It’s been three months since Hamas launched Operation Al-Aqsa Flood which led to the killing of hundreds and the kidnapping of dozens of Israeli and foreign citizens. Commercial ships moving in the Red Sea have come under fire from the Iranian-backed terror group known as the Houthis who operate out of Southern Yemen. The Houthis use a combination of missiles and drones to disrupt commercial shipping in self-declared support for the Palestinian people. Increasing attacks on commercial shipping and on US Naval and Army assets deployed to the region threaten to escalate tensions into widespread war. Let’s examine the beginning of the current Israeli operation in Gaza, the different players involved, and what the future may hold.
The Roots of the Israel-Palestine Conflict:
The State of Israel and the State of Palestine have been at varying levels of tension and combat, from the creation of Israel into the modern day. Palestine is separated into two regions, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority has administrative control over the West Bank whereas the terror group known as Hamas has administrative control over Gaza. Israel and the Palestinian Authority have signed cooperative security agreements, which Foreign Policy reports are “hugely unpopular” with Palestinians in the West Bank. Tensions in the West Bank stem from the influx of Israeli settlers, Israeli raids on the West Bank, and Israeli security measures against Palestinians. In Gaza, there is no security cooperation at any level, and Hamas is openly hostile to the Israeli state and its civilians. Tensions in the Gaza Strip arise from Israeli Defence Force and Hamas military actions, Israel’s naval and land blockade of the Gaza Strip, and the social strife that stems from those issues. Hamas has launched consistent attacks against Israel, primarily using rockets and mortars. Hamas also benefits from funding, training, and material support from Iran.
By The Numbers:
Hamas launched an attack on October 7, 2024, that led to 1,300 Israelis being killed, 12,000 wounded, and 230 kidnapped. This is the largest death toll from an attack in Israel’s history. In response, Israel launched Operation Swords of Iron, with the Israeli government vowing to eliminate Hamas in its entirety. That operation has engaged targets within Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and Syria. According to the Guardian, 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and 2 million have been displaced by the fighting. Hamas has between 20,000-25,000 fighters, according to the Director of National Intelligence. Hezbollah claims to have 100,000 fighters based in Lebanon. The Houthis have around 200,000 troops according to Relief Web. The Houthis and Hezbollah are well funded, well trained, and have a variety of long-ranged weaponry that actively pose threats to both Israel as well as to American naval and land assets in the region. In support of Israel, the United States dispatched two carrier groups, in total 15 surface ships (not counting an unknown amount of escort submarines), with a complement of around 15,000 soldiers, according to Le Monde.
Key Actors and Their Current Positions:
Israel: Focused on safeguarding its national security for the present and the future. Israel seeks the destruction of Hamas through kinetic action and seeks to demonstrate their capacity to react accurately and quickly, against threats to their nation. Israel also seeks to free their hostages, through negotiation or force.
United States of America: The US wants to demonstrate support for Israel while simultaneously warning hostile nations/groups in the region from escalating tensions through the deployment of two carrier groups in the region. Stabilization of the Middle East is core to the current American National Security Policy. The U.S. is also committed to the protection of commercial shipping moving through the Red Sea to deny the Houthi’s leverage and protect innocent lives.
Islamic Republic of Iran: Iran wants to maintain pressure on Israel through its militias. Iran cannot back down, as it wants to maintain the image of “taking the fight to Israel” nor does it want to escalate too far, creating a full-blown conflict with Israel and by extent, the U.S. Iran will likely maintain its current modus operandi and continue to support its affiliated terror groups to carry out its wishes. Iran will propagandize Israeli attacks on Gazans, and any attacks on its proxies as martyrs in the struggle against Israel. The movement of the warship Alborz into the region signals Iran’s interest in testing the limits of American policy and demonstrating its influence. In reference to the Red Sea, Iran’s Defence Minister, Mohammad Reza Ashtiani said “nobody can make a move in a region where we have predominance” as reported by Reuters.
Houthis: Attack commercial shipping transferring through the Red Sea to create international pressure on Israel to negotiate with Hamas at the behest of Iran. Houthis would serve as a “first-strike” force against American assets in the Red Sea region if open war were to occur.
Hamas: Is continuing to wage open war on Israel, and seeks to gain hostages held by Israel in exchange for hostages held by Hamas. Hamas wants to inflict as many Israeli casualties as possible, through direct military action against military targets or against civilian targets in Gaza and Israel.
Hezbollah: The well-funded and well-organized terror group based out of Lebanon has so far only skirmished with Israeli forces. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah has signaled that Hezbollah’s skirmishes with Israel already signified its entry into the conflict and that “all options are on the table” in regards to the possibility of escalation, according to the Atlantic Council.
For Further Details on the Middle East :
These resources are ones I recommend for further learning about the current situation in the Middle East.
Carnegie Middle East Center
Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings
The Middle East Cold War Explained
History of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
What The Future May Hold:
American forces will likely engage in preemptive strikes against Houthi launch targets to limit the Houthis ability to harass commercial shipping. Mounting international and domestic pressure will likely push American government leaders to increasingly pressure the Israeli government to negotiate with Hamas for a ceasefire. According to a Reuters poll of American civilians, 68% of respondents agreed that Israel should “call a ceasefire and try to negotiate”. Israel will likely not engage in peace talks until they have met their security goals in the region. These actions could come at the cost of their international relationships, as multiple countries have already withdrawn their ambassadors from Israel in reaction to Israel’s actions in Gaza. As the US is closely aligned with Israel, many nations and people will reflect that Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip were only possible with the consent and support of the US. The consequences of this will negatively impact the safety of American citizens, assets, and symbols around the world. The large loss of civilian life will inflate tensions against Western nations that are seen as common supporters of Israel, such as the United States, France, England, and Germany. There will likely be terror attacks in these countries in direct correlation to this.
Do you think Iran wants to risk open warfare? What is Iran’s redline for escalation? Would Israel fire the opening volley? Time will tell if an escalation may occur.