How US troops could get pulled into a wider conflict in the Middle East – DIGIWIZ CENTRAL

How US troops could get pulled into a wider conflict in the Middle East

A fireball erupts from an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on October 9, 2023.

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images

The Israel-Hamas war could spark a wider regional conflict in the Middle East.
Iran and Hezbollah are menacing Israel with attacks.
The US could be drawn in to defend Israel if events spiral, say experts. 

President Joe Biden this week touched down in Israel as the Middle East was engulfed in new turmoil. 

Biden had intended the trip to be a show of solidarity with Israel in the wake of the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks, in which 1,300 Israelis were killed.

But an attack on a hospital in Gaza hours before Biden’s arrival drew fury across the region, and intensified fears that the conflict between Israel and Hamas could escalate into a broader regional war.  

On Tuesday, Israel’s national security advisor predicted that the US would get “involved” if the Gaza war escalated to the point where Iran and Hezbollah joined.

Michael DiMino, a researcher at Defense Priorities who worked as a counterterrorism analyst at the CIA, told Regional Statecraft that the possibility of direct American involvement is now “higher than most people realize.”

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) hugs US President Joe Biden upon his arrival at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on October 18, 2023.


Tensions are escalating

Hamas and several Middle Eastern countries blamed Israel for the attack on the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City, which the UN said killed several hundred people. In response, Israel released data that it claimed showed that a misfired Palestinian militant organization’s rocket caused the explosion, an assessment backed by Biden in remarks after his arrival. 

But Hamas’ chief allies — Iran and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militia — have been seeking to stir rage in the Muslim world over the hospital explosion. 

Hezbollah called for a “day of rage” in the region in the wake of the hospital attack, and Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said that the flames from the hospital attack would “soon engulf” Israel.

They’d threatened to attack Israel in support of Hamas before the hospital attack, with clashes in recent days between Hezbollah and Israeli forces on Israel’s northern border intensifying. In the West Bank, tensions have been rising, with around 60 people killed in clashes and fears of a new uprising. 

Israel has deployed most of its forces on the Gaza border amid signs it’s preparing a land invasion. However, some analysts are warning that they may be spread too thin to repel attacks on multiple fronts.

There are also concerns, voiced among others by the former head of the UK’s MI6 intelligence agency, that Israel is being lured into a trap that could drag the US into a wider regional conflict. 

If it invades Gaza its forces could get bogged down in intense urban warfare at a high cost in casualties, then hit with an attack from Hezbollah from the north. 

It’s a crisis that echoes the 1973 Yom Kipur War, when Israel was simultaneously attacked by Egypt and Syria and almost overwhelmed. 

Multiple attacks on Israel could draw the US into the war 

Protesters clash with Lebanese security forces on October 18, 2023, outside the US Embassy.

JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images

The US has already deployed two aircraft carriers just off the coast of Israel as a warning to Hezbollah and Iran, and has pledged logistical and intelligence support to Israel. 

Mat Burrows, an analyst with Washington, DC, based think tank the Stimson Center, told Insider that the US would likely be drawn into the conflict if Israeli forces were struggling to repel attacks on multiple fronts. 

“I could only see US getting militarily involved if Israel proper was clearly endangered, invaded by Hezbollah from the north and dealing with a severe uprising in the West Bank and an unfinished operation in Gaza.  Then, I could see US fighters and bombers taking out Hezbollah sites in Lebanon or crippling arm supplies from Iran,” he said. 

In Hezbollah, Israel faces an opponent that is better armed and trained than the Gaza-based Hamas militia. The group is armed with around 130,000 rockets, including long-range missiles, that could penetrate Israel’s “Iron Dome” air defense system and strike its cities, said the Missile Threat research group. 

Taking out the launchers Hezbollah uses to fire the missiles could be among the US’ core missions if it chooses to step in and defend Israel, experts told the AFP news wire.

Though it’s unlikely Iran, Hezbollah’s chief backer, wants to get directly involved in a conflict with the US, it would love to exploit the turmoil caused by the Hamas attacks to further damage Israel.

“They want to pressure Israel via Hezbollah when Israel is already stretched and distracted,” said Burrows. “However, their attacks from Lebanon and Israel’s counterattacks could escalate up to the level of a full-scale war, provoking US involvement,” he remarked. 

Iran’s main international backers, Russia and China, have much to gain from a renewed conflict in the Middle East, say analysts, with the Kremlin keen to distract Western attention from its invasion of Ukraine, and China long harboring ambitions to seize control of Taiwan. 

“As Iran has good relationships of fluctuating dependence on both China and Russia it seems almost duty bound to overreact to any US involvement,” Robert Dover, an expert on intelligence and security at the University of Hull, told Insider. “This will likely be in the form of supplying Hezbollah and pressuring them to aggressively assert themselves on the Lebanese front.”

“Direct Iranian involvement seems unlikely at the moment, but if it reaches the stage where it plausible deniability of Iranian involvement is breached then the situation in the Middle East has gone out of control, if it hasn’t already,” he said.

A last resort

For now, though, Stimson Center’s Burrows said the likelihood of America putting “boots on the ground” and deploying troops in Israel appeared remote, not least because of domestic opposition in the US to involvement in another costly and damaging military operation in the region.  

And if the US were to get involved in the conflict in defense of Israel, this could provoke a new wave of attacks by Iran’s allies.

Striking Hezbollah targets in Syria could lead to retaliation from Russia, a Syrian ally, with the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank that analyses global conflict, saying that Iran, Russia, and Syria were already seeking to expel US forces from the country. Or pro-Iranian groups in countries such as Iraq, Syria, and Yemen could attempt to attack US sites in the region such as military bases. 

“They would find it difficult to strike Israel directly,” Clive Jones, an expert on Israel and the Middle East at Durham University, told the AFP news wire. “But they could attack American interests in the region.”

DiMino, the former CIA analyst, told The Responsible Statecraft blog, that such an escalation could lead to pressure from Israel for the US to strike Iran itself. 

“Obviously, that would be a disaster for all parties involved, not least the United States,” DiMino said. “I don’t think that this administration wants to do that, but I do think once these events start to roll together and the decision matrices and the timelines that those decisions have to be made on get narrower and narrower, that these kinds of things can happen.”

Read the original article on Business Insider
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