A month before the Gaza war, things were going well for Israel. The Abraham Accords were going strong and a vaccination campaign had made Israel an envy during the pandemic. The peace agreements appeared to herald a new era in the Middle East and all that was required was to keep Iran and its proxies from trying to destabilize the region. A new US administration was keen to increase the US role around the world and support human rights. That might mean no more chaotic policies, like the flip-flops of the Syria withdrawal in 2018-2019.
On May 22, after the recent Gaza war, the Palestinian Authority mufti was expelled from al-Aqsa for not supporting Hamas. Hamas was riding a wave of popular support, claiming it had defeated Israel. Protests in many countries had targeted Jews and articles slamming Israel were being printed in newspapers worldwide. China had led efforts at the UN critiquing Israel and in the US, several far-left members of the Democratic Party were calling Israel “apartheid” and pushing to stop arms sales.
Hamas was more popular than ever suddenly and it wasn’t even being condemned for firing 4,000 rockets at Israeli civilians, of which some 60 fell in Israeli cities and towns. There’s talk now of a shift in how countries will approach Hamas and it has received more legitimacy in the weeks since the war than in the decades prior.
Hezbollah and Iran were empowered and not deterred. Pakistan’s top diplomat was spouting antisemitism on CNN, and Turkey, along with Iran, was leading the charge to sanction and isolate Israel. In the West Bank, Palestinians were celebrating the Hamas victory. Groups like Human Rights Watch and other anti-Israel groups were talking Israel “apartheid” and arguing for a one-state solution. Anti-Israel activists sensed the tide had turned: Israel could be eliminated as a “settler-colonial state.” Iran agreed.
How did it come to this?
ISRAEL HAD largely kept Hamas isolated and ossified in Gaza since the 2014 war. Cut off from many supplies by Egypt, it had few friends. It had tried to expand that dwindling support abroad in 2019 and 2020 through visits to Turkey, Malaysia, Qatar and Iran. However, Israel’s new relationships in the Gulf appeared to show that Israel was now accepted in the region and a new alliance with Greece and Cyprus could promise new energy deals. Turkey, concerned about the incoming presidency of Joe Biden, was talking reconciliation across the region after being empowered by the Trump administration. The US was “back,” Biden said.
When the Biden administration came into office it was after an unprecedented era of uncertainty in the US, with COVID and the former US President refusing to concede. The Middle East was not a priority. Israel had close cooperation with US Central Command and good relations with the US regarding its desire to protect its interests. It was able to act against Iranian entrenchment in Syria. There was no big push for peace. There wasn’t even a new US ambassador in Jerusalem. But a slow drumbeat was beginning.