Will the Israel-Hamas War Spread?
Will the Israel-Hamas War Spread?
Op-Ed / Middle East & North Africa 2 minutes

Will the Israel-Hamas War Spread?

Few conflicts involve just two actors, and the Israel-Hamas war is no exception. From Iran and its proxies to the Palestinians’ Arab backers, as well as Turkey, governments throughout the Middle East are carefully calculating how to respond to the conflict.

In this Big Question, Project Syndicate asks Comfort Ero, Negar Mortazavi, Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, and Sinan Ülgen to weigh in on the incentives and constraints shaping regional dynamics since October 7.

To read the other contributions to this opinion piece, please see the original article in Project Syndicate.

COMFORT ERO (excerpt) 

There is a grave risk that the war could spread beyond Gaza. Three potential flash points deserve particular attention.

First, the Lebanese Shia militia and political party Hezbollah, which is closely aligned with Iran, could end up facing off with Israel. Hezbollah is most powerful political and military force in Lebanon, and it is already clashing with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) along the countries’ shared border. So far, the exchanges appear to be calibrated to manage the risk of escalation. But if the tit-for-tat strikes result in significant civilian casualties, the situation could spiral out of control, with a Hezbollah-Israel war potentially pulling in Iran and the United States.

Second, strikes by other Iranian-backed groups against US forces in Syria and Iraq could escalate into a war that again pits Iran and the US against each other. Groups known collectively as the Islamic Resistance (Muqawama Islamiya) have claimed responsibility for drone and rocket attacks on bases in Iraq where US forces are stationed. On October 26 and November 8, the US struck back at facilities in Syria. Again, neither side appears to want escalation, but significant casualties could change the equation and raise the risk of regional war. 

Third, another battlefront could open in Israeli-occupied territory. The trigger would be continued attacks by Jewish settlers in the West Bank, who are being given increasingly free rein by the Israeli government.

The most obvious way to reduce the likelihood of a wider war is to achieve de-escalation in Gaza. For now, neither Israel nor Hamas appears likely to agree to a permanent ceasefire. But agreement by Hamas to release some Israeli hostages in exchange for a pause in the fighting might at least buy some time for diplomacy. There is no good answer to the question of what to do about Hamas in the longer term. It is far from clear that Israel’s operations can destroy the group’s military capabilities, and the cost in civilian lives is already too high. Leveling swaths of the Gaza Strip, killing thousands – or even tens of thousands – of innocent Palestinians, and risking regional war will not make Israel safer in the long run.

To read the full article, please see the original publication in Project Syndicate.

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