Middle EastAnalysis

Qatar gains influence in Middle East as main mediator in Gaza ceasefire talks

Political landscape in region has been dramatically transformed by the six-month Israel-Hamas war

The political landscape in the Middle East and north Africa has been dramatically transformed by the six-month war on Gaza, which has rendered Israel isolated in the region. This has taken place while there is no recognised leader to guide the response to the most devastating war the region has suffered in decades. Consequently, there has been no unified governmental response. This has weakened regional actors during the most dangerous crisis of the century due to the possibility of the war spreading.

Saudi pretensions to leadership faded fast. Rival Qatar has secured stature and influence by positioning itself as the main mediator between Hamas and Israel in negotiations over ceasefires and hostage and prisoner releases.

Egypt has also played a role in these efforts but has not regained the commanding pan-Arab position Cairo lost in March 1979 when it signed the first Arab peace treaty with Israel. Condemned for abandoning the Arab front against Israel, Egypt was suspended from the Arab League and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was assassinated in October 1981.

Unforgiven Egypt has been criticised recently for failing to press Israel to permit the flow of food and medical aid to hungry and injured Gazans.


Having been ostracised since the 1979 ousting of the shah, Iran has gained influence by urging its allies – Lebanon’s Hizbullah, Iraq’s Shia militias and Yemen’s Houthis – to exercise restraint while mounting retaliatory attacks against Israel for its war on Gaza. Hizbullah has fired missiles at military sites in northern Israel, which has responded by bombing deep inside Lebanon. Iraqi Shia militias have conducted occasional strikes on US troops based in Iraq and Syria, drawing measured US retaliation.

Yemen’s Houthis have become regional and international actors by targeting global shipping through the Red Sea and Suez Canal and reducing trade on this route by 50 per cent, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Backchannel contacts between Tehran and Washington, which are intended to prevent the Gaza war from escalating and expanding, have also boosted Iran’s standing.

Hamas has retained respect and influence with Palestinians and across the region by resisting Israeli occupation by attacking Israel on October 7th. Since the Palestinian Authority has failed to secure Palestinian statehood through negotiations, 88 per cent of Palestinians want President Mahmoud Abbas to resign and more than 50 per cent regards the authority to be a burden rather than a body capable of governing post-war Gaza.

Protests fired by widespread popular anger and resentment against Israel have demanded the governments of Jordan, which reached peace with Israel in 1994, and Morocco and Bahrain, which both normalised relations with Israel in 2020, to now cut ties with the Jewish state. Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lost popular credibility by maintaining trade ties with Israel while verbally condemning its Gaza war.

US talks with Saudi Arabia on normalisation with Israel after the Gaza war ends have been postponed until envoy Jake Sullivan recovers from a minor injury. An enduring anti-Israel, anti-US mood in the region makes early normalisation unlikely. Washington has lost regional influence as it has been accused of complicity in killing 33,000 Palestinians and destroying Gaza.