Israel Unlikely to Exit the Limelight
Due to a confluence of several events, some unavoidable and some wholly avoidable, Israel will be at the centre of media coverage in the Middle East for at least the next week.
Due to a rapidly escalating conflict with Iran, it is likely to remain there for some time.
As for the unavoidable events, it began on Saturday, May 12 and spilt into Sunday, as thousands of Israelis gathered to march through the streets of Jerusalem to celebrate the 1967 reunification of the city. It will continue on May 14, as Israelis mark the 70th anniversary of Israeli independence. The week caps off with Nakba Day, the Arabic word for “catastrophe,” on May 15, as Palestinians in the occupied territories and throughout the Arab world commemorate the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, in which roughly 80% of the population was displaced from what is now Israel and denied the ability to return.
This week in May is politically fraught every year. That is just the nature of events that celebrate or commemorate the events that led to
the displacement of over a million people.
What adds to the tension this year are events that are entirely avoidable. Making good on a campaign promise, President Trump announced in February that the US would be moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in time for Israel’s Independence Day. It was later confirmed that the opening of the new embassy would take place on Independence Day.
While seemingly innocuous on the surface, Israel has been operating with Jerusalem as its capital since it unified the city during the 1967 war. The status of Jerusalem holds immense significance to the peace process and its prospects. Internationally, the city is recognised as an international zone, as outlined in UN Resolutions 181 and 194 concerning the partition and formation of Israel and the Oslo Accords.
For the Palestinians, any potential peace agreement required that Jerusalem remain an international zone, a precondition to any further negotiations. By moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, Trump has moved the official US position on the future status of Jerusalem decidedly to the Israelis corner, all but ending any credibility the US had as an unbiased mediator of the peace process.
All of this occurs against the backdrop of six weeks of protests along the Gaza border. Kicked off on March 30, with hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza protesting along the border with Israel. Israeli forces have killed 45 Palestinians, as of this writing, wounding hundreds more in response to the protests.
Hamas, for their part, has warned of a massive march occurring this week. Israeli officials are increasingly wary of the possibility of protesters rushing the border and breaking through the fence. With a dubious track record thus far, concern about what Israel’s response to such a move would be should be raised.
While this week will undoubtedly bring international attention to Israel, its quickly escalating conflict with Iranian forces in Syria will likely keep the world’s attention on Israel well past this week.
This past week, Iran and Israel exchanged a volley of rockets that marked the first-ever direct targeting of Israeli forces by Iran. It has been reported that on Wednesday night, Iran launched 20 rockets targeting Israeli positions in the Golan Heights. Israel responded with an extensive attack on a number of Iranian positions within Syria, allegedly hitting storage facilities, logistics centres, and intelligence gathering units.
The exchange marks yet another escalation in the conflict between the two countries, and an end in the cycle is not easily foreseeable. Suffering from a lack of domestic support for its campaign in Syria, picking a fight with Israel may be just what the Iranian regime needs to turn that trend around.
With the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, it is unlikely that either party will willingly back down from further escalation; not Iran with its new need for reasserting its pride, nor Israel with a now-unabashedly hardline Washington in its corner.
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