The Chess Board of Middle Eastern Geopolitics

The past week saw further intensification of violence across Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Amid Pro-Palestine protests across the world, the pressure on Israel for a ceasefire is high, but the geopolitical and diplomatic chessboard is keeping threats of regional escalation high.

For the Russians and the Chinese – this is an opportunity to snub the US and Western allies. While the US has come out unequivocally in support of Israel’s right to respond to Hamas’s provocation but is also working to maintain ties with Arab states, the ‘axis of evil’ is playing multiple moves. Russia recently hosted Hamas, ostensibly to start a dialogue around releasing Israeli hostages. Iranian FM was recently in the US for something other than a UN General Assembly summit, prompting speculation on back-door negotiations with the US.

The US and China have been increasing military activity in the region – with China stationing six warships. The US, along with having moved its regional warship closer to Israel, has also been retaliating against targeted drone attacks against its airbases in the region in Syria and Iraq. However, the US realises that China is in a position of influence with Iran, having recently mediated its relations with KSA. Should China open a dialogue with Iran and, in turn, with Hamas, the US regional escalation could be avoided, especially as attempts for regional escalation by Iran-backed militia have already been intercepted and thwarted.

The US intercepted four missiles fired towards Israel by Iran-backed Houthi rebels from Yemen, and KSA shot down a fifth missile, indicating the latter’s resolve to minimize the risk of regional escalation. Meanwhile, the threats of a full-fledged second front continue from Hezbollah and Iran. For now, Israel’s action in Gaza has been in gradual stages – with aerial activity, and ground forces in northern Israel while allowing humanitarian aid to flow, so this trigger will need to be closely watched for future impact.

While cooperation or tactical adjustment in the Middle East might be to the two superpowers’ benefit, US-China relations looked slightly different in the Indo-Pacific region. The Philippines and China accused each other of causing collisions in the South China Sea. The US strongly backed the Philippines, claiming that Chinese action at sea was unlawful when the Chinese Coast Guard performed ‘blocking maneuvers’ that caused it to collide with a Filipino vessel carrying supplies for its troops in Ayungin Shoal.

Chinese maritime activity is also on the rise off the coast of Sri Lanka, as Shi Yan 6, its research vessel, begins its geophysical research activity under Indian and American scrutiny.


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