Oct 11, 2023
Smoke plumes rising above buildings during an Israeli strike on Rafah in the Gaza Strip, Saturday October 15, 2023.
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Shortly after the brutal and surprising attack of the Hamas on Israel on October 7, experts of the DGAP research institute with very different areas of expertise have started to discuss the conflict and its broader ramifications. Since DGAP’s cross-cutting approach goes beyond a strictly regional perspective, on the occasion of this conflict the researchers reflected on overarching geopolitical implications, common patterns, and trends. 


The US Perspective: Policy Implications and Strategic Realignments

US foreign policy often serves as a barometer for global trends. Dominik Tolksdorf suggests: "The attack on Israel pushes the Biden Administration to focus much more on the Middle East, including Iran.  While this aligns with the broader commitment to allies and partners, the intricate matrix of internal US politics and global dynamics necessitates a recalibration of the Biden Administration’s focus that might also have an impact on the Ukraine policy.” This perspective underscores the delicate balancing act that the US might need to undertake, potentially realigning its strategic priorities.

To Reboot Liberal Ordering, Democracies Need a Strategy

The current liberal international order has failed to make the world safe for democracy and needs reinventing argues Benjamin Tallis: “For too long liberal democracies relied on institutions and rules that are not fit for purpose. We failed to renew liberal ordering because we lost faith in our model and went soft on standing up for liberal values while pursuing miscalculated versions of our interests.” Now, the multiple crises we see make the stakes clear. “Authoritarian states have a strategy. We don’t. That needs to change – and it needs to put liberal values at its heart to provide a rallying point for democracies to work together and shape a new order.”

NATO's Response: Unity Amidst Diverse Opinions

"NATO's stance against aggression was evident when allies condemned Hamas' attack on Israel, echoed by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ‘in the strongest possible terms,’" notes Aylin Matlé. While individual allies like Germany and the United States were quick to offer Israel support in terms of military equipment, NATO as a whole is not reacting materially to the renewed flare-up of violence. Divergent views on offering military aid and diverging views over Israel's retaliatory "proportionality" add layers of complexity. This restraint sheds light on the Alliance's intricate dynamics in crisis situations, Matlé adds: “Neither can or should the Alliance become involved in Israel's response to the terrorist attack, not least because NATO allies have differing views on whether or not to provide military aid at all.”

Emergence of Middle Powers: The New Geopolitical Paradigm

With global superpowers like the US and China often ensnared in their expansive commitments, regional powers or 'middle powers' are rising to prominence. András Racz delves into this emerging dynamic, asserting, "Great powers find themselves reactive, with regional entities taking the initiative. The major entities are merely reacting to regional dynamics, especially seen in cases like Ukraine, Karabakh, and now Israel." Armed with technological advancements and a clear regional vision, these middle powers are recalibrating the global geopolitical equilibrium.

The Evolving Geopolitical Roles of Russia and Iran

Russia and Iran, traditionally influential players in their respective regions, have exhibited transformative geopolitical strategies. Stefan Meister describes Russia's trajectory, explaining that "Russia's global imprint is evolving. While its dominant hegemonic days in the post-Soviet region may be in the past with the war in Ukraine, its emergent role as a geopolitical norm-setter is undeniable." He continues: “Russia is weakened but not weak. It is both a disruptive power but also an authoritarian norm setter."

European Union: A Crisis of Action and Values

The EU is struggling both in action and upholding values. Jacob Ross critically examines the EU's recent response to crises in Afghanistan, Niger and now Israel, observing, "Amidst recurring geopolitical challenges, the EU's responses often appear inadequate, casting doubts on its geopolitical aspirations." Florence Schimmel laments the apparent lack of progress in the EU’s crisis management approach. She remarks: “The EU shows no learning curve on how to get member states behind coherent action and common communication on the basics, and on innovative thinking regarding the specific situation.” Instead of tailoring responses to the specificities of each situation, the bloc appears in its initial reaction occupied with what should be standard operating procedures on the different money flows in humanitarian aid, development cooperation, and other policy projects such as stabilization efforts or migration issues.

Recent decisions by member states further illustrate the dissonance and lack of cohesion within the EU member states. While Denmark recently resumed its development aid to Niger, aiming to curtail what was called “collective punishment” to the people of Niger in contrast to other member states' decisions in September, Ireland now raises questions at the decision of Olivér Várhelyi, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, to immediately suspend development funds to Palestine, questioning its legal grounds.  

Energy expert Loyle Campbell further expounds on the impact of the conflict on regional energy flows. Israel isa major gas producer. In 2022, Israel produced 21.9 bcm - 10.2 of which was produced by the Tamar Platform. This platform is located northwest of the Gaza Strip and, due to proximity, was ordered to shut-in by the Israeli government. This could leave Israel facing gas shortages, which could spread in the absence of exports. In 2022, Israel exported 9.2 bcm of gas to Egypt and Jordan. With Tamar shut-in, exports will be disrupted as Israel prioritizes domestic demand. This will cause Egypt to struggle to meet its growing demand while sustaining liquified natural gas exports to Europe. The supply gap has already caused European gas prices to rise.

A Complex Geopolitical Mosaic

Hamas’ attack on Israel is a terrible act of unjustified violence with severe implications for the region, but it is also woven into the tapestry of complex global geopolitics. As countries and alliances grapple with these developments, DGAP provides cross-cutting analysis to inform comprehensive policy responses. In these tumultuous times, the need of the hour is cohesive, value-driven strategies, anchored in a steadfast commitment to democracy and the international rule of law. 


Bibliographic data

Tolksdorf, Dominik, Benjamin Tallis, Aylin Matlé, András Rácz, Stefan Meister, Jacob Ross, Florence Schimmel, and Loyle Campbell. “Israel-Hamas War Through a Global Lens.” German Council on Foreign Relations. October 2023.

This text reflects excerpts from an internal discussion of the DGAP Research Institute on Oct. 11, 2023, shortly after Hamas' attack on Israel.