The Islamic terrorist organization Hamas carried out a large-scale and brutal terrorist attack on Israel on October 7. On the surface, this attack was not a response to the West’s counter-China strategy. But there is indeed a strong possibility that there was a connection. I will explain the connection below, identifying the impact on the West’s counter-China strategy.
It is possible that this attack was related to the United States’ shift in attention toward China. The United States is withdrawing from Europe, the Middle East, and Afghanistan, and is re-deploying its military and diplomatic resources to the Indo-Pacific. However, in the Middle East, there are issues related to Israel’s security, and also, to contain the activities of Iran.
To fulfill the two purposes above, the U.S. needs regional countries that can share the security burden if the U.S. reduces its commitment in this region. This is the role Saudi Arabia, a regional power, can fulfill by countering Iran. Normalizing diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel and solidifying the encirclement network against Iran will have the effect of deterring conflict to some extent, even if the U.S. involvement declines.
Against this background, the United States has been making inroads, especially after the efforts of the previous Trump administration. To recall, President Trump visited the first country in the region Saudi Arabia, and toward the end of the term, he reconciled Israel with Sunni Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Ultimately, he urged Israel and Saudi Arabia to normalize diplomatic relations.
This policy seemed to come to a halt when the United States imposed sanctions on Saudi Arabia immediately after President Biden took office, but since then, India has also joined diplomatic games to normalize diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. What the Biden administration has been promoting is a cooperative relationship between the four countries of India, Israel, the UAE, and the United States, known as I2U2, an acronym for each country. This framework, also known as the “West Asian Quad,” focuses mainly on economic and technological cooperation, but in reality, is a framework for each country to cooperate on missile defense networks, etc., against Pakistan and Iran.
India’s missile defense system uses Israeli-made radar; Israel and the UAE also cooperate in missile defense, and all three countries use American weapons. Therefore, like the Quad, I2U2 is ostensibly a technical and economic cooperation, but in reality, it is a security cooperation. It is also a strategic move, going beyond the UAE to further cooperation with Saudi Arabia.
Furthermore, new economic concepts have emerged beyond I2U2. At this year’s G20 summit meeting, a memorandum of understanding was signed on the “India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor,” which connects India, the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. Signatories included India, the United States, the European Union (EU), the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. This will allow the United States to share the role it has played in the Middle East in order to better compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure projects.
China, Iran, and Hamas in Opposition
Beijing would like to prevent the United States from bringing military forces from Europe and the Middle East to strengthen its encirclement of China. For China, the key is to normalize diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Once diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are normalized, Israel and Saudi Arabia will no longer join forces to encircle Iran. China succeeded in doing this.
Iran wants to prevent Israel and Saudi Arabia from joining forces to encircle it. One way to prevent this is to start a war between Israel and Palestine and frame it as Jews versus Muslims. If that happens, there will be no atmosphere in which Israel, a Jewish country, and Saudi Arabia, a Muslim country, can join forces.
As diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE have been normalized, and as other Islamic countries gradually come to terms with Israel, the Palestinian issue is becoming less of a priority among Islamic countries. For Hamas, it would be a disaster if Israel and Saudi Arabia normalized diplomatic relations; Hamas therefore wants to prevent this.
Impact on the Counter-China Strategy
Under such a situation, what impact should we expect on the counter-China strategy? There could be few impacts in a worst-case scenario. First, China will become a center of the anti-U.S. movement. Due to its aggression in Ukraine, Russia is already under strong sanctions from Western countries and relies on China as its main customer for energy resources. China is a supplier of civil-purpose and dual-purpose products. On the international stage, Russia would be isolated without China’s support. But now, because of the solid anti-Israel mood among Muslims, and because of the U.S.’s strong support of Israel, there is an increase in their support for China as a leading anti-U.S. country. China’s statements after the Hamas terror attack criticized Israel repeatedly, indicating Beijing’s anti-Israel stance. Thus, the anti-U.S. lobby in the world is increasingly supporting China. Even if China does not wish to be seen as a leading country against the U.S., the strong support of anti-U.S. countries could push China to be the leader of the anti-U.S. movement.
In the midst of this situation, the U.S. is facing a shortage of resources to deal with China. The U.S. needs to support Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific countries around China. Even though the U.S. is the world’s strongest superpower, supporting three fronts at once is a tall order. For example, at the beginning of 2024, the presidential election will be held in Taiwan. Because the U.S.’s attention may be diverted elsewhere, China can be bold in putting military pressure on the Taiwanese people and thus influence that election. In such a case, the U.S. would face three fronts simultaneously. This is something that the U.S. needs to prevent.
Therefore, it is wise for the U.S. to ask its allies and partners to share the security burden. The U.S. will ask NATO, Quad, and other regional allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific to raise their defense budgets and share more of a security role. Countries around China, such as Japan, India, Australia, South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines including Taiwan must look to reinforce their military forces as soon as possible.