08/02/2014 12:30 pm ET Updated Oct 01, 2014

Israel-Gaza: War, Terrorism and Change in the Middle East

The current conflict in Gaza has polarized the world and pitted those with Palestinian and Israeli sympathies against each other in a way that has rarely been seen before. Inundated by images of human suffering, people are understandably emotional about the conflict.

Still, as the crisis in the Middle East deepens, it is important to differentiate between the humanitarian aspect and the geopolitical one. On the humanitarian side, the loss of civilian life is deplorable and should be criticized. A dead child should stir our conscience no matter what our views on the religious and cultural history of Israel and Palestine.

But on the geopolitical side, things are not so black and white. It's tempting to cast this conflict as a battle between Muslim Arabs and Jews, but it is also inaccurate. This latest battle is really a struggle between a new Middle East and the old one. In other words, a Middle East trying to enter the modern world (however haltingly) of economic and social development and moving away from religious and tribal strife. The birth of this new Middle East, as the bloody and chaotic aftermath of the Arab Spring shows, has been a difficult one and the Israel-Gaza conflict is an extension of that.

While scholars, journalists, and political analysts routinely focus on historical and cultural context to explain the conflict, they often miss, or even deliberately ignore, the core issue of Islamic fanaticism that Hamas represents and which most of the world fears. That fanaticism, and the violence that accompanies it, is the real reason that the U.S., Egypt, and other moderate Arab nations are either rallying behind Israel or at least refusing to side with Hamas. Israel, for good or bad, represents a geographical and strategic defense against forces of Islamist extremism in the region.

The popular belief that U.S. support of Israel in the Gaza conflict is about oil is mostly fantasy. The U.S. is moving rapidly towards energy independence, driven by the proliferation of natural gas and renewable energy, thereby reducing its dependence on Middle East oil. Even the theory of 'peak oil', which postulates that American oil supplies are about to peak and then decline dramatically, is now viewed as doubtful as new technologies for drilling and untapped oil reserves increasingly reduce the shortfall from existing wells. It's also equally fallacious to believe that U.S. policy is dictated by Jewish money in Congress since the Arab nations have plenty of money to counter any influence. The reason for the U.S. support of Israel is none of these things but about the need to curb the power of a militant organization like Hamas.

Equally telling is the Arab reaction to the conflict. Egypt, which shares a cultural and religious affinity with the Palestinians, is nevertheless refusing to back them and has even closed its border. As a CNN report points out, this is because Egypt has grown tired of religious violence and is afraid of being infected by the extremism of Hamas; and other Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, usually quick to blame Israel for any conflict, are clearly reticent to do so this time.

The Middle East (or parts of it anyway) are shunning fundamentalism openly by rejecting the narrative of Hamas as a group of freedom fighters and treating them instead as the military and political arm of an extremist religious faction which derives its power through conflict with Israel that it is. This is not a pro-Jewish stance but it is an anti-terrorism one.

To ignore this obvious fact is to turn a blind eye to reality and in the process make it impossible for a better future to unfold in Gaza. This also sidelines what could be a major step forward for the Middle East and an encouraging sign of a movement towards modernization and secularism. The stance against fundamentalism represents change and hope for the Middle East (and perhaps the world), and yet few observers are giving it its due - opting instead to focus only on the humanitarian aspect of this conflict while ignoring the geopolitical one.

Let's be clear. The Gaza conflict needs to end soon, but it will not happen unilaterally. As Hamas' irresponsible violation of the 72-hour ceasefire by killing Israeli soldiers shows, the group cares less about the welfare of Palestinians and more about its own religious and political goals of terrorizing Israel and establishing an Islamic regime along the lines of an ISIS. That does not mean that the Israeli government does not share blame for the humanitarian crisis created by this war, but given the incessant rain of rockets on its territory and the very real threat posed by the tunnels under Gaza, it is highly unlikely that Netanyahu can back down without the disarmament of Hamas.

The world now needs to exert pressure on Hamas to stop fighting unconditionally, and after that, on Israel to create a long term solution for the Palestinians that will almost certainly not give either side everything it wants but maybe enough to end the cycle of violence. The shift in perspective in the Arab world might facilitate this.

This dual viewpoint may not be satisfying for people who prefer to indulge their outrage instead but it is the only one that can resolve the situation.

Sanjay Sanghoee is a political and business commentator. He is also the author of two thriller novels. Follow him @sanghoee.