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May 19, 2024

Escalating Strikes in Gaza and Beyond Stoke Fears of a Wider Regional War

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Jan 18, 2024

Israel and Hamas have been exchanging rocket fire and airstrikes over the past few days in the latest flare up of their long-running conflict. However, the recent attacks appear to be spilling over into neighboring countries and risk igniting a broader regional war.

Israel Strikes Gaza While Hamas Launches Rockets

On January 17th, Israel launched a series of airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire from the militant group. Israel claims its Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted most of the incoming rockets, but several have struck homes and buildings in southern Israel [1].

At least 12 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli strikes on Gaza, including senior Hamas military commanders. Hamas and other Gaza militant groups have fired over 250 rockets at Israel. While many were intercepted, rocket fire wounded 17 Israeli civilians [2].

This latest fighting is the heaviest between Israel and Hamas since their 11-day war in May 2021. Experts warn it could quickly escalate into another full-blown conflict [3].

Death Toll
12 Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrikes
17 Israelis wounded by Hamas rocket fire

US Strikes Iran-Backed Houthis After Attempted Attacks in Red Sea

As tensions between Israel and Hamas ramp up, conflict appears to be spreading across the region.

On January 16th, the US conducted airstrikes against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen after they attempted attacks on commercial ships transiting the Red Sea [4]. American officials stated the Houthis, who are fighting Saudi Arabia in Yemen’s civil war, were being supplied with Iranian missiles and drones.

The US strikes killed at least 20 Houthi fighters. In response, the Houthis threatened to escalate attacks on Saudi and Emirati oil infrastructure [5].

On January 18th, the Houthis claimed responsibility for a drone and missile attack on an oil refinery in Riyadh, causing a fire. Saudi officials stated the attack was thwarted, but this has not been independently confirmed [6].

The US State Department has warned the situation could quickly spiral out of control, impacting global energy supplies and shipping routes through the Red Sea [7].

Escalating Tit-for-Tat Attacks in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon

Meanwhile, tensions are also rising in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. A series of apparent reprisal attacks over recent weeks suggest the potential for conflict to engulf the wider region:

  • January 10 – 27 killed in ISIS attack on Shiite mosque in Baghdad. Attackers were reportedly Iranian-backed militias retaliating against Iraqi crackdown [8].
  • January 12 – Hezbollah fires rockets into northern Israel from Lebanon. Israel responds with airstrikes [9].
  • January 14 – Iranian-backed militias conduct more rocket attacks on US bases in Iraq [10].
  • January 16 – 23 soldiers killed in ISIS ambush on Syrian military patrol near Palmyra [11].

Experts say Iran appears to be coordinating escalations across multiple conflicts to pressure its adversaries, including Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US [12[13]. Meanwhile, ISIS and Al Qaeda are exploiting instability to stage their own attacks.

International Efforts to Deescalate Appear Ineffective

The Biden administration is struggling to contain the rapidly deteriorating situation across the Middle East:

  • On January 17th, Secretary of State Blinken reiterated calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and warned the US “would not tolerate attacks that undermine prospects for peace” in the region [14].
  • However, Israeli officials insist they will continue strikes on Hamas to degrade its capabilities, while Hamas vows to fire rockets until Israel lifts the blockade on Gaza [15].
  • Russia has blocked a proposed UN Security Council statement calling for restraint between Israel and Hamas [16]. China blames the US for destabilizing the region with its Iran sanctions and support for Israel [17].

With superpower tensions complicating diplomacy, many analysts believe the violence will continue to spread unchecked across the region’s multiple conflicts [18].

Key Conflicts Main Parties
Israel-Hamas War Israel, Hamas militants (Gaza)
Yemen Civil War Houthi rebels, Saudi/UAE coalition
Iraq Insurgency Iran-backed militias, ISIS/Qaeda, US forces
Syrian Civil War Assad regime, rebels, ISIS, Russia/Iran/US
Israel-Hezbollah Israel, Hezbollah (Lebanon)

Concerns Over Impact on Global Oil, India Trade

The escalating Middle East violence is already causing economic ripple effects worldwide:

  • Oil prices have surged over 6% this week on fears that clashes could spread to impact major Gulf producers like Saudi Arabia and UAE [19].
  • Shipping insurance rates for vessels transiting the Red Sea have also jumped 10-15% due to the Houthi attacks [20]. Over $1 trillion in trade passes through the area each year.
  • India could be impacted both in terms of oil supply and sea trade with Europe/Africa, 40% of which flows via the Red Sea [21].
Economic Impacts
Global oil prices up 6% on supply concerns
Shipping insurance hikes in Red Sea
Potential disruption to India’s sea trade

Outlook: Full Blown Regional War?

Most analysts believe the violence will continue to spread in the absence of any political solutions to resolve the region’s complex sectarian divides and territorial disputes:

  • “We are already in a regional war, whether the US administration realizes it or not,” argues former Pentagon official Ilan Goldenberg [22].
  • The Economist warns of “economic damage and diplomatic mayhem if the present crop of Middle Eastern brushfires turn into one giant conflagration,” [23] potentially drawing in Russia, China and NATO allies.
  • Others suggest US disengagement under Biden has created a dangerous power vacuum, allowing conflicts to spin out of control [24].

In the meantime, civilians across the region brace for more bloodshed as their leaders appear incapable of stepping back from the brink.

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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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