Israel's relations with Arab neighbors in the Middle East

Hamas' October 7 attack on Israel has put a spotlight on Tel Aviv's relations with its neighbors. Here's what you need to know

Egypt's President Sisi has rejected Gaza refugees since the start of the latest conflict and blamed Israel for blocking aid (photo: DW)
Egypt's President Sisi has rejected Gaza refugees since the start of the latest conflict and blamed Israel for blocking aid (photo: DW)
user

DW

For most of its history, Israel has been at odds with its Arab neighbors.

After a deadly explosion at Gaza City's crowded al-Ahli Hospital killed scores of people Tuesday, most Arab nations in the region accused Israel of responsibility, while Israeli officials asserted that a Palestinian rocket caused the hospital's destruction.

Following the October 7 incursion by the Hamas militant group into Israel, most Arab countries, even those that had maintained dialogue and cooperation with the Israeli government for decades, held Israel accountable for the escalation of violence. In particular, they pointed to Israel's settlement building in the West Bank and its heavy-handed actions in the Gaza Strip.

Here is a closer look at where border countries surrounding Israel stand in the face of the recent conflict.

Egypt

On October 15, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi criticized the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) response to the Hamas attacks, claiming it went "beyond the right to self-defense" and instead resembled collective punishment.

Egypt has maintained a longstanding partnership with Israel since relations between the two were normalized in the wake of the 1978 Camp David Accords and the subsequent 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

The Egypt-Israel peace treaty has endured various crises, including Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the first and second intifadas, Israel's 2002 reinvasion of the West Bank (Operation Defensive Shield), and multiple conflicts between Israel and Hamas.

During one of these conflicts, the 2014 Gaza War, Egypt urged Israel to take a more forceful approach, but Israel hesitated, fearing potential power vacuums and chaos in the region.

Despite its close ties to Iran, Hamas, which the US, EU and several other countries consider a terrorist organization, also maintains a complex relationship with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt. The relationship has raised security concerns over religious extremism for the government in Cairo but also enables the Egyptian intelligence service to mediate between Israel and Hamas through backchannel communications.

In the current Hamas-Israel conflict, Egyptian officials have said they'd rather facilitate humanitarian aid to Gaza than allow Gazans to cross into the Sinai Peninsula.

In a press conference on Wednesday, el-Sissi said millions of Egyptians vehemently opposed the forced displacement of Palestinians into Sinai as it could turn the Egyptian peninsula into a base for attacks against Israel.

This opposition to taking in Palestinians is also seen as partly tied to Cairo's dire economic situation and its ongoing influx of people fleeing Sudan's civil war.

Jordan

Jordan and Israel were in an official state of war for decades but, nevertheless, consistently maintained communications, eventually leading to the signing of a peace treaty in 1994.

Jordan has extended assistance to Israel on multiple occasions, such as during the November 2014 riots in Jerusalem — centered on access to the Temple Mount and the al-Aqsa Mosque — when Jordanian officials worked with the IDF to maintain security at the holy sites. In return, Israel collaborates with Jordan on various trade, agriculture, industry and public health projects.

However, their relationship has seen recurring tensions, often overshadowed by the ongoing Palestinian quest for statehood.

On October 11, King Abdullah of Jordan delivered a speech underscoring the importance of a two-state solution, saying, "Our region will never be secure nor stable without achieving just and comprehensive peace on the basis of the two-state solution."

Jordan is also highly cautious about a new influx of Palestinian refugees, insisting that Palestinians need to remain in their homeland if they are to form a state of their own in the future.

Jordan, a country of 11.6 million residents, also already hosts millions of migrants from Palestinian territories, Syria and Iraq, giving it one of the highest refugee-to-population ratios in the world.

Lebanon

The Lebanese Shia political organization Hezbollah poses a significant threat to Israel. The group's military wing, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the European Union, the United States and others, maintains a substantial arsenal of weapons and wields extensive political and economic influence inside Lebanon.

Over the past few decades, Israel and Hezbollah have periodically engaged in armed conflicts.

However, tensions between Lebanon and Israel date back to 1948, when Lebanon, along with other Arab nations, declared war on Israel shortly after the establishment of the Jewish state.

Lebanon has since been home to both Palestinian refugees and various militia groups, while Israel has repeatedly occupied parts of southern Lebanon.

In 2000, following a UN-brokered cease-fire, Israel withdrew from the occupied Lebanese territories. However, the border area between the two countries remains volatile and has witnessed regular armed clashes.

After Hamas' unexpected attack on Israel, Hezbollah said it would stand "in solidarity" with the Palestinian people. Exchange of fire in the border zone ensued the next day, rekindling memories of a conflict that had been relatively dormant since 2006.

Syria

Like Lebanon, Syria officially considers Israel an adversary, and the two countries have been in a state of war since Israel's establishment in 1948.

During the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel captured a Syrian border plateau known as the Golan Heights and has occupied the area ever since.

Syria also maintains an alliance with Iran, Israel's primary rival in the region.

In 2007, when Israel expressed a willingness to exchange land for peace in response to peace overtures from Syrian President Bashar Assad, it did so on the condition that Syria would sever ties with Iran and anti-Israel guerrilla groups. Syria rejected the terms.

Over the past two weeks, Syria and Israel have exchanged fire. However, missile attacks from Syria on Israel have recurred for years, typically following periods of unrest within Israel and mainly affecting open fields.

Israel has also carried out airstrikes in Syria since the civil war there began in 2011. Their primary aim has been to disrupt weapons shipments to Hezbollah and to target facilities belonging to Iran and its proxies in Syria.

Last week, Israel launched missile strikes on Syria's two main airports in Damascus, the Syrian capital, and Aleppo, putting both out of service.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines


;