The Platform

Ran Zisovitch

The Middle East is teetering on the edge.

As the calendar turned to November, the ongoing strife between Israel and Hamas reached a new, distressing monthly peak. The outbreak of hostilities, initiated by a Hamas-led offensive on October 7, has rapidly intensified, defying initial expectations. The consequent assault has wrought considerable bloodshed and destruction across Gaza, with a grim tally of fatalities now surpassing 10,000, tragically including over 4,000 children. Approximately 25,000 individuals have been reported wounded, while the fate of an additional 2,000 remains uncertain as they are feared to be trapped under collapsed buildings.

On the Israeli side, fatalities have reached 1,411, with military casualties accounting for 326 of these. Captivity looms as a stark reality, with Hamas reportedly detaining 240 individuals; a small glimmer of hope shines through with the release of four individuals.

In a strategic turn of events, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have effectively isolated Gaza City by encirclement, following a disruptive severance of Internet and telephone lines, further deepening the enclave’s isolation from the outside world.

A notable geopolitical shift was the United States’ strategic deployment of an Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarine to the region, signaling a strong message under the directive of U.S. Central Command. This action underscores the Biden administration’s clear message to Iran and Hezbollah, cautioning of U.S. military intervention should threats to Israel escalate. Echoing this sentiment, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reinforced the U.S. commitment to deterrence on November 5, signifying unwavering support for Israel’s defense.

The situation has garnered the attention of the World Health Organization’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who expressed grave concerns regarding the communication blackout and the unrelenting bombardment of Gaza. He has made an urgent appeal for the restoration of essential communication networks to ensure injured individuals can access much-needed medical care.

In an unparalleled show of unity, leading humanitarian organizations worldwide have made a joint plea for an immediate ceasefire, characterizing the conditions as “horrific” and “intolerable.” This is accompanied by a sobering report from the United Nations, which mourns the loss of 88 of its personnel, marking this as the deadliest encounter in the history of the organization.

Against this backdrop, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has embarked on a diplomatic mission across the Middle East, advocating for support for the Palestinians and calling for “humanitarian pauses” in the ongoing fighting. His itinerary includes stops in key regional countries like Israel, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Iraq, Cyprus, and Turkey. In Turkey, he has been met with a growing chorus demanding an immediate ceasefire.

Turkey has made a decisive move in the geopolitical dance, recalling its ambassador from Israel and freezing diplomatic ties with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. This reflects Turkey’s balancing act between supporting the Palestinians and maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has been unwavering, ruling out the possibility of a ceasefire until the release of Israeli captives is secured. He has dismissively instructed allies and adversaries to abandon any hopes for a ceasefire during a visit to the frontlines.

The ripple effects of the conflict have been felt in the West Bank, where violent confrontations with settlers and the IDF have resulted in the deaths of 150 Palestinians and injuries to 1,650. The conflict’s reach has extended to international citizens, with at least 27 Americans reported to have lost their lives in Israel.

The volatile Israel-Lebanon border has been set ablaze with skirmishes between the IDF and Hezbollah, with both factions claiming tactical victories. This only adds fuel to an already incendiary situation. Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has hinted at the potential for the Hamas conflict to trigger a wider regional engagement. On the other side, IDF spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus maintains that Israel is merely acting in self-defense, responding to provocations by Hezbollah.

Communication disruptions have become a concerning pattern in Gaza. On October 8, the spotlight turned to Lebanon when Hezbollah acknowledged targeting three Israeli outposts in the contested Shebaa Farms region. Iran has been vocal, suggesting that a worsening situation in Gaza could precipitate a broader conflict, raising concerns over the possible involvement of South Lebanon.

The specter of a combined Iranian-Hamas-Hezbollah front looms over the possibility of an Israeli attempt to neutralize Hamas in Gaza, presenting the United States with a complex geopolitical equation, especially given its recent engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq.

With the potential for the conflict to escalate into Lebanon and Syria, strategic complexities abound, with serious implications for Israel and U.S. interests. The prospect of Russian and Chinese support for Arab factions aligned with Iran adds further intricacies. The U.S., preoccupied with domestic challenges and the conflict in Ukraine, may prioritize a rapid resolution to the present conflict.

Collaborating with regional allies, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, to broker peace is a likely course of action. Yet, the United States must simultaneously juggle its relations with Iran, particularly concerning nuclear deal negotiations. The growing conflict, underpinned by decades of unresolved tensions, has never been clearer.

Sohail Mahmood is an independent political analyst focused on global politics, U.S. foreign policy, governance, and the politics of South and West Asia.