The region is on high alert as tactical Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip threatens to draw in Iranian-backed militant groups and the United States. Here are the key takeaways from Global Guardian's recent webinar on the situation in the Middle East.
October 31, 2023
INSIDE THIS ARTICLE, YOU'LL FIND:
Israel has entered the next phase of its fight against Hamas by carrying out tactical incursions inside the Gaza Strip to rescue hostages and wipe out Hamas, raising the risk that the war between Israel and Hamas could engulf the region, drawing in Hezbollah, other Iranian proxy groups, and, eventually, the United States.
Concern about escalation has been fueled by a growing number of cross-border attacks by Iran-backed Hezbollah from Lebanon into northern Israel—potentially opening a second front in Israel’s war. Israeli strikes into Syria and the West Bank, attacks on U.S. troops and bases in the Middle East, and reports that the United States shot down cruise missiles and drones fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen at Israel have also added to this concern.
Daniel Flesch, a former spokesman for Israel’s mission to the United Nations, predicts Israel will face a multifront war. “When this ground invasion does come, Israel won’t be facing just a one-front war, it will be facing a two or potentially more multifront war,” Flesch said in a webinar hosted by Global Guardian on October 17.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
On October 7, Hamas launched a surprise deadly attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip. Thousands of Hamas fighters breached a border security fence and killed more than 1,400 Israelis and foreign nationals, taking more than 200 others hostage. Women, children, and the elderly are among the hostages.
Israel called up 360,000 reservists in response to the attack. “The last time Israel conducted a ground operation in Gaza was 2014—Operation Protective Edge. Then Israel only called up 70,000, give or take, reservists,” said Flesch. “[This] fivefold increase looks [like Israel is] getting ready for a fairly large operation. This will be a combined arms operation utilizing land, air, and naval assets,” he predicted.
Israel’s military is currently undertaking an intense bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip in an operation ostensibly aimed at decimating Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed an emergency unity government with opposition leader and former defense minister Benny Gantz following the October 7 attack. Most Israelis are firmly behind the government’s plan to eradicate Hamas. “To Israelis, it’s very clear… that the policy of the last 15 plus years trying to contain Hamas and keep them within the Gaza Strip has failed,” said Flesch.
The timing of the Hamas attack is seen as linked to diplomatic efforts in the Middle East to normalize Arab-Israeli ties, starting with the 2020 Abraham Accords between the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, and Israel to the more recent movement toward a deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Flesch said Saudi-Israeli normalization would have been a “paradigm shift in the Middle East.” Hamas’ attack, however, has put the future of this effort in limbo.
GLOBAL TERROR ALERT
The Israel-Hamas war has resulted in a spike in terror activity—for example, an Israeli embassy staffer was stabbed in Beijing, a teacher was stabbed to death in a French town, a Palestinian-American child was stabbed to death in his home near Chicago while his mother was seriously wounded in the attack, and a lone-wolf attacker pledging allegiance to the Islamic State killed two Swedes in Brussels. France and Belgium have raised their threat levels while British intelligence chiefs are also considering putting Britain on high alert for a terrorist attack.
Noting that Hamas and Hezbollah have cells operating around the world, Flesch said that Hezbollah in particular “has demonstrated over the decades its willingness and ability to carry out terrorist attacks on Jewish, Israeli, and Western targets.”
WHAT COULD HAPPEN NEXT?
Beth Sanner, a former deputy director for national intelligence, said the Biden administration must carefully balance Israel’s need for security with the Palestinians’ need for humanitarian aid and safety. A failure to strike the right balance would result in the United States ending up “on the wrong side, yet again, just like the Russia-Ukraine war where we’ve lost the Global South on this issue,” she said.“I think we need to be very careful in how we talk about this because we should be able to say that Hamas is an evil terrorist group that needs to be defeated, and the lives of Palestinian civilians need to be protected,” she added.
A SECOND FRONT?
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian traveled to Syria, Iraq and Lebanon where he warned Israel it would suffer “a huge earthquake” if Hezbollah were to join the war “Those 150,000 plus rockets and missiles present the most significant and perhaps existential threat to Israel its ever faced in 50 years,” said Flesch. “This is something that Iron Dome”—Israel’s missile defense system—“cannot contend with,” he added. In anticipation of the war drawing in Hezbollah, Israel has been evacuating towns and villages near the northern border with Lebanon.
Iran’s support for proxy groups in its neighborhood—including in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza—is seen as part of its “ring of fire” strategy to encircle Israel. According to Zev Faintuch, a senior intelligence analyst with Global Guardian, Hezbollah has stated that “its red line for intervention into this conflict is if Israel steps foot in Gaza.” He added: “what everything really hinges on here is what a potential U.S. response would be to the intervention of Hezbollah into this conflict…. if the U.S. steps in here that could really set the region alight.”
Meanwhile, Iran-backed Shia militant groups have been increasingly targeting U.S. military bases in Iraq and Syria. The United States has ordered 2,000 troops to prepare to deploy to the Middle East. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has deployed the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group to the Persian Gulf, extended the deployment of the USS Gerald R. Ford and its strike group, will move Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary closer to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, and has ordered the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile battery and Patriot missile defense system battalions to the Persian Gulf.
Israeli Ground Invasion
An Israeli ground invasion of Gaza would face several hurdles, including the prospect of urban warfare in what is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Besides the challenge of fighting an enemy—Hamas—that is deeply entrenched in the local population, Israeli soldiers would have to contend with Hamas’ intricate network of tunnels that it uses to transport its fighters and munitions. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) will also need to move carefully to avoid any harm coming to the 200 plus hostages still in Hamas hands.
A NEW AXIS
The Israel-Hamas war has shifted attention away from Russia’s war in Ukraine and is furthering the agenda of the leaders of Russia and China who would like to see the West, and the United States in particular, distracted. The war in Ukraine has already put immense strain of Western munitions supplies; the prospect of providing weapons to Israel will add further strain.
Flesch said a new axis is developing between Iran, Russia, and China which share a common interest in disrupting and destroying the Western liberal order.
“For Russia, in terms of the war, it’s very, very good news, because we’re distracted,” said Sanner. “Same goes with China—it’s great to have the United States caught in a quagmire somewhere else. It takes our resources, it prevents us from building up our industrial production of our military, which, you know, we’ve really drawn down a lot of our excess supplies [by sending them to Ukraine]. So all of these things are great news for Russia and China.”
One bit of silver lining, Sanner said, is that the Israel-Hamas war may lead Iran to think twice about supplying weapons for Russia to use in Ukraine. “I am kind of wondering whether actually Iran might be a little bit less helpful [to Russia] in the coming months. If they feel that the war might escalate, and involve them, maybe they’re not going to be willing to export as much,” she said.
QUESTIONS & Answers About the Situation in the Middle east
Here, Global Guardian's Intelligence Team answers questions asked by participants during the October 17 webinar:
Egypt’s main goal is to preserve its own regime stability. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement Egypt’s current leadership removed from power in a coup and considers its primary political threat. We are currently recommending car driver and agent services for Americans traveling to Egypt as the threat has increased due to the conflict. We caution all to avoid any large protests or gatherings.
First and foremost, we expect hate crimes – to include violence – targeting the Jewish community. We also expect hate crimes directed at the broader Muslim community as the conflict continues. Many terrorist groups are seeking to exploit this conflict to recruit and solicit donations, but we see a more acute threat from lone wolf attackers than from foreign entities. This is a different story in Europe where there is a strong likelihood of attacks from both lone actors and organized terror groups.
Yes. The threat is higher in Pakistan than in India but numerous terrorist groups operate in India that harbor ill-will towards Americans as well as Hindus.
China’s main two interests in the region are energy security — around half the oil it imports is from the Gulf — and diminishing America’s relative power in the region. China stands to benefit from a distracted America and a diversion of resources, but potential attacks on the region’s energy industry and infrastructure would be extremely harmful to China.
Iran is already escalating in a step-wise fashion. It is unclear how far it will go. That is why the U.S. is moving as many air defense assets to the region as it can as we speak.
The information surrounding these reports is hazy. Hezbollah and all of Iran’s proxies have advanced drones. Hezbollah et al. seem to be probing Israel’s defenses and in doing so, they are ensuring that Israel maintains air defense assets in the north that could instead be utilized to defend rockets from Gaza.
Personnel redundancies should be put in place, as many Israeli nationals could be mobilized and demobilized over the coming months, if not longer. Continuity disruptions should be expected and accounted for.
There is little concern for Pakistan’s material involvement in this conflict. Though should Iran decide, Pakistani nationals serving in Iran’s Fatemiyoun Zainabiyoun, Aliyoun, and Haidariyoun militant groups that are based in Syria could be used in this conflict.
Low. Israel does not want Americans to fight its war for it. But the U.S. military could be deployed to combat Iranian-backed groups in the region or to Iran itself should the situation escalate.
STANDING BY TO SUPPORT
The Global Guardian team is standing by to support your security requirements. To learn more about our Duty of Care membership and emergency response capabilities, complete the form below or call us at + 1 (703) 566-9463.