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The Hamas attack on Israel: the positions of the Indo-Pacific actors.

Following the attack launched on Saturday 7 October by Hamas militiamen against Israel, diplomats from all over the world have expressed the positions of their respective states on the incident and, more generally, on the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the Asia-Pacific region, one of the first actors to intervene in support of Israel was Narendra Modi’s India which harshly condemned the attacks and demonstrated closeness to the country led by Benjamin Netanyahu. Furthermore, the two leaders were in contact by telephone on 10 October in which the Indian Prime Minister confirmed his full support for his Israeli counterpart. Such activism is not surprising when looking at the recent trajectory of Indo-Israeli bilateral relations.

Since the mid-1990s, the two countries have begun a slow and progressive process of rapprochement which today allows us to define the Tel Aviv-New Delhi axis as extremely sound. Relations, in particular, entered a new phase when, in July 2017, Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel.

The visit, historic in its own way, did not include any stops in the Palestinian territories. On that occasion, India and Israel elevated relations to a strategic partnership and this facilitated the development of economic-commercial ties. The overall trade between the two countries has grown over time to reach approximately 10 billion dollars in 2022, with Israel establishing itself as one of the main suppliers of Indian defence, transferring, among other things, anti-missile systems, radar high-tech and night vision equipment.

Recent and central stages of this path of strengthening bilateral relations are represented by the formalization in 2021 of the so-called I2U2, a cooperation group including India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, and by the expansion of the Indian presence in Israel with the purchase of the port of Haifa concluded in early 2023 by the Adani Group.
Subsequently, in May 2023, India and Israel signed a Memorandum for Cooperation on Industrial Research and Development, with a focus on several key technology areas, such as aerospace.

Finally, the Modi government played a decisive role in the approval, during the G20 in New Delhi, of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), which provides for the first connection between the Indian port of Mumbai and the Emirates port of Jebel Ali, then continuing through Saudi Arabia to the Israeli port of Haifa. The ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza, however, risks slowing down the rapprochement between Tel Aviv and Riyadh and, consequently, shelving part of the plans relating to the IMEC.

Another actor whose reaction was awaited is the People’s Republic of China which, after having avoided giving excessive space to what happened in the Middle East in the national media, issued an official statement to express concern. The spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mao Ning, also stated that the responsibility for the escalation lies in the stalemate of the peace talks and that without political solutions, such as the implementation of the two-state solution, it will be difficult to resolve the conflict.

Beijing, after having mediated the rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March 2023, had recently gained space in the international media for its apparent desire to encourage a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians which today appears to be an increasingly remote prospect. China, in fact, enjoys good relations with Israel to the point of having included the country, in 2017, within the ambitious projects linked to the Belt and Road Initiative.

On the other hand, during a trip to China by President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2023, the Chinese authorities promoted the signing of a strategic partnership with the Palestinian National Authority based on solar energy, the development of Palestinian industry, and infrastructure construction. At the moment, therefore, China remains in balance and is essentially waiting to understand the evolution of events in the region, while inviting the parties to de-escalate.

At the same time, Beijing will try to exploit any mistakes made by Israel’s Atlantic allies, led by the United States, which are highly likely given the complexity of the political framework that has been created. An emblematic example of this attitude is the reference that appeared in the Chinese media to the apparent failure of attempts to normalize regional relations between Arab states and Israel sponsored
by Washington.

Beyond India and China, other Asia-Pacific actors have also expressed their positions forcefully in recent hours. In particular, in Pakistan, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) and Prime Minister until last August, Shehbaz Sharif, stated that he believes the recent events are a direct consequence of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Also along the same lines are the statements of the former Prime Minister, then disqualified in April 2022, Imran Khan who reiterated his full support for the Palestinian cause in this complex phase. Among the most active, in this phase, the Emir Sirajul Haq stands out as an expression of the Jamaat-e-Islami party (Pakistan), who invited all Muslim countries to support the action of Hamas.

Mobilizations in support of the Palestinians also took place in Dacca, Bangladesh, where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spoke of a state of occupation that does not allow a solution to the conflict.

Support for the Palestinian action also came from the Taliban-led Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which defined any resistance action for the freedom of the land and the holy places as legitimate. Invitations to mobilize also came from the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, which was left considerably strengthened by the 2022 election, while Jakarta called for an immediate cessation of hostilities after an Indonesian hospital was hit in Gaza by Israeli F-16 bombings.

Harsh condemnation of the Hamas attacks came, however, from the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal which denounced the killing of as many as 10 citizens during the action carried out against Israel. The Singapore government also took the same line and strongly condemned the killing of civilians by Palestinian groups. The Vietnamese government appeared cautious, while a harsh condemnation of Hamas’ action with no reference to the occupation appeared in Japan’s official statement, thus confirming its alignment on the issue with most of the actors of the Euro-Atlantic bloc.

In this context, it is possible to note how in the broad Asia-Pacific area, the Palestinian issue still has the ability to mobilize the masses in the main Muslim-majority countries, even in theatres that have a significant terrorist presence such as Western Pakistan and Eastern Afghanistan. India’s absence from the bloc of states aligned with the Palestinians, however, indicates a lack of alignment between New Delhi and a good part of the actors of the so-called global South and this could partially complicate Indian plans with respect to its ability to assume the leadership of this broad and heterogeneous front.

Tiziano Marino/Ce.S.I.

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