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The ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas terrorist group, commenced on October 7th, 2023, when militants invaded Israel from the Gaza Strip, resulted in an Israeli counteroffensive and formal declaration of war on Hamas the following day. This current conflict was also fueled by heightened tensions, which had been escalating for decades, due to clashes at Al-Aqsa mosque, Gaza, and Jenin. The attack on Israel, which consisted of a rocket barrage and incursions into its territory, resulted in significant casualties, including the deaths of over 260 Israelis at a music festival and the taking of Israeli soldiers and civilians as hostages in Gaza. In response, Israel launched airstrikes in the densely populated Gaza Strip, resulting in the internal displacement of over 339,000 Palestinians, and fears of a humanitarian crisis emerged as food, water, electricity, and fuel supplies to Gaza were cut off. The violence garnered condemnation from Western nations and their allies who described Hamas’s actions as terrorism, while other countries, including Muslim nations and Hamas themselves, cited the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories as the root cause of the escalation. Critics refused to refer to Hamas as a terrorist organization and instead referred to it as a militant freedom-fighter or simply a militant group. The global call for de-escalation was widespread, and a conflict between Hezbollah and Palestinian militants in Lebanon and Israeli forces on October 8 and 9 was also reported. The United States has deployed an aircraft carrier battle group to the Eastern Mediterranean and is considering deploying a second aircraft carrier, while Germany has declared its intention to provide military aid to Israel. With the siege of Gaza ongoing, Israeli troops are being amassed at the border in preparations for a ground invasion of Gaza. What is Israel’s strategy for targeting civilian and military infrastructure in the Gaza Strip? How are international military and political actors responding to the conflict, and what are the potential consequences of their involvement? And, more importantly, how is the current conflict impacting the broader geopolitical landscape of the region and the world?

What is Hamas? Are Hamas and Palestine Synonymous?

Hamas is a Palestinian Islamist political and militant group that was founded in 1987 and is considered a terrorist organization by liberal democracies, including the United States, Israel, and the European Union. Hamas is based in the Gaza Strip, and its stated goal is to establish an Islamic state in Palestine, which includes Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Hamas has used violence and terrorism to pursue this goal, including suicide bombings, rocket attacks, and kidnappings. It has also provided social services to Palestinians, such as education and healthcare. Palestine refers to the geographic area that includes Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Hamas is one of several political factions within Palestine, and it is currently the governing party in the Gaza Strip. It is not accurate to say that most Palestinians want Hamas to leave Palestine. While Hamas is a controversial and divisive political force, it has a significant base of support among Palestinians, particularly in the Gaza Strip. In the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, Hamas won a majority of seats, indicating widespread support for the group’s message and tactics. However, Hamas’s use of violence and militant tactics has also drawn criticism from some Palestinians, who believe that such actions are counterproductive and harmful to the Palestinian cause. The views and opinions of Palestinians regarding Hamas and its role in Palestinian politics are complex and varied, and it is not accurate to make sweeping generalizations about them.

IDF Humanitarian Concerns

Throughout the years, there have been allegations of war crimes committed by the Israeli Defense Force in carrying out its military operation. For instance, Israel has been accused of using excessive force against Palestinian civilians and of targeting civilian infrastructure, such as power plants and hospitals. Many of these allegations have been backed up by reports from international NGOs and human rights groups. Israel has defended such actions as necessary to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks and to cripple Hamas’s ability to launch attacks against Israel. The Israeli government has argued that it has taken all necessary precautions to minimize civilian casualties and has accused Hamas of using Palestinian civilians as human shields. The conflict has intensified in recent years, with Israel carrying out airstrikes on Gaza in response to rocket attacks from Palestinian militants. While Israel has targeted both military and civilian infrastructure in its airstrikes, Hamas has also been accused of using civilian areas to direct its rocket fire, putting civilians in harm’s way.

Rooting out Hamas without causing civilian casualties or collateral damage in the densely populated Gaza Strip presents significant practical challenges for Israel. This is mainly because Hamas has embedded its military infrastructure and personnel within civilian areas, including residential neighborhoods, hospitals, and schools, in an attempt to dissuade Israel from launching attacks. However, there are several steps Israel can take to mitigate civilian casualties and reduce collateral damage while targeting Hamas. These steps include employing surgical airstrikes that target only identified Hamas military targets while avoiding civilian infrastructure and areas; prioritizing diplomacy and working with international partners to address the root causes of the conflict through negotiating a ceasefire or undertaking long-term peace talks; warning civilians in targeted areas in advance, providing ample time for them to evacuate, thereby avoiding civilian casualties and reducing the scale of collateral damage; using ground troops to eliminate Hamas targets, which would increase precision and reduce the potential for collateral damage and civilian casualties; and prioritizing intelligence gathering and analysis to identify Hamas targets and minimize risk to civilians. However, regardless of the strategy employed, there is no way to eliminate the risk of civilian casualties entirely.

On the other hand, one Israeli lawmaker has called for the country to use nuclear weaponry against attacks by Hamas in Gaza. Revital “Tally” Gotliv took to social media advocating for “doomsday weapons” to be utilized and for Israel to “shooting powerful missiles without limit” at their enemies. But Nikolai Sokov, a senior fellow at the Vienna Center, said talk about nuclear weapons has increased due to security crises, but for Israel, it could be more damaging as the country does not admit to having such arms. The calls were also criticized as nearsighted as there are “no targets for nuclear weapons” in the ongoing conflict. Still, the fact that an Israeli lawmaker is openly advocating for the use of nuclear weapons on the Gaza strip is very concerning, especially since Israel allegedly has no such weapons of mass destruction.

Looming Global Conflict: The Chess Pieces Continue Lining Up

Leaders of the UK, US, France, Germany and Italy issued a joint statement offering “steadfast and united support” for Israel, with the leaders condemning Hamas’s terrorist actions. The statement was released on Monday following the attack on Israel by Hamas over the weekend, declaring that the Quint international organization would support Israel in its efforts to defend itself and its people against such atrocities. However, the statement acknowledged the “legitimate aspirations” of the Palestinian people and called for both Israelis and Palestinians to be granted equal measures of justice and freedom. The US has said it has no intention of putting military units on the ground following the recent attacks on Israel. As noted, Washington has already dispatched the USS Gerald R. Ford to the Mediterranean, which the Pentagon ordered to the same area on Sunday as a show of support for Israel following surprise attacks in the region, but is considering dispatching a second carrier. According to two anonymous officials from the Department of Defense who discussed future operations, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, its associated warships, and fighter jets were already scheduled to depart from Norfolk, Virginia, this week but may be ordered to deploy to waters off the coast of Israel. This would be in addition to the USS Gerald R. Ford and its strike group. Having two aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and fighter jets in the same area would be a significant message to Hamas that the U.S supports Israel. The Navy has warned that this strategy is unsustainable and stretched, as aircraft carriers are in high demand globally and typically assigned to different regions. The possibility of the Eisenhower going to Israel was first reported in The Wall Street Journal.

The US is also expected to provide personnel, munitions, and weapons to Israel, including Iron Dome air defense system munitions, small diameter bombs, and JDAM kits. The US is also sending in a special operations cell to assist Israel with intelligence and planning, but they have not been tasked to fight on the ground. Additionally, the US is getting U.S. defense companies to expedite Israel’s weapons orders and sending Navy ships and planes to aid in the conflict. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group will join the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group near Israel to bolster the US’s involvement and provide additional means of support. Meanwhile, the Air Force is also strengthening A-10, F-15, and F-16 squadrons in the region and may add more if necessary.

While across North Africa, Arab-Muslim countries have had varying reactions to the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel, with authorities expressing an overall consensus that supports Hamas. Most leaders have criticized the attack on Israeli civilians, but have also laid the blame at the door of the Israeli authorities. King Mohammed VI of Morocco called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League Council to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas. Algeria called for international bodies to intervene to protect the Palestinian people from “the brutality of the Zionist occupation,” while Tunisian opposition parties supported the Palestinian cause and protestors in Tunisia called for the criminalization of normalization of relations with Israel. Iran has unequivocally supported Hamas’s actions, calling the attack a proud operation and stressing the Palestinians’ right to “self-defense.”

Meanwhile, the relationship between Russia and Israel has deteriorated in light of the recent attack, as President Vladimir Putin has yet to offer condolences to the Israeli Prime Minister; instead blaming the US for its Middle Eastern policy. “I think that many people will agree with me that this is a vivid example of the failure of United States policy in the Middle East,” Putin said, citing its failure to consider the needs of the Palestinians. The souring of ties between the two countries began with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, as Russia found itself beholden to Iran as its primary supplier of arms for the Ukrainian conflict. Meanwhile, the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza may be a benefit for Russia, with Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine benefiting from the crisis in the Middle East. The author argues that the war will distract Ukraine’s allies, and a rival crisis in the region could mean that weapons might be diverted, with concerns regarding a larger war in the region outweighing the consequences of continued conflict in Ukraine. Russia has historically been friendly with Israel but has become friendlier with Iran in relation to the purchase of military equipment. Since Iran is likely the source of Hamas weaponry in this conflict, Russia is unlikely to find itself at a disadvantage. The deteriorating relationship has also led to fears of a rise in antisemitism within Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on world leaders to visit Israel in a show of solidarity with its people, which he believes would be a strong deterrent against further aggression and the onset of a third world war. Speaking at a Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, Zelensky asked world leaders to support Israel’s people who are facing terroristic attacks, which have similarities to those experienced in Ukraine during the Russian invasion earlier this year. Despite strained relations with Israel over the country’s relations with Russia, the Ukrainian leader, who is Jewish, also looks to forge stronger ties with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to confront Iran’s supply of weapons to Russia. Additionally, some 52% of Ukrainians consider Israel a friendly nation, according to a Kyiv International Institute of Sociology poll. The survey also reported that while 43% of Ukrainians opposed Tel Aviv’s refusal to supply arms, a third still understood and accepted the decision. While there have been diplomatic issues in the past over the relationship between Kyiv and Tel Aviv, analysts suggest that historic ties appear stronger than recent disagreements.

Global Impact

Lt. Col. Stuart Crawford argued in an opinion piece in the Express that Israel needs to destroy Hamas quickly or else the conflict could spread in the region and beyond, even escalating into a global conflict. Crawford warns that there is a window of only a few weeks before intense and destructive conflict brings international condemnation and calls for a ceasefire. Crawford cites the incursions from South Lebanon that the IDF has had to deal with, as well as the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier battle group moving into the eastern Mediterranean to show support for Israel as preemptive measure. Crawford believes that if Iran, which could supply anti-ship missiles via proxies such as Hamas and Hezbollah, launches an attack on the carrier group, it could result in the USA becoming directly involved in the conflict and potentially a much wider regional or global conflict.

Soon after the Hamas attack on Israel, Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit traveled to Moscow to discuss the situation in Gaza with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, further deteriorating Russia’s relationship with Israel. Russia’s may be posturing to play a role in supporting the creation of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. The fact that Aboul Gheit is meeting with Lavrov is a significant development and suggests that Russia could play a role in the conflict in Gaza, especially in light of Lavrov’s recent statements suggesting that Russia actually is prepared to take a more active role in Middle Eastern affairs. In a recent speech, he called for greater cooperation between Russia, China, and India, and suggested that Russia should play a more active role in the geopolitics of the Middle East. This could have implications for Russia’s relations with the US and other countries involved in the Middle East, as Russia expands its sphere of influence in the region. Meanwhile, the top NATO official, Jens Stoltenberg, has warned that Israel’s enemies must not exploit the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, at a time when world leaders are attempting to stop the conflict from escalating. “The situation in the Middle East is of course a concern, and it’s also an important message that any nation or organization hostile to Israel should not try to utilize the situation. And we now see that, for instance, the United States has increased its military presence in the region to also send a clear message of deterrence to prevent the escalation of this conflict,” said Stoltenberg during a while speaking during a meeting in Brussels. He dismissed concerns over NATO’s commitment to aid Ukraine because of its focus on the Gaza conflict, saying that NATO allies have, for years, provided these “types of support” for Israel, and said that the crisis in Gaza would not detract from the alliance’s work in Ukraine.

But an article in Middle East Eye questions whether the West can sustain its support for two important allies in separate military conflicts simultaneously; a serious question given that Ukraine wants a vast amount of artillery ammunition, while Israel has requested precision-guided aerial munitions and Iron Dome interceptors. At present, the US has already given over $100 billion in military aid to Ukraine but is struggling to keep up following 18 months of bloody attrition. The forthcoming violent clash between Israel and Palestine puts extra pressure on the US to provide additional weapons to Israel at a time when Ukraine is also demanding more. However, the US is facing a serious ammunition shortage and struggling to keep up with the demand. The Ukrainian President has expressed concern that support from the US and EU will shift away from Ukraine towards Israel. To compound matters, if Hezbollah fully joins the fight, it is estimated that the Lebanese resistance will fire 4,000 missiles a day from northern Lebanon and send thousands of elite troops into Israel to take over towns or military bases; while the situation becomes even more challenging if Iran decides to get involved. The Middle East Eye contends that Israel has already started the fight that it may not be able to finish.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense is reportedly concerned about the potential need to stretch out its ammunition stockpiles to support Ukraine and Israel in their respective conflicts, as both countries have requested different types of weapons and munitions. Israel’s recent attacks on Hamas may result in new and unexpected demands for weapons and ammunition, which could put pressure on the country’s stockpiles. The situation is complicated by the fact that US and Western stockpiles have already been depleted by the need to supply Ukraine. The US Joint Staff and Transportation Command are working around the clock to identify extra stores of munitions around the world and how to move them to Israel quickly. Meanwhile, the political uncertainty in Congress has defense officials anxious about whether lawmakers will approve additional funding for US support in Ukraine and Israel. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the US is “running out of runway” to support both nations with current appropriations. In conclusion, the situation is precarious, and the US will need to balance supporting both countries while also maintaining enough ammunition to protect its interests and defend itself.

To make matters worse, according to the Strategic Posture Commission, a bipartisan panel appointed by Congress, the US needs to begin preparing for possible simultaneous wars with China and Russia by enhancing its nuclear weapons modernization program, strengthening alliances, and expanding its conventional forces. The report’s findings, which came amid intensifying US tensions with China over Taiwan and with Russia over Ukraine, contrasted with President Joe Biden’s view that the current US nuclear arsenal is sufficient to deter Russia and China. The panel argued the nation must be ready to defeat both adversaries simultaneously, and that the US-led international order and the values it upholds are at risk.

A Proxy World War?

It is possible that we are witnessing the beginning of a “proxy world war,” whereby different countries support opposing sides in multiple regional conflicts, resulting in a global power struggle. This can occur when major powers compete for influence in various hotspots around the world by backing certain countries or groups, leading to a domino effect as other countries are drawn into the conflicts. With weapons and funds flowing into these battlefields from outside actors, the risk of escalation to larger-scale conflicts is always present. But a proxy world war could only last so long before the primary actors would have to either pull out or escalate their involvement, such as by entering directly into the conflict. If multiple regional conflicts are being fueled by outside powers, and those powers are backing opposite sides, there is always a risk of the conflict spiraling out of control and leading to a greater global conflict. If this happens, the primary actors may choose to pull out or escalate their involvement, depending on their interests and the balance of power. Thus, the possibility of a devastating global war arising from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas cannot be ruled out. The situation could escalate as follows:

As Hamas continued to launch attacks on Israel, Israel has now declared war on Hamas and is bombarding Gaza with missile strikes in preparations to occupy the strip. This could result in the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians as well as Hamas terrorists. Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad may launch rockets into Israel in support of Hamas, leading to an Israeli counter-attack in Southern Lebanon. Israel may also launch air strikes on Iran, accusing them of providing 70% of Hamas’ funding and 90% of Hezbollah’s funding as well as lethal weapons. Iran, in turn, might retaliate by declaring war on Israel and launching their own air strikes. The Arab world, in support of Palestine, may launch a widespread intifada against Israel and join in the conflict.

The United States, United Kingdom, European Union, Canada, India and their allies may side with Israel, while Russia, China, North Korea, Afghanistan, the Arab world and their allies may side with Hamas, Hezbollah, the Palestinians and Iran. Turkey is currently a member of NATO so it is unclear where they may stand in that event. The situation in Ukraine may also worsen, with Russia crushing Ukrainian forces and taking over more territory as Western forces and supplies are stretched thin. NATO may get involved, bringing Europe into the conflict with Russia and the use of tactical nuclear weapons. China could take advantage of the chaos to assert control over Taiwan, prompting a response from the United States and igniting even more global conflict.

The Potential for World War III

The conflict between Israel and Hamas has the potential to escalate into a “proxy world war” as outside powers may support opposing sides in multiple regional conflicts, leading to a global power struggle. The tension could increase if Israel responds to Hamas attacks by declaring war and occupying the Gaza Strip, with other groups like Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad also getting involved and triggering a more widespread conflict. The divide in allegiances could lead to the involvement of countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, Canada, Russia, China, North Korea, and the Arab world. Additionally, the situation in Ukraine may also worsen, leading to a potential conflict with Russia. The consequences of a global conflict would be catastrophic, and therefore, it is crucial to seek a peaceful resolution to prevent further escalation. When faced with frightening circumstances related to geopolitical tensions and conflicts, it is essential to stay informed about the latest developments by monitoring reliable news sources. People should also prioritize their safety and well-being, which may entail following directions and taking precautions from local authorities, staying in touch with loved ones, and having an emergency plan in place. Seeking support from mental health professionals and loved ones can also be helpful in managing fear and anxiety related to world events. Finally, individuals can also play a positive role by promoting peace, understanding, and compassionate dialogue towards people who hold different perspectives.

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