Gaza War: Threat of Major Regional Escalation

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has issued an interim ruling on possible genocide in Gaza, causing mixed reactions between Israel and Palestinians. While Israel is relieved that the ICJ did not call for a ceasefire, it would be upset by the legal and moral implications of the court’s assertion that there was sufficient ground for a genocide case to be pursued and its insistence that Israel address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has criticized a court case as “outrageous,” a “vile attempt” to deny Israel the right to defend itself, and an instance of “discrimination against the Jewish state.” The conflict began on 7 October 2023, with thousands of armed Hamas terrorists launching incursions from Gaza into Israel through various means. Hamas forces killed 1,139 Israelis and foreign nationals, including 764 civilians, and took away 248 Israeli hostages back to Gaza. The Israeli Army was reportedly “undermanned” and “out of position” during the Hamas 7 October attacks.

Hamas forces conducted massacres on 7 October 2023, including the deadliest concert attack ever and the worst Israeli civilian massacre in its history. The attacks were carried out at several kibbutzim where Israeli civilians resided and an outdoor dance music festival. On 12 October 2023, reports emerged that up to 40 babies were slaughtered by Hamas, with US President Joe Biden expressing horror at the beheading of children. Hamas has denied all charges of rape and children’s beheadings.

Israel was taken unaware of the sophistication, preparation, and coordination shown by Hamas in conducting the attacks, which it calls the ‘Al Aqsa Flood’ (Toofan Al Aqsa). Hamas never grew as a full-fledged, well-trained, and well-equipped militia, unlike Hezbollah or ISIS. The staging of the multi-pronged attacks took Israel and global security experts by surprise.

Hamas officials have revealed several objectives behind their attacks, including avenging settler violence in West Bank and Jerusalem, taking major action against repeated clashes in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, reversing Arab-Israeli normalization, and obtaining more Israeli hostages to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails.

Israel’s bombing of Hamas’ terrorist attacks drew massive and unprecedented punitive responses from Israeli forces. It must be understood that Israel cannot survive in a hostile neighborhood without maintaining unquestionable military superiority over its adversaries. Israel’s military actions cannot be judged as per the military standards of other states, especially Western secular democracies, as Israel was founded as a safe haven for the Jewish people, which have suffered some of the most heinous and systematic genocides in human history, including the Holocaust from 1941-45 during World War II.

The State of Israel was established to provide vital protection and existential security for its persecuted community, which gains primacy over the relative freedoms and rights of other hostile communities. If Israel fails to provide effective security, it faces an immediate existential threat. Hamas’ unprecedented terrorist attack has led to Israel’s relentless bombardment of Gaza, destroying about 70% of the buildings in the besieged Palestinian enclave. This offensive is said to have destroyed more than the razing of Syria’s Aleppo between 2012 and 2016, Ukraine’s Mariupol, or the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II.

Israel’s Israel-Hamas war has claimed over 26,000 lives, including 83 journalists and 136 UNRWA aid workers. The conflict has killed more civilians than the US-led coalition’s three-year campaign against ISIS. Amnesty International criticizes Israel’s use of heavy munitions, claiming it used 2,000lb GBU-31 bombs. Prime Minister Netanyahu defends the campaign, claiming it is justified in destroying Hamas, demilitarizing Gaza, and deradicalizing Palestinian society.

The Gaza conflict began with a humanitarian pause in November 2023, following the release of Israeli and foreign hostages by Hamas in exchange for Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel. However, the truce expired on 1 December 2023, and the Israeli PM has stated that the war will continue for months. Tens of thousands of people displaced by the fighting were moving towards the south of Gaza, packing into Rafah and Muwasi, a nearby safe zone.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that thousands of Palestinians have started returning to the north of the Gaza Strip after the withdrawal of some Israeli forces. The Israeli military has announced that it is withdrawing thousands of forces from the Gaza Strip, with some of the five brigades withdrawn preparing for a potential second front against the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement.

The conflict has escalated to other regions, with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant claiming that his country is fighting a multi-front war. He named the seven fronts as Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Judea and Samarra (West Bank), Iraq, Yemen, and Iran. The front with Hezbollah became active after Hamas’ brutal terrorist raids, leading to ongoing clashes at several parts of the Israel-Lebanon border, Syria, and the occupied Golan Heights.

At the New Year, news emerged that the US carrier battle group USS Gerald Ford was leaving the region and returning to its base in Pennsylvania. Israel also decided to move its forces from northern Gaza to north of the country to take on the Hezbollah rocket attacks, which increased over time. Hezbollah’s actions escalated following the assassination of Hamas’ second-in-command, Salah Al Arouri, in Beirut.

The US and the UK, along with Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands, have launched a series of airstrikes against the Houthi movement in Yemen since 12 January 2024. The Houthis, who claim to support the people of Gaza facing Israeli onslaught, have been indiscriminately targeting vessels, attempting attacks on ships with no discernible Israeli ties. By 21 December 2023, the Israeli port of Eilat saw an 85% drop in activity due to Houthi action.

On 3 January 2024, the US and a group of countries issued an ultimatum to the Houthis to stop their activities. The first wave of strikes commenced around 2:30am (Yemen time) on 12 January, hitting over 60 targets in 16 separate locations with more than 100 missiles.

A second wave of missile strikes targeted over 50 targets in 12 locations, aiming to damage the Houthis’ ability to launch complex drone and missile attacks. President Biden acknowledged that the strikes did not stop Houthis from continuing to attack shipping, but stated that efforts to stop them would continue.

Indian ships have been rescuing many ships in and around the Red Sea, including the master of MV Marlin Luanda, who thanked the Indian Navy for its help in stamping out fire on his ship following a missile strike by the Houthis in the Gulf of Eden. The Indian Navy also intercepted a cargo vessel carrying 22 crew members, including nine Indians, shortly after a drone strike in the Gulf of Aden. On 5 January 2024, the Indian Navy successfully prevented the hijacking of the Liberian-flagged vessel MV Lila Norfolk in the North Arabian Sea, rescuing all crew members.

The US, Israel, Qatar, and Egypt are negotiating a potential deal to release all Israeli hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a two-month ceasefire in Paris. However, growing rumors from Lebanon suggest that Netanyahu is preparing for a full-blown war against Hezbollah in Lebanon soon. As the escalating crisis enters its fourth month, there are still more uncertainties over the ongoing Israeli-Arab confrontation, potentially leading to greater confusion and instability in the West Asian region.

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