Israel & Gaza | MENA | Global
In Global Guardian's monthly Risk Barometer, our Intelligence Team highlights current global hotspots with the potential to impact your business operations and travels. Read below for analysis on the threats we are closely monitoring this month and click here to subscribe for regular intelligence updates.
Implications of the Israel-Hamas Conflict
The crisis in the Holy Land threatens to ignite a global terror wave while Middle Eastern regional stability hangs by a thread. Key regional actors have thus far indicated an aversion to a rapid escalation of the war, but international terror organizations may attempt to seize the media moment by bringing the war to the West. The footage of the 07 October massacre and subsequent bombardment of Gaza has inflamed an already polarized discourse and driven mass social unrest and a sharp rise in antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crimes. Regardless of whether the local conflict between Israel and Iran’s proxies escalates, the world is looking at an elevated threat of terror and socio-political unrest in the short and medium term.
- Avoid non-essential travel to the MENA region
- Increase caution in and around:
- Jewish sites of community or worship
- Israeli consulates, embassies, and other official sites
- High-value soft targets in major Western cities (Times Square, Champs Elysee, Buckingham Palace)
- Western, particularly American and British, installations, assets, or symbols in the Middle east and North Africa (American or British universities, schools, hospitals, military bases, and embassies or consulates)
- Avoid demonstrations as they are susceptible to easy-access, low-tech terror tactics (cars, ABVIEDs) in addition to clashes between protesters and counter-protesters as well as security forces
- Israeli, Jewish, and American travelers to Muslim-majority countries should consider secure car and driver for all ground transportation and executive protection agents while traveling in these countries
The 07 October attacks made Israel’s previous “mowing the lawn” strategy – in which it periodically reduces Hamas’ force projection capabilities – unworkable going forward. Israel is now moving towards a more permanent rearrangement of its local security architecture with the principle aim of destroying Hamas as an organization capable of threatening Israel.
Statements and actions taken thus far indicate that Jerusalem intends to reduce Hamas’s capability by killing its leadership, destroying its armament stockpile, and reducing its rank and file through ground and air operations in Gaza. Due to the impossibility of civilian extrication from Gaza, and Hamas’ extensive use of human shields, Israel’s operation in Gaza will likely incur a very high level of civilian casualties. Historically, military-only approaches to counter-insurgency issues are only workable when they operate with a high level of acceptable civilian casualties. Russia, Sri Lanka, and Algeria were all able to effectively destroy insurgencies in the late nineties and early two-thousands (before the age of social media), but at the cost of tens of thousands of civilian deaths. Israeli military planners are aware of this fact and appear to have factored it into their strategy.
On 03 November Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah announced that Hezbollah would not escalate its attacks on Israel but would continue to engage in tit-for-tat exchanges across the border to tie down and demoralize Israeli troops. The announcement assuaged fears of immediate escalation but came with an ambiguous red line. If Hamas appears to be near defeat, Nasrallah intimated, Hezbollah will utilize a greater portion of its substantial munitions supply and ground forces. In addition to tens of thousands of well-trained and well-armed fighters, Hezbollah possesses a sophisticated arsenal of approximately 150,000 rockets, missiles, and drones. Some of these are long-range, precise, guided weapons with the ability to hit specific sensitive targets deep in Israeli territory.
Both Hezbollah and Israel remember the 2006 war in which Israel was unable to dislodge Hezbollah from southern Lebanon, but not before inflicting serious damage. Hezbollah is likely content to pin down Israeli forces in the north without instigating a more total conflict. Nasrallah likely views the threat of escalation as more politically valuable than escalation itself and he may be wary of reducing Hezbollah’s capabilities in Lebanon in service of Hamas’s capabilities in the Gaza Strip. As of 03 November, Israeli forces had bifurcated the Gaza Strip in an encirclement of Gaza City where urban fighting intensified over the weekend. The past month of airstrikes have turned the outermost parts of the Gaza City to rubble, which as we have observed in Bakhmut, is a near ideal defensive environment for small unit tactics. However, unlike the defenders of Bakhmut, Hamas has had more than a decade to construct a network of tunnels and defensive positions. Israeli forces will likely sustain high casualty rates in attritional house to house fighting and tunnel clearing. So long as Hamas is able to inflict losses on Israeli forces, Hezbollah has an incentive to stay on the sidelines.
Israel’s local strategy necessitates committing to tough urban fighting which will almost certainly lead to mass Palestinian civilian casualties as well as high rates of loss for Israeli forces. High Palestinian casualty figures will certainly exacerbate global tensions, but the risk of a full-blown conflict with Hezbollah has diminished, at least for now.
Hezbollah action is not, however, the only path to escalation. The Houthis in Yemen, independently of Hezbollah, have joined the war as a cobelligerent of Hamas by launching missile attacks on southern Israel and in doing so adding pressure to limited and critical Israeli air defense capacities. Other Arab and Muslim countries and non-state actors could follow suit depending on their domestic political situations and exposure to retaliatory strikes.
The United States (U.S.) and United Kingdom (UK) amongst other Western powers have voiced unequivocal support for Israel’s anti-Hamas campaign despite muted calls for a ceasefire. The U.S. and its partners have also deployed military resources and warships to the area in a move to deter Hezbollah and Iran from widening the war. While the presence of two American aircraft carriers gives the U.S. the option to respond with significant force to an expansion of the conflict, they also present major targets for a range of actors. Iran and Hezbollah have highly sophisticated weapons systems and could have as-of-yet unknown military capabilities that may pose a threat to the naval task force. American casualties would substantially widen the conflict.
As more American forces are mobilized to and within the region, Iranian backed forces have stepped up their attacks. There are more than 40,000 American troops stationed throughout the region including 2,500 in Iraq and 900 in Syria which have come under attack dozens of times since the outbreak of the war. In addition to the potential for direct attacks on servicemen, the strong military and political support the United States has offered Israel makes the U.S., its interests, and its citizens attractive targets for anti-Israeli forces that cannot reach Israel. In Iraq, the U.S. has closed its embassy and consulate in addition to evacuating non-essential staff due to specific threats from local Iran-backed militias such as Ashab al-Kahf and Kataib Hezbollah.
While Iran seems reticent to leverage direct capabilities for the moment, it has stepped up pressure on Western forces in the region through its proxies. The attacks on U.S. forces in the region are intended to tie down American military resources, communicate deterrent capability, and pressure the U.S. to restrain Israeli action against Iran.
International Jihadist organizations, including both Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, in addition to many, if not all, of their franchises, have pledged to support Hamas and the Iranian led “Axis-of-Resistance.” The possibility of large numbers of fighters affecting the course of the local conflict is low. However, Jihadist terrorist organization decision making is governed by two interconnected main objectives: the first being acquisition of media attention, and the second being the radicalization of moderates.
The first objective suggests that it is in the interest of terrorist organizations to capitalize on the current media landscape for fundraising, recruiting, and organizing, which are all further boosted by successful attacks. In the wake of the American invasion of Iraq, global Jihadist recruitment increased significantly, largely due to a successful framing of the war as a war against Muslims. The conflict in the Holy Land presents another such opportunity for framing.
The second objective, the radicalization of moderates, implies that the nature and target of possible attacks would be selected on the basis of damage to de-escalation of the conflict. By inflicting terror on a population in the name of Islam, Jihadist organizations seek to make that population’s policy reaction Islamophobic and extreme. This in turn helps radicalize more Muslims and increases Jihadist power relative to more moderate or secular Muslim political movements. International Jihadist attacks are most likely to target Jewish people and Jewish sites, Western personnel, assets, and institutions wherever they may be, and any soft target in the West that provides an opportunity to inflict mass casualties, including demonstrations and holiday celebrations. Already, several lone wolf attacks have taken place in Europe in addition to the closures of around a dozen airports due to bomb threats.
While terrorism is the most acute global threat stemming from the conflict, a diffuse yet substantial wave of civil unrest has manifested worldwide. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in cities across Europe, Asia, and the U.S. Many of these demonstrations included sporadic episodes of limited violence, particularly in cities with both large Muslim and Jewish populations such as New York, Los Angeles, and Paris.
Israeli and Western embassies and consulates, and Jewish-owned businesses abroad have become a common target for demonstrations. In France, all pro-Palestine protests were initially banned leading to violent confrontations between police and demonstrators. As news and footage of the conflict continues to proliferate on social and legacy media, calls for protests and protest attendance will continue to increase. These manifestations have caused, and will continue to cause, significant travel and security disruptions as they block transportation hubs – either directly or indirectly – and provide targets for extremists.
As part of the same groundswell of socio-political energy, there has been a dramatic increase in the rates of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate crimes. In London, for example, ethno-religiously motivated crimes against Jewish people rose by more than 1,350% and those against Muslims by 140%. In Illinois, a young Palestinian boy was stabbed to death by his Jewish landlord. In Paris, Stars of David and anti-Semitic slogans were graffitied on buildings in a move reminiscent of the persecution of European Jews in the 1930’s and ‘40’s. In Dagestan, a Muslim majority region in Russia, crowds stormed an airport in search of Jewish people to lynch after a rumor of Israeli resettlement in the province had been circulated. In Lyon, a Jewish woman was stabbed and a Swastika painted on her door. More, and more dramatic, instances of hate crimes are likely in the coming months.
Politically, the Western reaction to Hamas’ attack on Israel has been split on generational and ideological lines. This difference of views has largely taken on the language of the culture wars. In the context of the deep political polarization between the left and the right, and the present foreign policy disunity within both sides of the spectrum, the chances of the U.S. emerging from its upcoming election with a cohesive and politically feasible foreign policy are diminishing. Since the U.S. is the most important unitary actor on the world stage, uncertainty about its policies or their continuance would have a destabilizing effect on global politics.
The importance of the Israel-Palestine conflict to western Jewish and Arab diasporas, the media focus on the crisis, and the polarization surrounding the issue create an environment conducive to terrorist attacks, ethnic and religious violence, and the deepening of political schisms, particularly between western leftists and western liberals with significant foreign policy implications.
While the local conflict has yet to escalate into a full-blown regional, the war in the Middle East will have a significant and deleterious effect on global stability and security for months and probably years to come.
Our intelligence analysts provide in-depth custom reports—including critical insight from on-the-ground resources—for clients and organizations in need of real-time analysis of world events with the potential to impact business operations. To learn more—and start building your report—complete the form below.