Guarini Institute Presents "War in the Middle East: Regional and Global Perspectives"

On February 20, the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs, along with the JCU MA in International Affairs Program, hosted an event called “War in the Middle East: Regional and Global Perspectives,” to shed light on the conflict that began with the October 7th attack on Israel by Hamas. The event brought together experts, scholars, and students to explore the multifaceted, ongoing issues in the Middle East.

The event was moderated by Guarini Institute advisory member and Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, Michael Driessen.

John Cabot University Critelli Campus
John Cabot University Critelli Campus

Giorgio Cuzzelli, a retired brigadier general of the Italian Army who currently works with numerous academic institutions to provide consulting services in international security, offered insights into how Italy and the broader European Union can navigate this intricate landscape.

For Europe, both as a united international front and its individual states, the Middle East conflict presents several diplomatic and geopolitical challenges. The EU has long advocated for a two-state solution, recognizing the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians. However, deep-seated historical guilt, particularly in the case of Germany, adds a layer of complexity to European perspectives. While there is a commitment to combating anti-Semitism and addressing the humanitarian crises faced by Palestinians, navigating this delicate balance remains challenging for European leaders.

NATO’s role in the Mediterranean region is equally complex. Originally formed to counter threats from the East, particularly the Soviet Union, NATO’s focus has shifted to include challenges from the South. The conflict between Israel and Hamas underscores the societal threats facing the region, prompting NATO to reassess its strategic priorities. Italy acknowledges its limitations in brokering peace between Israel and Hamas independently and instead aligns itself with EU policy advocating for a two-state solution.

Next, Professor Driessen turned the floor over to Giulia Daga, a scholar in international studies, who offered valuable insights into the evolving dynamics of the Middle East conflict and its impact on the region.

The Middle East conflict has left a lasting imprint on the geopolitical landscape, with Arab states of the Gulf navigating complex challenges amidst shifting alliances and regional dynamics. Over the past decade, perceptions of the United States’ role in the region have evolved, culminating in significant shifts in strategic partnerships and regional reconciliation efforts.

The recent conflict in Gaza has served as a common point for Arab unity, prompting a reevaluation of ties with traditional Western partners. Arab states have voiced concerns over perceived double standards in international relations, challenging the notion of a rules-based order that does not equally apply to all actors.

Despite overarching trends, individual states in the Arab peninsula exhibit varying approaches to the conflict and regional dynamics. Saudi Arabia, for instance, initially pursued normalization with Israel but later halted negotiations in favor of a two-state solution, while also seeking to de-escalate the conflict in Yemen.

Farian Sabahi, senior researcher in contemporary history at Insubria University, further examined the Middle East conflict through a nuanced understanding of various factors. Iran’s role in the region is notable, with proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, and the Fatemiyoun Brigade in Syria shaping regional dynamics.

Yemen emerges as a critical theater, with the Houthi rebels disrupting maritime traffic in the Red Sea, impacting global shipping routes, and increasing transport costs. The Houthi movement’s origins lie in grievances against former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s policies of imposed poverty in their region, leading to their ascent to power in Sanaa and subsequent conflict with Saudi Arabia.

Finally, Associate Professor of International Relations at JCU, Silvia Scarpa, explained the legal intricacies of the South Africa v. Israel case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ, a principal judicial organ of the United Nations, handles disputes between states and issues advisory opinions on legal matters. South Africa sought provisional measures from the ICJ, aimed at preventing further harm while the case is pending. These measures include ensuring basic services and humanitarian aid in Gaza.

Professor Scarpa highlighted the legal and procedural aspects of the case, including the plausibility test for genocide and the ICJ’s role in ordering provisional measures. She discussed the complexities of proving intent to destroy and the court’s limitations in enforcing a ceasefire.

The case prompts questions about social divisions, the effectiveness of EU diplomacy in Gaza, and the feasibility of a two-state solution. Professor Scarpa underscored Italy’s historical support for a two-state solution and the need for a balanced approach that respects the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis.

(Joan Cottingham)