War in Gaza weighs heavily on Middle East, say Arab officials

Deadly conflict dominates discussions at Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai

Mohammed Al Gergawi, the President of the Arab Strategic Forum and the Minister of Cabinet Affairs, opens this year's forum. Antonie Robertson / The National
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The war in Gaza weighed heavy on discussions at the Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai on Wednesday, with Gulf officials saying what Israel was doing went beyond anything seen previously in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“In the past, I condemned the attacks on civilians on both sides, but what Israel is doing against the Palestinian people in Gaza cannot be compared with anything else,” said Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki Al Faisal, a former ambassador to the US.

“The Hamas attack on Israel and the way it was able to invade Israel’s fortress around Gaza led to very significant repercussions, including shattering the image that many people had that Israel was the impenetrable fortress against any force that could compete with it or challenge it in the region,” he said.

Dr Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE President, reiterated his country’s firm support for the Palestinian people and the importance of resolving the conflict.

“Our solidarity must be with the Palestinian people and their cause. Managing this file [issue] is a necessity and a very important thing, along with managing other regional files,” Dr Gargash said.

Israeli strikes and heavy ground fighting continued in Gaza on Wednesday as fears mounted of a regional escalation after the killing of Saleh Al Arouri, deputy leader of Hamas's political wing, in Beirut on Tuesday.

The strike was widely blamed on Israel, but its implications for the war remain unclear. Israel has not commented on the killing, but Rear Adm Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said “we are on high readiness for any scenario”.

The Arab Strategy Forum, first held in 2001 under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, focused its discussions this year on the political and economic outlook for the Arab world in 2024.

Mohammed Al Gergawi, UAE Minister of Cabinet Affairs, said in his opening speech that three main factors would shape the Middle East this year.

“The Palestinian issue, the emergence of the Gulf states as an influential economic force, and the escalation of the pace of polarisation locally and internationally will be the main issues we will contend with,” Mr Al Gergawi said.

He said the aim of the forum this year, which was attended by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, was to form an in-depth understanding of global political and economic trends and unify Arab positions in light of increasing questions about the inability of the international system to contain crises.

“The war in Gaza is a humanitarian catastrophe and presents a situation that requires contemplation as it is surrounded by an intellectual conflict and double standards. It is a global diplomatic war that enjoys international polarisation,” Mr Al Gergawi said.

He said the important question is whether the war on Gaza represents an impetus and reason for a permanent peace, or a prolonged war.

Former Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy said there was a semblance of “Israeli slander and arrogance of power in the region”, and warned that the future for Arab states rested on a two-fold approach in their dealings with other countries.

“We, as Arabs, must do two things. First, not to rely on others too much without isolation by building our capabilities and co-operation regionally and globally, and second, to take the initiative in dealing with regional issues with wisdom and firmness,” he said.

Updated: January 03, 2024, 3:33 PM