The Global Impact of the War Between Israel and Hamas
While hearing news of clashes between the Israelis and Palestinians is all too familiar, the recent events in Israel and Gaza were something far different than what has transpired between the two sides in recent years. In fact, the scale of the attacks by Hamas on southern Israel came as a massive shock, for it was totally unexpected that Hamas had the capability to carry out such an audacious attack on Israel’s territory. Furthermore, the death toll from this attack and the Israeli response is staggering, and is certain to rise further in the coming days and weeks. The shocking nature of this attack will reverberate around the world, while for Israel, it is facing the fallout of an event that has been called Israel’s 9/11.
On the 7th of October, Hamas launched thousands of rockets at targets across Israel in the largest such barrage ever launched by that militant group. Afterwards, large numbers of Hamas fighters infiltrated Israel by land, sea and air in a shockingly coordinated ground assault on targets inside Israel, including a rave party in which nearly 300 people were killed. Furthermore, it was estimated that at least 100 people were taken hostage by the militants, many of whom were taken back to Gaza. Afterwards, Israeli armed forces fought pitched battles with Hamas militants in towns and villages across southern Israel, while launching air and missile attacks at Hamas targets inside Gaza. Now, Israeli forces are preparing for the inevitable attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza, which may include a full-blown invasion of Gaza.
It is no coincidence that Hamas decided to launch this massive attack on Israel at a time when Israel is engaged in deep diplomatic negotiations with Arab countries across the Middle East (as well as the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War). In recent years, Israel has established diplomatic relations with a number of Arab states. Moreover, it appeared that Israel and Saudi Arabia were on the verge of establishing full diplomatic relations, something that would change the political landscape across the region. At the same time, support for the Palestinians among Arab governments, if not the Arab people, was waning. As a result, groups like Hamas have found themselves increasingly dependent upon Iran for military, political and economic support. Now, with Hamas having dramatically raised the stakes in the eastern Mediterranean, a war between Israel and Iran is a real possibility, particularly as Iran continues to advance its nuclear programs.
The impact of this new conflict in Israel will be felt well beyond the confines of the Middle East, for this war is adding to the already considerable level of destabilization and unrest around the world. Conflicts in Ukraine, Israel and the Caucasus have shown how long-festering flashpoints can quickly turn into full-blown wars overnight. Worse, there are other long-standing flashpoints such as Taiwan and the South China Sea that have the potential to cause much greater levels of disruption to international security and the global economy. This has led to a dramatic increase in defense spending around the world in recent years as many leading powers are preparing to defend their interests in a more unstable world.
Meanwhile, the United States is finding itself once again directly or indirectly engaged in conflicts all around the world. In recent decades, it has been the aim of successive administrations to lessen the role of the US in regions such as Europe and the Middle East, where the US had previously maintained a massive military presence. Instead, the wars in Ukraine and Israel have forced the United States to remain militarily and diplomatically engaged in these regions. This comes at a time when the desire of most US political and military leaders is to focus the country’s attention on Asia, as the rise of China has posed the greatest threat to the US’ leading position in the world since the Cold War. However, the US’ dominant geopolitical role in the world means that it cannot simply step away from its allies in Europe or the Middle East, forcing the US to divide its attention in an increasingly unstable world.
Much can still happen in this new war between Israel and Hamas. Clearly, Israel will launch a series of major retaliatory actions against Hamas, although the presence of dozens of hostages in Gaza may initially temper Israel’s actions there. Eventually, Israel is likely to launch a devastating attack on Gaza, one that could force that territory’s two million inhabitants to flee. Meanwhile, Israel may decide the time has come to strike Hamas’ primary backers, Iran. This would result in the most dangerous conflict in the Middle East in 50 years, one that would likely involve the United States. At a time when the US is facing a host of challenges to its global position, the last thing the US wanted to be involved in as 2023 approaches its end is another conflict in the Middle East.