The recent unexpected attack by Hamas and its allies in the “Axis of Resistance” against Israel has shattered the hopes of Europe for a peaceful and constructive role in the Middle East. This assault has demonstrated to Europe that its soft power of economy, culture, development, and technology is ineffective in a region where deep-seated divisions of ethnicity, religion, politics, and territory prevail. Europe, which has been marginalized in the geopolitical game of the region, will not be able to pursue its interests and influence in the Middle East. In fact, Hamas’ devastating action against Israel has once again reminded regional and global actors that the root cause of the instability and violence in this region is Israel’s occupation and that no lasting peace or de-escalation can be achieved without addressing it. This war has once again shown regional and extra-regional powers that reality cannot be ignored or denied indefinitely.
Hamas’ action came as a shock to European governments and businesses, but not to European experts who had long predicted the outbreak of a third intifada in the Middle East and the surge of Palestinian rage against Israel’s actions. European think tanks had repeatedly warned that the policies of Israel’s most extremist cabinet ever, which continued to build illegal settlements in the occupied territories and violate the sanctity of Muslim and Christian holy sites, had pushed the situation in the occupied territories to the brink of explosion. However, European governments and politicians, blinded by the so-called “Abraham” normalization agreements between Israel and some Arab states, dreamed of a grand deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia and naively believed that the Middle East was now ripe for European investment and technology companies. The aspirations of Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council for huge economic cooperation plans with European countries fed this illusion of European influence. To this end, European countries had launched ambitious projects such as connecting India to Europe through the Middle East and extensive technological cooperation with Arab countries.
However, Hamas’ surprise operation, which resulted in thousands of casualties on both sides, revealed that the strategy of influence through soft power and economic power is a doomed strategy in the Middle East. Europe, which is a geopolitically irrelevant actor in the Middle East according to European think tanks, had to face the reality of geopolitical tensions in the region sooner or later. Therefore, the prerequisite for designing any influence strategy in the Middle East is to devise a coherent and fair European strategy for the geopolitical tensions of this region and specifically, the Palestinian issue. However, Europe’s lack of hard power and the clear disagreement among European countries on the issue of Middle East peace have made it harder for Europe to devise such a strategy. The divergence of European countries on whether to suspend or continue aid to the Palestinians after Hamas’ attack is evidence of this claim. Another issue is Europe’s own security vulnerabilities, especially in relation to the war in Ukraine and against Russia, and Europe’s security dependence on the US, which prevents Europe from taking an independent stance on the Palestinian issue.
The conflict in Gaza has once again exposed the geopolitical irrelevance of Europe in the Middle East, putting the continent on the defensive against the region and shattering the dream of European development plans in the region. With the risk of the war in Gaza escalating and turning into a regional war, as well as the rising hatred among the Arab public, de-escalation in the region will be halted, and no European investor or technology company will be willing to operate in such a high-risk area. Moreover, ambitious projects such as connecting India to Europe through the Middle East will also be suspended. This war will also increase the likelihood of a new wave of mass migration to Europe, and also, due to the large Muslim immigrant population in European countries, such as Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, it will fuel tensions between this population and the host society, and threaten the internal security of European countries. This war will once again keep Europe in the status of a subordinate and dependent actor of the United States, and of course, will bring more costs to Europe to finance Ukraine’s war with Russia.
In conclusion, in a world where we witness the resurgence of conventional wars and geopolitical rivalries, relying solely on soft tools will not ensure success. This is especially true in a region like the Middle East, which is primarily defined by its geopolitical conflicts, notably the century-old struggle between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Hence, the European aspirations of wielding a subtle influence in the region and the Arab illusions of appeasing their people were mere fantasies, fantasies that shattered in the face of the Gaza conflict.