its moral legitimacy and damage its international standing.
#4 Wagner and Russia’s next moves , by Tasha Kheiriddin, August 2023
This summer (feels like a lifetime ago), Vladimir Putin faced his biggest challenge to date and survived an almost coup . Increasing tensions between the Russian Ministry of Defense and the paramilitary Wagner Group came to a head on June 23, when Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and his troops marched toward Moscow. The rebels ultimately turned around before reaching the Kremlin, but Putin couldn’t let this level of public dissent go unpunished. Prigozhin died in a mysterious plane crash two months later, leaving many to question the future of the Wagner Group in Russia and around the world.
#3 Canada caught up in US-China maritime tensions , by Carlos Santamaria, June 2023
With so much going on in the headlines, disputed waters in the South China Sea might not be at the top of many people’s reading lists, but it was for our readers. In June, China sailed a warship very close to a US destroyer and Canadian frigate (which was legally in the area, according to the United Nations) in the Taiwan Strait. Although a somewhat benign incident, it’s important to remember: More intimidation leads to more risk of miscalculation … that could trigger armed conflict.
#2 Cuba tells Russia to back off , by Willis Sparks, September 2023
A story that went a little under the radar this year (but shouldn’t have): Cuba uncovered a human trafficking ring that sought to coerce Cubans to join the war effort in Ukraine. It wasn’t too surprising that Russia was looking for more troops: Putin enlisted citizens from neighboring countries and even recruited prisoners to fight in the war in exchange for their freedom. What was surprising: Cuba’s willingness to publicly release a statement speaking out against its longtime ally, Russia.
#1 The Dollar is Dead, Long Live the Dollar , by Ian Bremmer, April 2023Economists, analysts, crypto bros, and my overly informed uncle at Thanksgiving dinner have all been guilty of getting swept up in hysteria about the end of US dollar dominance in the global economy. The fear is not unfounded, as countries from time to time discuss diversifying away from the US dollar, and its share in foreign exchange reserves has indeed declined in recent years. But GZERO’s founder and President Ian Bremmer reminded us … the share is still nearly twice that of the euro, yen, pound, and yuan combined . In short: Everyone needs to relax. The dollar is safe … because you can't replace something with nothing.
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here and a Quick Take to kick off your week. And yes, we are back to the Israel-Gaza war and it is at least a little bit of good news with some hostages finally being released over a month and a half from when they were originally taken. That has gotten us some Palestinian prisoners released, some humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza and a ceasefire for a few days. And indeed, looks like it will now plausibly be extended for another day or two as more hostages are being let go.
Got to give Qatar a lot of credit here for playing a role in negotiating between Israel and Hamas. Not an easy thing to do. Qatar, an ally of the United States, the biggest military base on the ground, but also a government that has allowed the political leadership of Hamas to live inside their territory in peace and security as they have Taliban leadership for years. And that proves to be useful for both the Americans and the Israelis, more on that later. But is this potentially the beginning of the end of the war? And on that front, I think we have to say absolutely not for a few reasons.
First of all, because there are still well over 100 hostages and they're going to be much harder to get released because here you're not talking about women and children. You're talking about men of fighting age, and in some cases you're talking about soldiers. And Hamas is going to demand a lot more in return. And the Israelis are going to be very reluctant to provide it. So first, I don't expect that's going to happen. And as long as there are hostages on the ground, there's still going to be an awful lot of fighting from the Israeli side.
Secondly, we still have a Hamas leadership, a military leadership active in the north of Gaza. Their ability to continue to fire rockets and their ability to continue to have command and control infrastructure, that's not been destroyed. And the Israeli military saying that it's probably another two months of fighting that they need in the war. By the way, this is about a month after they told the Americans privately that there would be 4 to 6 weeks required.
Now, part of that is, hey, just say the absolute minimum so you get support from the US. You can always extend it later. It's a tactic, but also because it's proving to be more challenging on the ground than the Israeli Defense Forces had anticipated. Not to mention the fact they haven't started fighting in the south, where they told all the Palestinian civilians to evacuate to, but there are also Hamas militants operating in the south. And so Israel intends to try to take them out as well. In other words, we're still talking about weeks, maybe months of active fighting.
The other thing I will say, though, is that the level of pressure on Israel internationally to stop that fighting is going to grow a lot. You've seen the Chinese, the Gulf states, the Egyptians, the Jordanians and Europeans, many Europeans, though not all, and increasingly many inside the United States as well, now actively calling for a ceasefire. And Biden even saying, President Biden, something he had been saying privately, but is now saying publicly that he might be willing to condition further military and financial support to Israel on the basis of Israeli behavior on the ground in the war. And he's very concerned, certainly as everyone is, about the level of civilian casualties that we've all seen in Gaza. Now, does that mean that Israel is no longer America's top ally? No. Under no circumstances can I see that. And Biden would not move in that direction, not personally and not politically. But I could see, for example, some high tech offensive weaponry being held back by the Americans for example, becoming more controversial.
And I also see that happening from Democrats in the House and in the Senate. Again, this is no longer a matter of just a small number of hard-line progressives on the squad in the House. This is much broader. I think we are at the point where Israel has probably lost some degree of support from the United States permanently. The demographics in the United States and how they feel about Israel and what that means politically for the country longer term has shifted. And certainly you can now see things in mainstream media that never would have been printed sort of even three months ago, never mind ten years ago, about their feeling of how Israel does and doesn't run a democracy, nature of the occupation in the West Bank, nature of detentions of those that are accused of, but not yet convicted of crimes, and on and on and on. That level of attention, which only grows, that level of scrutiny that only grows, the longer this war goes on. And of course, the longer we see massive civilian casualties on the ground, that's going to be more challenging for Israel.
There also remains what is the plausible long-term impact of all of this. And for now, it just looks like misery and it's very hard to imagine how the Palestinians could ever come to peace in the region until they have an option that looks attractive. And right now, if you're a Palestinian in Gaza, the option is run away and find someplace to not get blown up. And they're not going to leave Gaza and they're not allowed to leave Gaza, even if they did want to leave Gaza and they don't want to. And then you have Palestinians in the West Bank who are living on smaller and smaller pieces of territory and their lives have become more and more challenging. So, I mean, clearly, at some point, the Israeli government, with a lot of international support and pressure, are going to need to provide meaningful opportunities for the Palestinian people.
And we are not close to that. We are still talking about more war, not less, and less opportunities for building peace, not more. I hope that that will turn in the coming weeks and months. Certainly the international pressure is turning, but not yet the situation on the ground. From that perspective, we're still going to be talking about this quite a bit.
That's it for me. I'll talk to you all real soon.
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