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July 24, 2024

Chaos Spreads Across the Middle East as Conflicts Converge

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Jan 18, 2024

A series of interlinked clashes and attacks over the past week have raised fears that the region is on the brink of a major conflagration. As conflicts converge, the violence threatens to pull in regional and world powers.

Escalation Between Israel and Hamas Reignites Gaza War

The latest flare up began on January 10th when Israel launched a series of airstrikes on Gaza in response to rocket attacks from Hamas and other Islamist groups. At least 12 Palestinian militants and civilians were killed in the Israeli bombing according to Gaza health officials. [source]

This reignited the on-again, off-again war between the two sides that has gripped the narrow coastal enclave for over 15 years. The fighting follows a familiar pattern that has played out repeatedly since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. Hamas and its allies fire rockets indiscriminately into Israeli territory, triggering Israeli retaliation and casualties in Gaza which stokes Palestinian anger and leads to further rocket attacks. [source]

However this latest violence comes after months of rising tensions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem which some analysts feared was leading inevitably to another war in Gaza. [source]

Houthi Attacks Target Global Energy Supply

As the Israel-Gaza conflict exploded, Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched a series of attacks targeting global energy supplies, bringing a new dimension to the regional violence.

On January 12th Houthi suicide drones struck oil facilities at Yanbu port on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast. This was followed by additional Houthi missile and drone attacks on petrochemical plants at Jubail in eastern Saudi Arabia. [source]

The attacks demonstrated the Houthis’ expanding arsenal provided by their patron Iran, with the capacity to strike targets over 1000 km from Yemeni territory. Analysts noted the dangerous parallel to September 2019 when a Houthi attack temporarily halved Saudi oil output, showing the vulnerability of global energy supplies to Middle East conflicts. [source]

Date Group Target Weapons Used Outcome
Jan 10 Hamas Israel Rockets Israeli airstrikes kill 12 in Gaza
Jan 12 Houthis Yanbu oil facility, Saudi Arabia Suicide drones and missiles Fires cause minor damage
Jan 15 Houthis Jubail petrochemical plant, Saudi Arabia Drones and missiles Fire and structural damage

On January 15th the Houthis escalated further, attempting to blockade the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait at the mouth of the Red Sea, threatening to halt naval traffic through the Suez Canal. The Houthis attacked an oil tanker with anti-ship missiles, forcing it to withdraw. [source]

Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council warned that by targeting oil supplies and global shipping lanes, the Houthis risked turning a “civil war into an international conflict”. [source]

US Enters Fray with Airstrikes in Yemen

On January 16th the US directly intervened in the Yemen conflict, carrying out airstrikes against Houthi targets in retaliation for the Red Sea attacks. The bombing reportedly killed a Houthi commander and destroyed stockpiles of drones and missiles. [source]

However the US strikes also led to an additional dangerous flashpoint. Two Navy SEAL special forces troops went missing after their helicopter crashed during an apparent raid in northeast Yemen attempting to capture Iranian operatives supplying the Houthis. As of January 18th, the fate of the US soldiers remains unknown. [source]

Iran swiftly responded to the US action, warning it was further destabilizing the region. The IRGC navy seized a South Korean oil tanker travelling through the Strait of Hormuz on January 16th in an apparent act of retaliation. [source]

The seizure resurrected fears that Iran could attempt to close the Strait, a strategic chokepoint for Gulf oil exports and a flashpoint for conflict with the US. Thus within days Yemen’s civil war expanded into a regional crisis involving the Houthis, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the US. [source]

Worries Grow of a Slide Into Broader War

By January 17th, clashes were occurring in multiple locations along the region’s conflict fault-lines. Violence spread to Lebanon where Palestinian militants fired rockets from refugee camps into Israel in an apparent show of solidarity with Gaza militants. Israel responded with a wave of bombings targeting Hezbollah in Beirut and its redoubts in southern Lebanon. [source]

Simultaneous conflicts were now burning in the Gaza strip, Jerusalem, Lebanon, Yemen, and the Persian Gulf, multiplying the possibilities for escalation and creating “a classic heads-I-win, tails-you-lose problem for world leaders”. [source]

Analysts worried that disruption to oil supplies, damage to Saudi and Emirati oil terminals, or a confrontation in the Gulf or Red Sea involving American forces could drag the US and other major powers into the conflagration. [source]

International efforts to calm tensions remained fractured. China and Russia blocked attempts by Arab League foreign ministers on January 17th to pass a unified call for a ceasefire in Gaza and Yemen. [source]

While the Biden administration issued statements reaffirming support for Saudi Arabia and Israel, their pleas for military restraint by all sides struggled to gain traction. [source]

US policy appeared reactive, lurching from crisis to crisis said former Pentagon official Samuel Huntington. “The administration is allowing events to control them” rather than directing a coherent regional strategy he warned. [source]

Outlook: Risk of Widening Conflict “Dangerously High”

With violence flaring on multiple fronts simultaneously, several leading regional experts described the possibility of these conflicts merging into one major regional war as “worryingly plausible”. [source]

“Diplomatic off-ramps are narrowing while military escalation ladders are steepening,” wrote Daniel Kurtzer, former US ambassador to Israel. “The parties can still pull back from the brink. But the need for de-escalation is urgent as risks of inadvertent war rise.” [source]

Saudi analyst Ali Shihabi said the Houthis’ new long-range strike capabilities could set in motion “a regional conflict that no one seemingly actually wants but which can nonetheless happen.” [source]

With violence spinning out of control, actor and activist Mark Ruffalo joined calls for the Biden administration to support an immediate ceasefire. “Only diplomacy and dialogue, not U.S. bombs, can bring lasting peace,” Ruffalo tweeted. [source]

Yet others worry Washington’s margin to shape outcomes is limited. “The US is no longer able to unilaterally bring allies into line or deter adversaries,” said Steven Cook of the Council for Foreign Relations. [source]

As clashes intensify across multiple fronts, the region appears to be lurching dangerously towards broader conflict. Preventing the outbreak of a new regional war may now rest on increasingly slender hopes for restraint on all sides.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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