Israel-Hamas War: The race to avert escalation in the Middle East
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:A Quick Take to kick off what is going to be a very challenging week.
I mean, broad picture, everyone's attention now, of course, is on Israel, Palestine and the Middle East and trying to figure out how this war can be prevented from escalating, escalating badly in terms of deaths and humanitarian catastrophe for Gaza, almost certainly not possible right now. Also, in terms of limiting conflict to Gaza and not having it expand into the West Bank, into Lebanon and more broadly in the Middle East, hopefully plausible for now. Interesting point is that no one in the last ten days has asked me a thing about Ukraine or Russia the first time that that's happened in 20 months. And that's significant because in some ways this is one of the biggest implications of this fight, is that the United States is now all in for its principal ally in the Middle East, Israel. And the importance of Ukraine has become a fairly distant, still substantial but still fairly distant.
Number two, as a consequence of that, that's great news for Putin in Russia. Of course, it also comes as the Americans have become much more polarized on the issue of providing additional support to Ukraine. What does that mean? Well, briefly, it means that Ukraine is increasingly going to have the capacity to fight a defensive war. But not a counteroffensive war against Russia. And that means much harder to take any additional territory back.
Certainly the way this is going to play out over the next 6, 12 months will be harder for the Europeans and harder to maintain a strong and cohesive, unified NATO policy. Back to the Middle East. What we are looking at is, of course, a conflict that affects every Israel citizen in ways that are almost unimaginable for those of us commenting on it outside of the country, less than 10 million people, well over 1300 civilians, mostly civilians dead, but also 360,000 Israelis called up reservists, called to fight. In other words, about 4% of the entire Israel population is going to be directly engaged in this war. Almost unimaginable, the impact that's going to have on literally every single Israeli citizens. So, yes, you have now a unified emergency war cabinet. You also have the entire country laser focused on doing everything possible to ensure national security and to respond as strongly as possible against Hamas.
The level of support from the United States for that is close to 100%. Indeed, so much so that there is very little focus on trying to push the Israelis to limit humanitarian costs as a consequence. The US is doing a lot to try to help on the humanitarian side with the Egyptians, with Gulf states, trying to get humanitarian aid in, trying to ensure that there is an open safe passage for that aid at the border between Gaza and Egypt.
That's very different from anything that's going to limit the level of Israeli response against Hamas and therefore against the civilians in Gaza. Over the course of this week, that is, of course, going to be the story that will get the most attention. The fact is that you have 2.3 million civilians in Gaza. About a million of them are already displaced.
This was not a wealthy territory before the war started. It was abysmal and inhumane. We're talking about 50% of the population that doesn't have access to appropriate food. 90% doesn't have clean water. That was before ten days of bombing. And now you're going to have a ground occupation. I don't know exactly when that's going to start, but certainly it is coming relatively soon and it is unavoidable. The impact of that on Palestinian civilians is going to be immense, not least because Hamas itself wants to put those civilians at risk. Hamas operating in civilian areas, roadblocks preventing Palestinian civilians from fleeing, even as the attacks from Israel are going to be imminent. In other words, you've got 199 hostages that are presently being held by Hamas from Israel and other countries. You've got millions of Palestinian civilians that are being held hostage by Hamas, and those civilians are at risk and many of them will be injured. Many of them will die. That is a reality, an incredibly tragic reality of this situation in the coming weeks. Certainly, the fact that the Americans are as engaged as they are diplomatically, I think will help to ensure that more humanitarian aid comes and comes quickly, will also help behind the scenes in maybe reducing some of the civilian damage that comes from Israeli military attacks. After all, that did get the water reopened to the south from Israel and has helped to slow the timeline after a 24-hour announcement from Israel that ground operations were imminent. But ultimately, given the role that Hamas is playing as a terrorist organization, putting their population intentionally at risk, there is only so much that the United States, Europe or anyone else is going to be able to do.
That's where we stand right now. I have there's very little positive news to talk about coming from this region. Perhaps the only thing positive to say that is significant is that the likelihood that Iran gets directly involved in this war seems to me very, very low indeed, at least in the near term. Why? Because they weren't involved in orchestrating the attacks, because they do not want to be a part of the war directly. And every statement I've seen that's meaningful from Iranian leadership points in that direction, also because the Americans and more importantly, the Israelis believe that the Iranians were not involved in orchestrating attacks and they do not want the Iranians directly involved either.
Doesn't mean it can't happen. If you open the Hezbollah front, if the attacks that we've already seen and deaths on both side of the border there start increasing, the potential this becomes a broader proxy war in the region Iran gets involved is real, but near-term it won't. The reason that's critically important right now, everyone in the world is focused on this issue. But unlike the Russia-Ukraine war, which had massive economic impact on the world because of the supply chain disruptions, the higher cost for fuel, the significantly higher costs for food and for fertilizer. Here, if Iran is involved in the war, it's $150 oil. It's a global recession. It's very likely Trump becomes president in 2025. Short of that, the economic implications for the rest of the world, least the direct implications, are actually very low. And the knock on diplomatic implications, the geopolitical implications, those are more significant and long lasting. Those are the ones we're going to be dealing with for a much longer time.
That's it for me for now. And I'll talk to you all real soon.
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