The Southeast Asian View of the Gaza War

Since the beginning of the century, Israel has been working with notable success to expand its diplomatic relations beyond Europe, the U.S., and its few Middle Eastern partners. These efforts have included important inroads to Southeast Asia. Colin Rubenstein and Michael Shannon examine how the countries of this region have responded to the war with Hamas. In short: only the Philippines and Singapore have come out strongly in support of the Jewish state. Thailand—which, like the Philippines, has a sizeable expatriate population in Israel and had several of its citizens among the victims—initially responded with expressions of support, and then backtracked. (The reversal might have been an attempt to appease the country’s Muslim minority, or to improve its position in hostage negotiations.) Vietnam, which has fairly good relations with Jerusalem, has remained neutral, while Malaysia, a Muslim country, has stayed true to its longstanding sympathy for Hamas.

The most interesting case is that of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country:

In Indonesia, numerous leaders expressed support and admiration for the Hamas terror attacks in the immediate wake of October 7. Hopes in Israel for improved ties with Indonesia look likely to be sidelined for some time.

This forthright support for Hamas surprised long-time Indonesia watchers. Unlike Malaysia, Indonesia has always referred to a two-state solution when backing the Palestinian cause. Though Israel and Indonesia lack formal diplomatic relations, Indonesian tourists visit Israel and Israelis have in the past done business with and visited Indonesia.

President Joko Widodo’s response to October 7 was to urge an end to the bloodshed, adding, “The root cause of the conflict, which is the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel, must be resolved immediately.” . . . Meanwhile, Indonesia’s former vice-president Jusuf Kalla described the Hamas attacks as an “extraordinary act carried out in the name of freedom and independence.”

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Gaza War 2023, Indonesia, Israel diplomacy, Southeast Asia


Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy