A call by an Iranian military commander to cut oil exports to Israel’s supporters last week made little headway with conservative Arab governments who are completely focused on dealing with the plunge in world oil prices. Iran’s Foreign Ministry paid only lip service to the call for an embargo. For Iran to go it alone in the midst of efforts to slash domestic oil subsidies could easily prove disastrous. The last thing any Arab oil exporter wants to do right now is to slash revenues still further by attempting to embargo crude shipments to perceived allies of Israel.
When the word reached the oil markets that the Saudi’s were not going to respond to the call for an embargo, prices fell and the Gaza fighting was written off as a factor for the time being.
Later in the week both sides rejected UN calls for a ceasefire. Despite the tightening Israeli noose around Gaza City, Hamas was still able to fire a diminishing number of rockets into Israel. Both sides are determined not to be seen as losing the confrontation. For Hamas this means reopening the borders and for Israel the end of rocket attacks and the flow of military supplies to Hamas.
In the unequal military contest, Gaza civilians are losing heavily, with the number of Palestinian deaths approaching 1000, while at last report the Israelis have only lost 13. As long as the fighting continues, Hamas will continue to gain political support around the world and the hostility in the streets towards the West and the policy of moderate Arab regimes will continue to grow.
For the time being, low oil prices likely will deter use of the oil weapon in support of the Palestinian cause. However, once oil revenues return to the levels of last summer or higher, the oil weapon could again become an important factor in the Arab-Israeli situation.