In Other News – Israel and Hamas Provide a Distraction for Putin and Xi

October 27, 2023

Countervailing forces are at play in the Israeli strategic decision about when and how extensively to execute its ground invasion in Gaza. Over two weeks after the brutal Hamas massacre, the Israelis are strategizing how to best decimate Hamas while saving as many hostages as possible. In a small country like Israel, that has historically been willing to make substantial concessions to bring home even a single Israeli hostage, the impact of several hundreds being held in Gaza should not be underestimated in their collective calculus. In the past two days, Israel has conducted two significant incursions into Gaza in preparation for the much-anticipated invasion.

Growing international pressure to allow aid into Gaza and preserve civilian casualties, while essential from a humanitarian perspective, could also be delaying the ground invasion even further. And it seems that with every day that Israel delays, it loses some of the initial support and political momentum that it had immediately after the Hamas attack.

What’s more, there is growing instability in the West Bank where clashes between Palestinians and both Israeli settlers and Israeli security forces are increasing. Border skirmishes and missile attacks from Hezbollah are also threatening Israel’s northern front, further distracting IDF efforts against Hamas targets in Gaza, and threatening regional security for its part, Hamas also continues to bombard Israel with rockets- most of which, thankfully, are intercepted, but some of which still make it through.

In addition to these challenges, there has been a significant increase of drone and missile attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, and Washington has been trying to calibrate its response to avoid further escalation. On Friday, U.S. fighter jets conducted precision airstrikes on IRGC targets in eastern Syria, but the extent of the damage is unclear- as is what Iran might do next. And Hamas is openly making calls for others to join their war and Iran, as well as other proxies including the Houthis in Yemen, say they would join if there was a ground invasion into Gaza.

Further, there are growing tensions between the Netanyahu government and the Israeli military. There’s also the question about what thee diplomatic aftermath will be for Gulf States and other Arab States with regards to Israel- some say that the Arab Street will force governments to reverse course on efforts to normalize relations with Israel, while others believe these tragic and violent developments open an opportunity to advance a permanent two-state solution.

Tensions are high, implications are wide-ranging, and behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts are in full force - but just as Hamas surprised so many with its initial onslaught, it remains to be seen what comes next. For more on the current crisis, listen to Arkin Group President Jack Devine on Bloomberg Radio: Bloomberg Radio – Jack Devine on The Tape – Israel-Hamas War.mp3

Putin and Xi are both delighted by these developments as they bring a welcome distraction from the War in Ukraine and China’s domestic leadership upheaval as well as its faltering economy. That American attentions are now divided between two critical matters is seen as a strategic opportunity for disruptive action- whether it be Chinese sabre rattling in the South China Sea and launching China’s first nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine or expanding the budding Russian alliance with North Korea and Russia’s simulating of a catastrophic nuclear retaliatory strike. What’s not lost on either of these leaders – who are both intent on undermining the Western-led democratic order- is that there is an opportunity to try and exacerbate cleavages between allies with conflicting priorities.

Indeed, at the first public meeting of the “Five Eyes,” an alliance of intelligence officials from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, officials gave numerous examples of how China is deploying cyber-active measures to propagate misinformation, exert oppressive tactics overseas, steal intellectual property, and disrupt domestic politics in the West.

Russia will also be almost singularly focused on disrupting the expansion and growing strength of NATO, which will soon count Sweden as an official member now that Turkish President Erdogen has finally given his approbation. Putin will see the next series of elections in the West as existential and will deploy all possible means to influence the outcomes and policies. What’s clear is the knock-on effects of the War in Ukraine and Crisis in Israel are having unforeseen and complicated downstream effects.

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.