November 23, 2023 | The Messenger

Arabs’ Diplomacy Over Gaza: Will They Ignore the US to Embrace Russia and China?

November 23, 2023 | The Messenger

Arabs’ Diplomacy Over Gaza: Will They Ignore the US to Embrace Russia and China?

Arab states have increased their diplomatic outreach amid the conflict in Gaza, where Israel on Tuesday approved a deal with Hamas for a release of some of the hostages taken by the terrorist organization and a ceasefire for several days. Arab diplomacy illustrates how leading states in the region are maneuvering during the crisis and positioning themselves. 

Several states have peace agreements with Israel: Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Before Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, there was talk of normalizing Israel’s relations with Saudi Arabia. Now, some of these states are talking with Russia and China, which could reflect a challenge to U.S. influence in the Middle East.

Some countries in the region, those linked to Iran, are bitterly hostile toward Israel. These include Syria, Iraq, Algeria and parts of Lebanon controlled by Hezbollah. Qatar has sought to use the war in Gaza to shine a spotlight on itself, positioning itself as both hosting Hamas and also conducting talks on a deal for Hamas to release Israeli hostages. 

One key event showcasing the new era of Arab states leading diplomatic efforts amid a war was the Arab-Islamic summit that convened for that purpose on Nov. 11 in Saudi Arabia. This shows Riyadh’s regional leadership and is important because, for many years, the region was more divided — for example, Turkey would not speak with Egypt, and Saudi-Iran tension dominated affairs. China helped broker Saudi-Iran reconciliation earlier this year, and now China potentially wants to play a role in the Gaza war.

CNN reported that China said the world must “act urgently” to stop the war. “Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi welcomed counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the Palestinian National Authority, and Indonesia, as well as the head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, for a two-day visit to the Chinese capital, the start of the delegation’s expected tour of several world capitals,” CNN noted on Nov. 21.

The Kingdom of Jordan has harshly criticized Israel during the war. A ministerial committee, designated at the Arab-Islamic summit to work towards international action to halt the war, empowered Ayman Safadi, the Jordanian deputy prime minister and minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, to set out on a ministerial tour on Sunday, according to Jordan’s Petra news agency.

At the same time, Egypt has reiterated its opposition to any displacement of Palestinians from Gaza. The UAE emphasized its call for the protection of civilian lives, “unrestricted humanitarian access, and an immediate ceasefire.” Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the kingdom also rejected “the enforced displacement of Palestinians and called on all countries to stop exporting arms to Israel,” Arab News reported.

Other moves are taking place. The joint Arab-Islamic Ministerial Committee met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday in Moscow to discuss a ceasefire. Jordanian state media said that “Lavrov praised the committee assigned by the Arab-Islamic summit to achieve a long-standing ceasefire” and that “Russia supports [an] immediate ceasefire according to the UN and Security Council resolutions.” The Russian foreign minister also said he supports “creating conditions to start peace efforts between Palestinians and Israelis based on the two-state solution,” according to the report.

Unquestioningly, Arab states are positioning themselves and the post-war period in Gaza may occur under the shadow of increased influence from Russia and China. It also may be that the Arab states are hedging, regarding working with the West.

Iran has tried to mobilize anti-Western and anti-American forces in the region, pushing Hezbollah in Lebanon and Houthis in Yemen to threaten Israel. However, the Gulf states are also concerned about security. The Iran-backed Houthi attack on a commercial ship in the Red Sea on Sunday is concerning to Saudi Arabia and its friends. Egypt, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, also does not want to see the Sinai, which borders Gaza, destabilized by Palestinian pressure from Gaza as a result of the war. 

Egypt is facilitating humanitarian aid to Gaza. Jordan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have stepped up aid and support for field hospitals in Gaza. Major forums such as BRICS, which Israel is not a member of, have been doing outreach to numerous Middle Eastern countries over the past few years. On Nov. 21, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries spoke during a virtual BRICS meeting that included Russia, China, South Africa, India and Brazil.

There are many forums between Russia, China and the Arab states, at which Israel is not present, despite the peace deals between Israel and some countries in the region — a setback for Israel in presenting its case in the region. While some countries oppose Iran’s destabilizing efforts and oppose Hamas, they are more reticent to say so publicly but appear to be on the side of Israel. China and Russia want to exploit this. Along with Iran and Turkey, China and Russia want a new world order and to erode the U.S. role in the region. For this reason, they’re working to exploit the Gaza crisis. 

Russia’s Vladimir Putin also wants the Israel-Hamas war to distract from his war in Ukraine, where Russian forces continue to check Ukraine’s attempt at an offensive as winter again approaches.

Seth J. Frantzman, Ph.D., is the author of “Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future.” He has more than 15 years of experience covering conflict and security issues in the Middle East as a correspondent and analyst, and is an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).


Arab Politics China Gulf States Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Russia