Caught in the Crossfire: Prospects of New Trade Corridor Amidst the Israel-Hamas War

How will the ongoing conflict in Gaza affect the trajectory of India's newly initiated trade corridor, the India-Middle East, Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC)?

12 mins read
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden recently announced India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC).[ Image: Twitter(X) ]

On October 7, 2023, Hamas (a U.S.-designated FTO) headed an astounding attack against Israel from the Gaza Strip by air, sea, and land. The incident occurred 50 years after the Egypt-Syria surprise attack that launched the Yom Kippur War (1973), frequently referred to as the “October War” in the Arab world and coincided with a Jewish holiday.  Israel’s government publicly declared war on Hamas as a reaction to the strikes, with Prime Minister Bibi predicting that Israel would prevail in a protracted and challenging struggle. We are in a new era of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is solely Hamas’s fault. A nation like Israel, which was created in 1948 to provide housing for Holocaust survivors, has consistently been the target of physical and intellectual aggression. If Gaza has regularized panic and anxiety as its routine life, so have Israelis. To create a discerning history of ferocity qualifies as an act of selective blindness.

Hamas has been barraged with rockets by Israel for years to ascertain the Iron Dome’s “plethora position,” meaning the position at which it can be flooded with sheer numbers. By using the sea, air and land to inset gunmen into Israel, it would not be an embellishment to say Hamas has torn apart one of the vital norms of recent Israeli counterterrorism – that their principal peril was from the skyrockets themselves and not human mutineers.

A massive assault like this would never have caught the security forces off guard if Israel’s defence planners had really anticipated that armed militants could sail in on rafts and fly in on paragliders. Such low-tech attacks are only effective when they have the element of surprise working in their favour. Over the years, Hamas has gathered enough assets and financing funds to orchestrate horror acts under the facade of fighting against Palestinians’ “state of death, both gradual and swift.” By all measures, Hamas’s militarised life offer to the Palestinians is just another instance of how regional peace has been jeopardised and wilfully ignored in favour of the Muslims’ “final solution,” or the Day of Judgement, as Hamas envisioned it.

One of the pioneers of contemporary military philosophy, Carl von Clausewitz, frequently highlighted the value of human traits like audacity and inventiveness over set frameworks like doctrine and theory. That is, in a sense, exactly what we witness here. On the one hand, we witness a potential ossification of Israeli ideology, which is blatantly focused on incoming rocket barrages; on the other hand, we witness an unexpectedly imaginative terrorist strike. Al-Aqsa Storm, however, has delivered this notion a potentially fatal blow. The civilian population turned into a vulnerability instead of a strength.

The extremists who were invading southern Israel mercilessly shot hundreds of citizens who were either residents or tourists and in some horrible instances, they even kidnapped them. The pictures of women and children being grabbed away and kidnapped on motorcycles by armed gunmen is one that will remain in the Israeli psyche. The vicious attack reveals the vulnerability of having civilians on the Israeli side of such a critical border. Far from being a reinforcing presence for security, civilians inhabiting or stay in the border areas are now at risk. Simple tools like wire cutters and paragliders can be used to attack any public gatherings of civilians until an extraordinary degree of militarism is implemented permanently along the whole border.

Apart from territorial disputes, there appears to be a clear religious motivation for the attack. The attack is referred to by Palestinians as “Al-Aqsa Storm Operation” in reference to the well-known Al-Aqsa Mosque, a significant Islamic holy site. Extremist religious groups have put pressure on the state to remove the mosque and construct a Jewish temple in the area, and Jewish militants have regularly targeted the location. For Palestinian Muslims, the ongoing desecration of Al-Aqsa seems to have crossed a red line.

Israel and Palestine conflict: A bird’s eye view

The Balfour Declaration (1917): – In the First World War after the downfall of Ottoman Empire, Great Britain took charge of the region identified as Palestine. Minority of the Jews as well as majority of the Arabs lived in the region, along with many smaller ethnic groups. The tensions between Palestine and Israel further escalated when the international actors tasked the UK with creating a “national home for Jews” in Palestine. The then Mr. Arthur James Balfour, former foreign secretary of Britain, in the form of the Balfour Declaration gave the promise to the Jewish population for their homeland in Palestine. The Declaration was accepted by the recently established League of Nations, which served as the model for the United Nations, in 1922 and was codified in the British mandate over Palestine. Jews considered Palestine to be their ancestral homeland, and they began to arrive in huge numbers between the 1920s and 1940s as a handful of them were avoiding massacres in Europe, particularly the Nazi Holocaust during Second World War. Due to the gravity of violence against British rule as well as between Arabs and Jews, the UN decided in 1947 to split Palestine into two states i.e., Arab states and Jewish, with Jerusalem as its capital. Though it was never carried out, the Arab side rejected the idea, which was approved by Jewish leaders.

Creation of Israel: Jewish chieftains proclaimed the formation of the Israel State in 1948 after Britain left due to its failure to resolve the issue. It was meant to serve as both a sovereign homeland and a safe refuge for Jews escaping persecution. Months of fighting had spiralled between Arab and Jewish militias, and five Arab nations – Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon-launched an attack on Israel the day it became a state. Moreover, lakhs of Palestinians refer Al Nakba as a “catastrophe” as they were forced to leave their homes. By the time the fighting ended in a truce the following year, Israel had gained control over most of the region. West Bank was occupied by Jordan, while Gaza was occupied by Egypt. Israeli soldiers occupied the West of Jerusalem, while Jordanian forces occupied the East.

In lieu of the absence of any peace treaty, the region had witnessed gruesome violence and armed conflicts in the subsequent decades. Following the 1967 six-day Israel-Arab war, Palestinians like Sheikh Yassin, who shared the objectives of the Muslim Brotherhood, became involved in charitable work and social work in the Palestinian refugee camps. Hamas established an outstanding infrastructure to meet the social, educational, religious, and cultural requirements of the Palestinian people, the majority of whom were impoverished refugees, under the auspices of a charitable organisation named Da’wah. If Israeli accounts are to be believed, the Israeli government initially had no problem with the emergence of a second centre of power in the Occupied Territories to challenge the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) control. Israel seized control of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, East Jerusalem, Gaza, most of the Golan Heights of Syria (held under military occupation by Israel), and the West Bank during this conflict.

The major chunk of the Palestinian refugees and their ancestry reside in Gaza, the West Bank, and the surrounding countries of Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. Israel maintains that allowing them or their descendants to go back to their native lands would overrun the nation and jeopardise its continued existence as a Jewish state. Israel continues to occupy the West Bank and claims Jerusalem as its complete capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Only a few nation states like the United States of America acknowledges the city as Israel’s capital. Over seven lakhs’ Jews currently reside in the settlements that Israel has constructed in East Jerusalem and West Bank over the past fifty years. Although Israel disputes this, the UN Security Council, and the government of the United Kingdom, among others, hold that settlements are illegal under international law. Hence, the state of Israel was born in war, has lived in conflict constantly, and is destined to terminate in war. The word ‘peace’ may exist in their language, but it remains a distant dream.

Gaza Strip: –It is a miniature portion of land which is bordered with the Mediterranean Sea and Israel on one hand and a short southern border with Egypt on the other hand. One of the extremely heavily inhabited areas on the Earth and a residence of more than two million people, it extends to twenty-five miles long and ten km wide. Following the 1948–1949 conflict, Egypt occupied Gaza for nineteen years. During the 1967 conflict, Israel occupied Gaza and remained there till 2005, during which time it established Jewish inhabitants. Israel kept control over its shared border, shoreline, and airspace even after it removed its settlers and military in 2005. The UN continues to view the region as being occupied by Israel.

Between the 1990s and the 2010s, there were intermittent peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, interrupted with violent outbursts. Early on, a negotiated settlement did appear conceivable. The Oslo Peace Accord, which began with a series of covert negotiations in Norway, was immortalised in 1993 with a ceremony led by President Bill Clinton on the White House lawn.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Israel’s long-time foe, was acknowledged by both the State of Israel and Palestinians as the exclusive delegate of the Palestinian people in a momentous occasion on account of the Oslo Accord. A Palestinian Authority with self-governance was established. However, soon after, there were cracks, with opposition leader Bibi characterising Oslo as a grave menace to Israel. One of the goals of resettling Jews in the conquered Palestinian territory was expedited by the Israelis. Numerous suicide bombers are infiltrated to kill Israeli citizens bringing an end to any ray of hope for a peaceful deal. One such instance is the assassination of Mr. Yitzhak Rabin, the former Israeli Prime Minister on November 4, 1995, by a Jewish radical.

Various efforts to restore the armistice process were made. World powers even outlined a roadmap in 2003 with the intention of reaching a two-state solution, but this plan was never carried out. After negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in Washington failed in 2014, peace attempts eventually came to a standstill. Considered “the deal of the century i.e., peace to prosperity” by Prime Minister Bibi, the most current peace proposal, drafted by the US during President Trump’s administration, was refused by the Palestinians as being biased and under no circumstances was materialised.

Conflict Overview of Israel and Gaza: –Gaza is controlled by Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya) which gained victory in the last elections ever held in Palestine in the year 2006 and confiscated in 2007 the Gaza Strip by defeating the rival President Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah movement) of West Bank. Since then, Egypt and Israel have retained a restricted embargo on Gaza to detach Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya and put an end to attacks, especially the random launching of missiles against Israeli conurbations. This has resulted in multiple wars between militants in Gaza and Israel. Gaza’s Palestinian population claims that Israel’s airstrikes and restrictions on densely populated areas are collective retribution.

While the events taking place in Israel are not new, Hamas was labelled as a terrorist organisation at the time of its most recent strike in October 2023. Even though Hamas called this operation “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” to capitalise on the publicity it generated, it is evident that violence will never be able to resolve this complex and diverse issue in the annals of modern human civilization. The military operations that are implemented there are in reaction to fatal Israeli attacks.

The internal crisis that Netanyahu’s cabinet is currently experiencing is extremely serious and out of control. In this political environment, it wouldn’t be shocking if a plethora of conspiracy theories surfaced in the coming days, claiming that Bibi knew about the assaults in advance and purposefully permitted them to happen to regain his political authority. Mossad, the highly regarded Israeli intelligence organisation, did not convey the sense that war was about to break out since Prime Minister Netanyahu appeared to oversee a Gaza that was “unstable stable” and assured that he could handle any challenge thrown at him or his government. Netanyahu was too preoccupied to notice the coming storm because he was preoccupied with more pressing internal issues, including as the constant opposition to his administration and its attempts to implement judicial reforms, which is code for abolishing the supremacy of the courts. Netanyahu wants the courts to be superfluous so that he won’t have to deal with the fallout from corruption investigations against him. Deep rifts have resulted from this, and even Mossad and other defence forces now oppose the “reforms” because they believe they pose a threat to democracy.

What is amazing, though, is that Hamas’s surprise attack not only strengthened the Israeli government’s hold on power but also inspired the public to support Netanyahu’s determination to destroy Gaza to destroy Hamas. The orders issued by the defence minister to establish a complete blockade on the Gaza Strip have initiated the all-too-common practise of pursuing “enemies” at the expense of a great deal of civilian casualties. Food, water, and electricity are among the necessities that have been brutally cut off.

This indicates just the commencing of what may well develop into an armed conflict reminiscent of the Six-Day War. In the end, not only will the humanitarian catastrophe accelerate, but a significant portion, if not all, of Gaza may be taken into Israeli hands to boost the expansion of settlements.

The Key Actors

IsraelAccording to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel’s military will stop at nothing to “demolish Hamas.”
Hamas and other Palestinian revolutionariesBorn out of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni political and religious organisation that was established in 1928 in Egypt and has branches all over the world, Hamas is a Palestinian Islamist military and socio-political movement. Hamas catapulted to international prominence 15 years ago after its first uprising in Gaza Strip and West Bank against Israeli occupation. Sheikh Ahmad Yassin is its founder as well as thespiritual chaperon. Islamic fundamentalism and Palestinian nationalism are combined in the philosophy of Hamas.To resist Israel’s conventional military dominance, Hamas and other Palestinian militants might rely on their understanding of the topography of Gaza, a massive network of tunnels, and urban warfare techniques.
Iran-backed Shia Islamist group Lebanese HezbollahIsrael has mandated the evacuation of twenty-eight communities in northern Israel
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)They seem to be in a tricky positionas they are located in the West Bank, where they cannot condemn Hamas directly without offending the large number of Palestinians who favour fighting Israel.
United StatesIsrael, along with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, continued to be seen by the United States as a stabilising influence when it came to West Asia after the end of the Cold War.  Its relations with Israel are shaped by a multitude of other factors, such as American public opinion, political politics, and the influential Israel lobby in the United States.
The European Union; Arab governments including Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar;May try to participate in initiatives including humanitarian aid or mediation.Under Qatar mediated deal, many Palestinians and foreign nationals have entered Egypt through the Rafah crossing.

IMEC– A castle in sand

An impressive MoU on the India-Middle East, Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) was signed by India, European Union, U.A.E, Saudi Arabia, and U.S. President Joe Biden following the September 2023 G-20 conference in New Delhi. India, a staunch ally of Israel, might lose out on significant commercial interests in this venture if international powers like Russia and China choose to use their clout. The impetus behind the IMEC is problematic, as its goalmouth is to generate geopolitical skirmishes and engross in geopolitical games. The result remains ambiguous, with much at stake for India. The intention and timing behind Hamas’ random confrontation on Israeli soil have left considerable space to reveal the enormous geopolitical interests and sparks behind the abrupt escalations.

IMEC Map

Two distinct corridors that make up the IMEC are the one that runs east from India to the Arabian Gulf and the one that runs north from the Arabian Gulf to Europe. Amongst its features will be a railway that will serve as a cross-border ship-to-rail transit network, facilitating the movement of products and services to and from Europe, the UAE, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and India. This intercontinental passageway goal was to establish Saudi Arabia as the link between Europe and India, passing through Israel, Greece, France, and Germany before joining the United States. This massive project sought to oppose China’s One Belt One Road Initiative, which involved one hundred and fifty-five nations since its commencement a decade ago. India and the US have been searching for ways to counter it, and they have come across a project in the form of IMEC that might just be the answer. The U.S. was enticing Saudi Arabia, the richest and greatest powerful country in the Islamic realm, to cultivate stronger connections with Israel without making any appreciable concessions for Palestinians imprisoned in Gaza or the West Bank. There’s also a chance that the much-awaited IMEC project would never happen if Saudi Arabia is unwilling to hold talks with Israel.

War is not beneficial for any financial system, no matter what the circumstances. In a progressively intertwined world, any geopolitical conflict stands to alter the international economy. The IMEC would have gained advantages for India on several fronts. There is a great chance that it will open enormous trade opportunities that were closed off by connectivity problems. India might sustain significant losses in these circumstances because the corridor intersects with some ports where well-known Indian businesses have made significant investments. India has not yet unveiled a complete connectivity strategy, even though connectivity designs have a big influence on the current phase of globalisation.

Yet, history demonstrates us that sowing the seeds of terrorism by generating circumstances ripe for zealotry will never lead to the downfall of terrorism. If current operations continue to put in danger the gradual and normal stabilisation of associations between Israel and Arab countries, the formerregime may further risk losing its grip and revisiting a dark chapter in history. The peril of the overwhelmingvictory of Hamas’ operations lies in the potential resurrection of Islamic fanaticism, publicized by groups like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. This could herald new strategic dimensions as they seek to infiltrate vulnerable targets and hire new members across the world, possibly causing even more devastating mayhem.

But, at the end of the day, Israel will have to take a call. As the perpetrator of the deadliest attack on Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu is in a unique position to exact revenge on those responsible, which would spell political doom for him and his friends. After the dust settles, the area struggles to deal with the fallout, making peace even more difficult.

Pooja Kapoor

Dr. Pooja Kapoor is an Associate Professor at Bennett University, India. Her research spans International Relations, Gender and Women Studies, Human Rights, Legal Constitutional History, and Indian Government and Politics.

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