The explosion at al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza city that is believed to have killed an indeterminate number of people (from scores to hundreds, depending on the source of information) is an incident that could send the situation in West Asia spiralling out of control. There is a groundswell of anger on the streets of the Arab world. In a polarised environment, what caused the deaths in the Anglican-run hospital will be contested for a long time, and the incident proves the axiom that truth is often the first casualty of war. Hamas has blamed the deaths on an Israeli airstrike while authorities in Tel Aviv said the explosion was caused by the misfire of a rocket launched from Gaza. While the continuing anger in Israel over the brazen terrorist attacks by Hamas is understandable, the support offered by the West for Tel Aviv’s right to self-defence cannot be carte blanche for an unrelenting campaign of bombardment and air strikes that only results in more civilian deaths. Already the toll on both sides is far too high — 1,400 in Israel and almost 3,500 in Gaza. The time has come for all parties to pull back to ensure there is no further escalation that can lead to the war spilling over to Lebanon while simultaneously bringing Iran into the fray.
US President Joe Biden, while backing Israel’s narrative on the hospital blast, has warned it against an occupation of Gaza. Biden, who was never an ardent advocate of the US war on terror in Afghanistan, has spoken of the danger of being consumed by rage while citing the American response to the 9/11 terror attacks. He should also heed the anger within his Democratic Party oversteps that have been perceived as ignoring the Palestinian cause.
The conflict is no longer framed in the language of the Cold War era, when many countries, including India, saw it as a vestige of anti-colonial and national liberation struggles. In a reflection of the changed dynamics in West Asia, traditional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia have adopted a similar line on the situation. The hostilities are increasingly acquiring a religious dimension, which has the potential to spread beyond West Asia, even fan Islamophobia in the US and Europe. A sensible option for India is to convince its new strategic partner, Israel, and its traditional friends in the Arab world to come to the negotiating table without any further delay.
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