Tensions Are Rising in the Middle East
Less than two weeks in, the drumbeat about the prospects for the Israel-Hamas war to explode into a regional or even global conflict is growing louder. Indeed, efforts at containment are vying with work towards humanitarian relief and hostage negotiations as a regularly appearing theme.
The release by Hamas of two additional hostages, both older Israeli women, is prompting enough speculation of more to come that the Israel Defense Forces seem to be following international counsel and holding off on the formal start of a ground invasion. Still, the bombing and probes into Gaza have intensified, along with the war of words. Al Jazeera is reporting a nightly toll from inside Gaza.
But so too, the reports of firefights involving Hezbollah from southern Lebanon and active protests in the West Bank are increasing. CNN was citing U.S. intelligence as saying that Iranian-backed militia groups are planning to ramp up attacks against American forces in the Middle East, as Iran seeks to capitalize on the backlash to U.S support for Israel. There have been multiple drone attacks on American troops stationed in Iraq and Syria. Officials said that Iran appears to be encouraging the groups rather than explicitly directing them.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said there is “a very direct connection between these groups” and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and he said the US is “deeply concerned about the potential of any significant escalation of these attacks in the days ahead.”
China has deployed warships to the region, and the Pentagon has repositioned one aircraft battle group closer to Iran. Russia apparently is working behind the scenes with allies in Syria, with an eye towards U.S. dissension over funds for Israel and Ukraine.
There are “red lights flashing everywhere,” an American official in the region told CNN.
Gap in Reliable Information
Given the unpersuasive verbal blowups we have been seeing over how even to characterize the partisan efforts in this war — as if labels of “terrorist” or “ethnic cleansing” will explain everything — it has been disconcerting to hear television news anchors reaching for overall strategic conclusions based on the release of these two women.
The whole point of the information wars is that no opinion or presentation can be trusted as pointing beyond the moment’s emotion.
Even days later the explosion in the Gaza hospital courtyard that killed many seems almost certainly to be the result of a militant group’s missile misfire and not a targeted Israeli strike, a finding prompting introspective review by even The New York Times and the BBC for not sufficiently questioning early reports.
Why then, do we believe — or disbelieve — live televised Hamas spokesmen telling reporters by cell phone that all the hostages could be released without spelling out the terms, or about Israel’s military moves without seeing confirmation on the ground.
Indeed, we have no idea what the price of hostage release may be asked or whether anyone intends to pay for it. What we do have is insistence from any number of Israeli officials to crush Hamas for good, and vows from Hamas to kill as many Israelis as possible.
Now, what we have is the increasing probability that others will use the war as justification to widen the conflict.
It’s already a very complicated chessboard. Seeing other global entities moving their pieces on the board will make it next to impossible to align needle-like solutions to resolve the outstanding issues of retribution, humanitarian help for Gazan civilians, post-war governance for Gaza and any thought of a Palestinian state that respects Israel’s right to exist.
Of course, all those issues require more than emotional slogans.
A Dereliction of Duty
Amid this emergency-turning-crisis, we have our domestic Republican war over who is allowed to sit in the House Speaker’s chair even as we head for the deadline over keeping the U.S. government operating.
It is clear even from Republicans like Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, that the would-be hostage taking of the House agenda as Middle East tensions build is a dereliction of duty. Backing of U.S. forces deployed to the Mediterranean has nothing to do with ideological views about Medicare spending or immigration policies.
The Republicans, dallying for three weeks now over replacing Kevin McCarthy as speaker, are missing in action as the country faces significant military questions and international responsibilities. Even if they pick someone this week, there are just days left before the government runs out of money. There are also strategic deadlines for how allies will be able to act in Israel and Ukraine that depend on decisions to approve military and humanitarian aid.
Republicans, once the party seen as a sure backer of the military, are now the party that is undercutting the Pentagon. Donald Trump’s wandering views on the international problems seem far from realistic, a single Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., continues to hold up military promotions over military abortion policies and the speaker debate feels unduly drawn out and contentious — all while under public view from overseas.
There is no question that this uncertainty enables foes and rivals.
The apocryphal doomsday clock feels a tick closer to midnight.