Gaza Could Escalate Catastrophically—or Provide a Pivot to a Better World

Sursa foto: wikipedia

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie paraded through Sarajevo to inspect imperial troops 110 years ago this month, on a sunny June 28, 1914. They were met with cheers, but among the crowd lurked an assassin aiming to strike a blow for independence. When the archduke’s motorcade took a wrong turn, Gavrilo Princip’s two shots killed them both.

Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia mobilized to protect Serbia, prompting Germany to declare war on Russia. France and Britain, bound by alliances, were drawn in, and eventually so was the United States. World War I killed close to 20 million people and laid the groundwork for World War II, which killed at least three times as many and gave the final impetus, after the Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews, for the establishment of Israel as a haven for this long-persecuted people.

The bizarre origin story of World War I shows how seemingly local events can spin out of control—and Israel is now at the center of a maelstrom that has real potential to do the same.

That’s because the Gaza War, launched by Israel after the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre of 1,200 in Israel, has been accompanied by a multipronged, Iran-driven attack on Israel on multiple fronts, including by the Houthis in Yemen (firing drones and missiles and disrupting Suez Canal-bound global shipping) and especially Hezbollah in Lebanon.

This Islamic fundamentalist terrorist group, which does whatever it wants in its hapless host country, has been shelling the Jewish state for more than eight months out of proclaimed solidarity with the Gazans; it has succeeded in causing almost 100,000 Israelis to flee their homes along the border.

The past week has seen the highest rate of projectiles fired into Israel yet—over 200 in one day—and Israel is seriously weighing launching an all-out war against Hezbollah. The Americans and French (who have a historical interest in Lebanon) are scrambling to mediate, garnering sneers and bristling from both sides.

Israeli military planners understand pretty well history’s advice against a two-front war—which undid Napoleon and Hitler and others—but the situation is becoming simply too absurd. And of course, escalation is inevitable if Hezbollah mistakenly kills a large amount of people, which seems likely to eventually occur.

The group says that in a war it would target Tel Aviv (about 100 miles south of the border) with long-range missiles which are expected to cause major disruption in a significant world city that is a global center of high-tech, brimming with modern office towers. This could kill many thousands, which is something Israelis have never experienced on the home front.

Israel has made clear that if that happens, it will launch a devastating attack against Lebanon’s infrastructure. This is the last thing needed by this struggling country. Lebanon endured a 15-year civil war not long ago and has, in recent years, been weighed down by an influx of Syrian refugees. The country’s government—if it still can be called that.—is barely able to collect trash. But attacking Lebanon’s infrastructure may be the only way to deter Hezbollah even a little.

The group’s 30,000 estimated fighters, although they often take orders from Iran, are all Lebanese, and constitute the strongest military force in the country, and they do derive some advantage from a limited form of local support.

Iran can be expected to rush to Hezbollah’s aid. It showed its willingness to attack Israel directly in April, when it launched a concerted volley of around 170 drones, over 30 cruise missiles and more than 120 ballistic missiles—which were mostly repelled by Israeli forces working together with American, British, and Jordanian assistance.

If a more substantial attack was to come, Israel would contemplate a strike on Iran’s primary uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, and possibly try to draw world powers into a regime-change project in Iran. This would, of course, be a favor to the Iranian people, who deserve better than to be run by maniacal theocrats helming a police state.

Israel has been chafing to do this for more than a decade, because Iran has insisted on advancing its nuclear weapons program, and it is already essentially a nuclear-threshold state. Once it crosses the threshold, nuclear weapons would be in the hands of one of the most disruptive regimes in history, which considers the U.S. to be „the Great Satan.” Iran also considers Israel, „the Little Satan,” to be a client of the U.S., and it would at that point be very likely to attack American interests all over the region.

That presence offers extensive and multifaceted targets: The Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar is a central hub for U.S. air operations, hosting thousands of U.S. personnel and serving as the headquarters for U.S. Central Command and U.S. Air Forces Central Command; the UAE and Kuwait are also involved; the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain, ensuring the security of maritime routes in the Persian Gulf; U.S. forces have been involved in Syria primarily to combat ISIS; the U.S. still maintains a military presence in Iraq to combat insurgency; and American forces are also present in Jordan.

If the U.S. and Iran become involved in direct hostilities, the big question will be what Russia and China do. Both might try to use the distraction to make moves—in Russia’s case in Ukraine or against other countries like the Baltic nations, and in China’s case, in a possibly most dangerous scenario for the planet, against Taiwan. Especially if the latter occurs, the potential for a modern version of a world war is clear.

So, what should be done to avoid all this? That brings us back to Israel. It is perhaps evidence of history’s twisted humor that the reckless hard-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds the key to an alternative scenario where none of the above occurs.

Israel had hoped to both dislodge Hamas from power in Gaza and gain the return of its hostages—but after eight months more than 116 are still in Hamas’ hands and the group is battered but unbowed. It’s becoming clear that Hamas’ price for the hostages’ return is the end of the war—without any formalization of regime change in Gaza.

That would be excruciating for Israel, but there are a series of upsides. First, its hostages would probably come home. Second, Israeli intelligence expects Hezbollah would indeed cease its attacks, cutting off the above-described domino effect. Third, the Biden administration is trying to engineer a Western-Sunni-Israeli military alliance aimed at staying Iran’s hand and featuring a peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In such an alternative scenario, the quagmires of Gaza and Lebanon would be more than just an Israeli problem to solve. Perhaps an alternative to Hamas can be coaxed in Gaza. Much ingenuity and massive treasure will be needed in both cases. But it is possible that Hezbollah and what remains of Hamas can be slowly brought to heel with the help of public opinion in both Lebanon and Gaza.

There is a strong argument that this is the true victory scenario for Israel, the West and all Middle Eastern people who inhabit a rational universe where peace and prosperity are goals. It’s risky, sure, but if, despite the punishment it has endured, Hamas is not deterred, Israel can always resume the war, and this time without the complicating factor of the hostages.

Thus would World War III be avoided, at least for now.

Dan Perry is the former Cairo-based Middle East editor and London-based Europe/Africa editor of the Associated Press. Follow him at

All eyes on Hamas


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