Author: Alex Petriashvili, Senior Fellow at Rondeli Foundation
Not everyone might agree, but from my perspective, the top three stories of the past week were: 1) Israel’s war against Hamas and terrorism, 2) Ukraine’s war against Russian aggression and terrorism, and 3) The European Commission’s annual enlargement report. Taken separately as well as in conjunction, all three are very important for both global and regional security and stability. Naturally, in different doses, there is a direct link between all three stories, and, obviously, there is a very clear interrelationship between the military actions in the Gaza Strip and the war against Russian aggression in Ukraine, as well as between the expansion of the European Union and again the war against Russia in Ukraine. Perhaps we can agree that the expansion of the European Union is also significantly interrelated with the complex processes taking place in the Middle East. These topics alone are worthy of blogs, articles, and analytical letters, but in this blog in particular, I will try to shed more light on the interconnection between the above three stories.
Let us approach the matter step by step. The Israeli army is already in the center of the northern part of Gaza. By the time this blog is published, the Israel Defense Forces will likely have fully occupied Gaza City and taken under control the northern part of the Gaza Strip.
There is now much debate as to whether Israel will expand the area of hostilities into southern Gaza. Based on the fact that the Israeli leadership has set and declared the goal of removing Hamas from power in Gaza, and destroying it as a terrorist organization, there is no doubt that Israel will continue its military operation, pushing south.
In addition to the increasing number of casualties among the Israeli armed forces and the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, there are a number of serious considerations to be taken in this endeavor: What will happen to the civilians taken hostage by the Hamas terrorists on October 7? There are unconfirmed reports that they are being held in underground bunkers in Gaza, but if, or rather when, the Israeli armed forces completely occupy the Gaza Strip, how long will the terrorists keep them in these bunkers, and will they leave them alive? another very acute problem is the dire situation of up to 2 million Palestinians, which is first and foremost the result of the terrorist activities and criminal rule of Hamas itself. How will the military operation continue in the southern part, where practically the entire population of the Gaza Strip is now located? How will the casualties among civilians increase considering that Egypt is not going to open the border for them? And even if the ideal happens, that is, if the theoretical chance of destroying the leadership of Hamas and the military forces in the territory of the Gaza Strip is realized, where and how will these 2 million people, whose homes, villages, and towns will be destroyed by the time the military operation ends, be accommodated?
International efforts, especially the active intervention of the United States of America, have enabled a large number of Gaza’s civilians to escape the fighting, but this does not mean that they are not still at risk of a humanitarian disaster. The Arab world, especially Jordan and Egypt, are clearly not ready to settle millions of Palestinians on their territory. Of course, this position is determined by the fear that the leaders of these countries have regarding the potential terrorists among the displaced, but what about women, children and the elderly, whose fate, or rather misfortune, is, I repeat, solely the culpability of Hamas.
No one knows how long the active military phase will last, but one thing is clear – the war in the Gaza Strip is still in the spotlight across the world, in the big cities, international organizations, international media, and in the political agendas of numerous countries. Clearly, this war in and of itself is a problem for regional countries and global stability and security, but its prolongation is particularly unfavorable for Ukraine. Many say, and in my opinion quite rightly, that if anyone is to benefit from the global focus of hostilities on the Middle East, it is primarily Russia. The geography of the spotlight has indeed changed, and it is now centered on the Middle East. You will often come across calls from European and American diplomats, politicians and experts on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networks – Don’t forget Ukraine!
Meanwhile, hostilities continue along the Ukrainian frontline, but neither side currently has a strategic initiative. Yes, of course, we are happy to hear about destroyed Russian tanks, ships and planes, but all this, unfortunately, has become routine. It’s been a long time since we last saw footage of the Ukrainian flag flying over any newly liberated settlement. We hope to see it soon. The fact that the main focus is now on the Middle East, though, and that it may remain there for the foreseeable future, is most acutely felt by the political and military leadership of Ukraine. In my opinion, the letters and interviews that were published by General Zaluzhny, then by President Zelensky, and finally by head of the presidential administration Ermak, which caused a great stir, were part of the same strategy. The opinion on the internal political conflict gaining a foothold among the leadership of Ukraine was reinforced, but if we look at their main messages, a different conclusion can also be made: All three request the international community not delay the military aid and to deliver the required amounts on time, accelerating the desired result – the defeat of Russia on the battlefield. The most important thing now is the timely and uninterrupted delivery of American aircraft, and American and European long-range missiles and artillery shells. In addition, of course, it is important to continue the financial assistance in order to prevent the collapse of the Ukrainian economy, which is already in a difficult situation.
In this regard, there are some problems in Washington. President Biden’s attempt to pass a single package on Capitol Hill for aid to Ukraine ($61 billion), Israel ($14 billion), and US border security ($30 billion) has so far been unsuccessful. In general, the internal political controversy in the USA has been having a very serious (negative) impact on global processes.
In addition, the chances of a final decision being made by the European Commission to allocate 50 billion euros to Ukraine over the next four years do not look promising. However, the situation is not utterly hopeless, and we can predict that the obstacle created as a result of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s blackmail will be overcome.
Yet we have good news in terms of the European Union expansion. Naturally, there will be obstacles here as well from Orbán’s government and, perhaps, from others (for example, Slovakia), but still, taking into account the current difficult situation, the recommendation of the European Commission to the European Council to start accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova in March 2024, to grant candidate status to Georgia, and, providing certain conditions are met, initiate accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, should be considered as positive and promising news.
And still: what is the connection between the expansion of the European Union and the ongoing hostilities in the Middle East? Let me tell you: where Ukraine’s struggle against Russian aggression has once again created a unique opportunity for the expansion in the minds of those in Brussels and the capitals of the European Union, the complex processes in the Middle East have increased this opportunity even more. The European leaders set as their main mission to materialize the historical idea of a free and whole Europe, which in this case is translated as follows: the enlarged European Union will be stronger, more sustainable, more successful, and more stable. This is a truly unique opportunity, and I really hope that the leaders of the European Union will first approve the recommendations of the European Commission on December 15, and then that the work will be intensified both in the candidate countries and within the European Union itself, so that everyone and everything will be ready as far as possible for the theoretically possible date of enlargement – 2030.