There was a time when it was accurate to use the term ‘Arab-Israeli conflict' to describe the dispute between the Jewish state, the Palestinians, and much of the Arab world. Yet lately, given that the upheaval regarding this troublesome spot is increasingly coming from the non-Arab Muslim world, the term has become a misnomer. From Turkey, to Iran, to Malyasia, non-Arab actors are jumping on the anti-Israel bandwagon in order to bolster domestic support and gain regional and global standing. This effectively treats the Palestinians as pawns, and risks harmful consequences for the people these nations claim to support. It is time for the Arab world to reclaim its influence and advance its own interests by working towards finally resolving this conflict.
The latest regional rift is between Israel and Turkey, the latter of which helped organise the ‘humanitarian aid flotilla' which was designed to break the Israeli blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza. The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called the Israeli action aboard the flotilla "terrorism under the aegis of an inhuman country", saying that if Israel had "chosen to side with terrorism and bloody operations, Turkey would choose to side with law, peace, justice, Palestine and the Gaza Strip".
Turkey's ambivalent relationship with its secular Kemalist legacy, ascendant strains of Islamism, and angst over the faded glory of the Ottoman Empire all have caused it to amplify its soft power by creating these unsavory yet strategic relationships. As a non-Arab country, Turkey's newfound camaraderie with Hamas and its solidarity with the Palestinians is clearly not borne out of Arab nationalism but out of a desire to gain regional standing.
This tactic has long been embraced by another non-Arab Muslim country — the Islamic Republic of Iran, who trumpets the Palestinian cause, at the expense of its own citizens. Having lost some soft power to Turkey in the region, Iran seems to be doubling down with increasing bellicosity in its anti-Israel rhetoric, its ongoing commitment to financing terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and its quest for nuclear capability. This is all to the detriment of the Arab states.
Even Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of Malaysia's political opposition and someone who has become known as a strong advocate of liberal democracy in Muslim countries has been employing anti-Israel rhetoric. Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post has astutely observed that Ibrahim's "transition from pro-American democrat to anti-Israeli zealot is sobering — and it is on the verge of becoming a trend".
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