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Middle East Conflict and the Regional and Global Impact

January 9, 2024 by Scot Wilson

In the weeks since the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7, Israel has conducted a military campaign with the stated goal of eradicating Hamas as both a military and governing organization.1 The death toll in Gaza currently stands at around 22,000 Palestinians and 170 Israeli soldiers, in addition to the more than 1,200 people Hamas killed on October 7.2 While further negotiations over a second ceasefire are ongoing (as of January 3, 2024), officials in the United States and around the world are also concerned about broader regional and global conflict boiling over.3 Many in the United States share these concerns.4

For discussion of other aspects of the conflict, please see our previous posts about Israel and Hamas, including Teaching and Discussing the Conflict, Discussing Antisemitism and Anti-Islamic Bias, and U.S. Foreign Policy Decisions.

In this blog post, the final in our series exploring the Middle East crisis, we will take a look at the region surrounding Israel and Palestine and consider the challenges the United States faces in navigating it.

WATCH: “U.S. Working to Keep Israel-Hamas War from Spreading,” from CNN

Israel-Lebanon crisis

Lebanon shares a border with Israel, and there have been skirmishes between Israel and the terrorist group Hezbollah—which is based in Lebanon—several times in recent decades. In 2006, there was a month-long war in which almost 1,200 people died.5 Hezbollah remains a potent force in Lebanon. During this ongoing war in Gaza, Israel has also exchanged fire with Hezbollah militants along and across the Lebanon border.6 On January 2, senior Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri was killed in an explosion in a suburb of Beirut. Israel is widely believed to have carried out the attack.7

The Lebanese National News Agency condemned the killing, as did Hezbollah. Some see the strike as evidence that Israel is carrying out its stated goal to eradicate Hamas. The U.S. government continues to publicly support Israel’s actions taken since October 7.8 White House spokesperson John Kirby said, “Israel has a right and responsibility to go after the threat that Hamas poses, which means they have a right and responsibility to go after the leadership of Hamas.”9

Yemen’s Houthis

The Houthis—or Ansar Allah as they call themselves—are a Shiite Islamic movement that “has been fighting Yemen’s Sunni-majority government since 2004.”10 They are supported by Iran’s government, which is also Shiite. The Sunni-majority government in Yemen is supported by Saudi Arabia.11 One of the animating elements of Houthi ideology is to combat what they view as U.S. imperialism; they view Israel and Saudi Arabia—U.S. allies—as participants in the U.S. empire.12

In recent months, Houthis have launched dozens of attacks on ships traveling through the Red Sea. The United States has warned Iran that it might be held responsible for Houthi actions if this continues.13 Eighteen shipping companies are routing their vessels around South Africa to avoid Houthi attacks; this significantly increases shipping times and costs. As much as 15 percent of international trade typically flows through the Red Sea.

U.S. diplomat Christopher Lu said, “We also know that Iran has been deeply involved in planning operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea.” He said the United States does not want a confrontation with Iran, but a confrontation is possible. “It can continue its current course,” said Lu, “or it can withhold its support without which the Houthis would struggle to effectively track and strike commercial vessels navigating shipping lanes through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.”14

U.S. Involvement in the Middle East Conflict

Both the Israel-Lebanon crisis and the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea have the potential to draw the United States into more widespread, significant conflicts in the region. Already, in Iraq and Syria, there have been over 100 attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces, and the United States has struck facilities used by militia groups who are also supported by Iran.15 On January 4, the United States carried out a drone strike in Baghdad that killed at least four members of an Iraqi militia group with ties to Iran.16

Iran plays an important role in supporting Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis, and many other militant and terrorist groups around the Middle East. Some political leaders in the United States are calling for a tougher stance against Iran that could include military action. For example, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, “Without Iran there are no Houthis. … The Houthis are completely backed by Iran. I have been saying for six months now … hit Iran. They have oil fields out in the open, they have the Revolutionary Guard headquarters you can see from space. Blow it off the map. … If you really want to protect American soldiers, make it real to the ayatollah [that if] you attack a solider through a proxy, we’re coming after you.”17

Discussion Questions

  1. What questions do you still have about the Middle East crisis?
  2. What do you think the United States should do? What more would you want to know to help answer that question?
  3. How high a priority should the U.S. government put on each of the elements of the conflict discussed in this post?
  4. In general, do you support the continuation of the U.S. involvement in the Middle East conflict? Around the world? Why or why not?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

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Featured Image Credit: Mass Communications Spc. 2nd Class Moises Sandoval/U.S. Navy via Associated Press
[1] NPR: https://www.npr.org/2023/11/05/1210734100/israel-says-its-goal-is-to-remove-hamas-from-power-what-comes-next-is-unclear
[2] The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/dec/30/gaza-death-toll-israelis-idf-refugee-camps-famine-lebanon-border-gaza-war; NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/live-blog/israel-hamas-war-live-updates-rcna132013
[3] NPR: https://www.npr.org/2023/12/27/1221761431/gaza-israel-ceasefire-palestinians-war; The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2023/dec/29/israel-gaza-war-live-updates-hamas-egypt-delegation-ceasefire-cairo?page=with:block-658f21408f087c86f6957b23#block-658f21408f087c86f6957b23; CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2023/12/27/politics/fears-middle-east-war-biden/index.html
[4] PBS: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/poll-most-americans-fear-broader-conflict-may-arise-from-war-between-israel-and-hamas
[5] International Committee of the Red Cross: https://casebook.icrc.org/case-study/israellebanonhezbollah-conflict-2006
[6] CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2024/01/03/israel-lebanon-killing-of-hamas-leader-stokes-fears-of-wider-conflict.html
[7] USA Today: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/israel-hamas/2024/01/02/saleh-al-arouri-hamas-leader-oct-7-killed-israel/72085458007/
[8] Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/israel-gaza-war-biden-administration-protest-016e100792ece81b69dd6301de08cd3d
[9] USA Today: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/israel-hamas/2024/01/02/saleh-al-arouri-hamas-leader-oct-7-killed-israel/72085458007/
[10] Wilson Center: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/who-are-yemens-houthis
[11] Ibid.
[12] Peace Research Institute Oslo: https://cdn.cloud.prio.org/files/ad7da277-b471-48f6-93d1-36d285160df8/Palik%20and%20Tank%20-%20Rebel%20Governance%20Ansar%20Allah%20in%20Yemen%20and%20the%20Democratic%20Union%20Party%20in%20Syria%20MidEast%20Policy%20Brief%201-2022.pdf?inline=true
[13] Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/us-un-yemen-houthis-shipping-red-sea-08d42a18873ce55979c755ea1a9cc1b5
[14] Ibid.
[15] CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2024/01/04/politics/us-targeted-iranian-proxy-group-baghdad-strike/index.html
[16] Fox News: https://www.foxnews.com/world/us-carries-strike-targeting-iraqi-militia-leader-baghdad-official
[17] Newsweek: https://www.newsweek.com/lindsey-graham-biden-lloyd-austin-iran-houthis-1856123


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