The global consequences of the crisis in Israel and Gaza - Robert Peston

A girl carries blankets as she walks past the site of a deadly explosion at al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled)
A girl carries blankets as she walks past the site of a deadly explosion at al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City Credit: AP/Abed Khaled

Here is a short primer about why the terrorist atrocities committed by Hamas against Israelis have catapulted the Middle East, and the world, into such a precarious state.

These reflections stem from conversations with a range of UK and overseas intelligence and diplomatic sources. I apologise if some if this is obvious, but perhaps not all is.

1. Whatever is bad for the US is seen by Russia and China as good for them. With the US seen as having given largely unqualified support to the Israeli government, in the sense of having picked a side, there is no robust international mechanism for uniting all world powers to restore calm and stability to the region.

2. Putin and Russia are beneficiaries as the West and democratic nations are shifting their attention and resources from its invasion of Ukraine to Israel and Gaza.

3. A massive security failure in Israel has undermined popular confidence in the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, but who or what would come next, and when?

4. Any Israeli land invasion of Gaza, even the expected phasing or staging of a military incursion, would inflict massive casualties on both sides.

5. Significant further Palestinian casualties would only stoke up further hatred of Israel and Israelis throughout the Arab world.

6. The Abraham Accord nations - those Arab, Gulf and North African states that have reached a formal accommodation with Israel - struggle to control their protesting populations. Many of their people are outraged by Israeli treatment of Palestinians, in Gaza, and by the expropriation of Palestinian property by the Settler movement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They hear far more than we do in the UK about the increased number of Palestinian deaths outside of Gaza in the West Bank, which British government officials tell me are becoming a serious concern.

7. Hezbollah in Lebanon is better equipped with military hardware than it has ever been. It is close to Iran, hates Israel and is largely autonomous.

8. Israel has for months been far more pessimistic than the US about how close Iran is to having a functioning nuclear weapon.

9. The ease with which Hamas terrorists entered Israel and pursued their killing and hostage-taking rampage, and the threat posed by Hezbollah from Israel’s border with Lebanon, has left Israel and its people feeling more vulnerable and threatened than at any point in my conscious life. More than 40 years ago, I worked on an Israeli kibbutz to the soundtrack of sporadic exchange of heavy artillery from and to the Lebanese border. The Israelis with whom I lived and worked did not feel at risk to the degree to which many Israelis tell me they are today. Confidence in arguably the primary purpose of Israel, to be the bulwark against another Shoah, is at its lowest ebb for generations - though this may not be wholly rational.

10. There is an appalling symmetry in the vulnerability and sense of injustice felt both by Jewish Israelis and by Palestinians that should aid mutual understanding but in practice fights against it. The release of two out of 200 Israelis held hostage by Hamas, the passage to Gaza of 20 trucks containing food and medicine, these are symbols of possible entente, but are a world away from anything that would be a basis even for negotiations on a temporary ceasefire.

I am aware this synoptic list obscures as much as it reveals. But it may help to explain why the priority of so many governments and international organisations, include that of the UK prime minister and foreign secretary, is to endeavour to lower the temperature and create a space in which rational discussion with all relevant parties may in time be possible.

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