Israel launched a series of airstrikes on Gaza early Saturday morning, continuing an aerial campaign that has raised concerns of another war between Israel and Palestinian militants. The strikes come as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in the region to try and prevent violence from spreading across the Middle East.
- Israel carried out airstrikes targeting Gaza just hours before Blinken was scheduled to meet with leaders in Turkey on Saturday.
- The Israeli military said the overnight strikes hit an underground rocket manufacturing site, as well as a military base used by Hamas.
- Gaza militants fired at least 15 rockets toward Israel in response. Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system intercepted 11 of them.
- No casualties were immediately reported on either side.
- Blinken will meet with leaders in Turkey, Israel and the West Bank over the next few days in an effort to prevent further conflict.
Background of Latest Clashes
Tensions between Israel and Gaza militants have been steadily building over the past few months after an Israeli military raid in the West Bank last year sparked recurring clashes.
In early November 2023, Israeli forces launched a raid into the Palestinian city of Nablus targeting militants they said were planning imminent attacks. The raid set off a gun battle that killed 10 Palestinians along with a senior Israeli officer.
In retaliation for the Nablus raid, Palestinian militants in Gaza launched rockets into Israel in mid-November, sparking an Israeli military response. An informal Egypt-brokered ceasefire in late November halted the fighting after two days.
However clashes reignited in late December and have steadily intensified since:
- Dec. 22 – Palestinian gunmen open fire on a car in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, injuring 7 Israeli civilians in a drive-by shooting.
- Dec. 23 – Israel launches a series of airstrikes on Gaza targeting Hamas weapons production sites and tunnels.
- Dec. 24 – 30 rockets launched from Gaza; 10 intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome. Israel responds with tank and artillery fire directed at rocket launching teams.
- Dec. 26 – Dozens of Israeli armored vehicles stage brief incursion into southern Gaza.
- Dec. 31 – Exchanges of rocket fire and airstrikes continue in the lead up to New Year’s Eve. Two Palestinian militants reported killed.
- Jan. 1 – Senior commander of Palestinian Islamic Jihad killed in Israeli airstrike on southern Gaza.
- Jan. 2 – Two rockets fired from Lebanon intercepted by Israel’s defense system. Israel responds by firing artillery into Lebanon for first time since 2006 war.
Fear Fighting Could Spread Across Region
As clashes between Israel and Gaza have intensified over the past month, there are growing concerns that fighting could spiral out of control and ignite conflict across the wider Middle East.
In recent weeks militants in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq have staged attacks raising fears that violence stemming from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could spread further:
- Multiple drone attacks struck two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf on Jan. 3. While no group immediately claimed responsibility, officials suspect Iranian proxy groups were behind the naval assaults.
- On Jan. 4 rockets were fired from Lebanon into northern Israel, triggering retaliatory Israeli artillery strikes – the first since the two sides fought a deadly month-long war in 2006.
- The same day missiles were also fired into northern Israel from Syria. Israel responded with airstrikes on military targets around Damascus and Aleppo.
Blinken Seeks to Restore Calm
With tensions at their highest point in nearly 20 years, the U.S. is scrambling to prevent fighting between Israel and the Palestinians from developing into a wider regional conflagration.
Secretary Blinken landed in Turkey early Saturday for meetings with leaders in Ankara and talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders over the next week. Preventing an escalation of violence across the region is expected to top the diplomatic agenda.
Blinken’s objectives for the trip include:
- Urging all sides to deescalate and restore calm.
- Discussing ceasefire arrangements between Israel & Hamas.
- Coordinating with NATO ally Turkey, which has significant influence with Hamas.
- Preventing proxy attacks from Iranian allies destabilizing the region.
- Restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations which have been frozen since 2014.
This marks Blinken’s fourth mediation trip to the Middle East since the latest clashes erupted between Israel and Gaza militants last November.
Previous U.S. diplomatic efforts have succeeded in facilitating short-term ceasefires between the two sides. However establishing a lasting peace has remained elusive as underlying disputes over Israeli settlements and Palestinian statehood remain unresolved.
Blinken Faces Tough Balancing Act
While in the region, Blinken will have to strike a delicate balance between:
- Supporting Israel’s right to self-defense against rocket attacks
- Advocating for Palestinian humanitarian needs in Gaza
- Ensuring good relations with Turkey, a NATO ally increasingly at odds with U.S. interests
- Containing malign influence from Iran which backs militant groups targeting Israel
Critics on all sides have accused the U.S. of failing to serve as an honest broker in past peace efforts.
Blinken will need to demonstrate that American diplomatic leadership can responsibly bring stability to a strategically vital region plagued by generational conflicts.
Outlook for Resolution Remains Grim
Most analysts expect the fighting between Israel and Gaza to eventually settle back into an uneasy ceasefire after the latest clashes burn themselves out.
However the core disputes driving the decades-old conflict remain fundamentally unresolved. Several key factors suggest a lasting peace deal remains unlikely for the foreseeable future:
- Israeli leadership under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown little appetite for making concessions on Palestinian statehood or controversial settlement expansion.
- After winning recent Palestinian elections Hamas has little domestic incentive to compromise despite Israeli pressure.
- Other Middle East disputes, like the civil war in Syria, continue to distract international attention from Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
As Blinken begins another round of shuttle diplomacy this week, the prospect of American mediation bridging divides in this bitterly entrenched conflict appears exceedingly slim.
Absent a drastic shift unlikely under current conditions, the region seems headed for another repeat of the familiar cycle: clashes eventually settling into sullen calm before the next round of violence inevitably erupts again.
|Major Israel-Gaza Conflict
|3 week Gaza War
|1 week fighting
|50 day Gaza war
|11 day Gaza crisis
The latest eruption of violence between Israel and Gaza militants further dims any remaining hopes for a permanent resolution to the decades-old conflict ravaging the Holy Land. Unless underlying grievances fueling the hostilities can be addressed, the region seems condemned to endure more bloody cycles of clashes before stumbling into yet another uneasy ceasefire.
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