“We anticipate a much greater escalation against U.S. forces and personnel in the near term. And let’s be clear, the road leads to Iran,” a senior Defense Ministry official told reporters on Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak on the record.
Arab officials are also worried. They urge Washington to help defuse tensions by using the influence it has with Israel. Some say the United States should call a ceasefire, but the Biden team is unwilling to do so, saying Israel has the right to respond to Hamas attacks.
It is particularly difficult to contain violence because sparks fly in many different places. If tensions do not decrease quickly, “the entire region will be affected,” predicts an Arab diplomat, who requested anonymity for the same reasons. “No one will be spared.”
Here are some of these potential hotspots:
Iraq and Syria
US troops in various locations in Iraq and Syria have already been attacked by drones and rockets more than a dozen times in the past week. Officials fear these small-scale attacks, which the Pentagon blames on Iranian-backed militant groups, could continue — and even get worse.
There are fears that the attacks could extend beyond Iraq and Syria – home to 2,500 and 900 US troops respectively – and extend to thousands of other US troops stationed in the region, from Bahrain to United Arab Emirates. Even commercial ships in the Persian Gulf could face an increased threat, according to a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic.
“Overall, we know there is a significant threat of escalation throughout the region, including toward U.S. forces,” a senior U.S. military official told reporters.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has sent additional forces to the region in response to attacks in Iraq and Syria, including redirecting an aircraft carrier strike group en route to the Eastern Mediterranean on Saturday to his Middle Command. East. It also deployed additional air defense capabilities, including Patriot battalions and a high-altitude terminal area defense system, throughout the region, the Pentagon said.
This is in addition to another carrier strike group currently operating in the Eastern Mediterranean and thousands of forces on standby around the clock for deployment should the need arise.
Along the Israeli-Lebanese border
Israel’s northern border with Lebanon is already the scene of apparently increasingly intense strikes between the Israeli military and Hezbollah, another Iranian-backed militant group.
Israel has evacuated villages near the border amid rocket fire and concerns about militant incursions. Over the weekend and on Monday, the Israeli military reported using aerial drones and other means to strike several targets in Lebanon, including militant cells suspected of attempting to launch anti-tank missiles as well as a Hezbollah compound and an observation post.
Such skirmishes are worrying but not unprecedented, and it is still possible to avoid further escalation, said Khaled Elgindy, an analyst at the Middle East Institute.
“Hezbollah faces its own domestic pressures, and Lebanon is already an economically failing state,” Elgindy said. “They don’t need the kind of death and destruction happening in Gaza to happen to them. »
U.S. officials have relied on Lebanese leaders to make this clear to Hezbollah, which also gives Lebanon significant political influence. Like Hamas, the United States considers Hezbollah a terrorist group and generally avoids direct interaction with it.
In a recent call with Lebanon’s acting prime minister, Secretary of State Antony Blinken “reiterated the importance of respecting the interests of the Lebanese people, who would be affected by Lebanon being drawn into conflict sparked by the Hamas terrorist attack against Israel,” according to a State Department readout.
The West Bank
Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since Hamas’ attack on Israel.
Many are believed to have died at the hands of Israeli settlers who reside in the territory and may be taking advantage of the moment to sow fear in Palestinian communities and attempt to seize their land.
The Israeli military also staged raids and carried out at least one airstrike in the West Bank, targeting a mosque that Israeli officials said Hamas was using as a base to plan attacks.
U.S. officials are very concerned that the West Bank clashes could escalate into a more serious conflict, said Jon Alterman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who speaks with administration officials.
Tensions were already unusually high in the West Bank before the Hamas attack, largely because of Palestinian frustrations over Israeli settlements where residents appear more willing to act violently.
Gaza, home to 2.2 million Palestinians – the vast majority civilians – has long been ruled by Hamas. Israeli airstrikes since October 7 have killed thousands of Palestinians there.
“The West Bank is a special place in between,” Alterman said. “You have armed settlers, some of whom have messianic views. You have complex jurisdictions – who is governed by what law, that sort of thing.
A potential new front emerged Thursday when a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Carney, intercepted four ballistic missiles and more than a dozen drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the northern Red Sea.
A Pentagon spokesperson said the missiles were heading north toward Israel when they were shot down. It is widely believed that the Iran-backed Houthis are deploying ballistic missiles capable of striking Israel. It is unclear how many of these missiles the Houthis have, but a military parade in Yemen’s capital Sanaa last month showed several new short- and medium-range missiles manufactured and supplied by Iran.
The tenuous ceasefire between the Houthis and the Saudi-backed coalition that supports the country’s internationally recognized government continues to hold.
Other capitals of the Middle East
Pro-Palestinian protests took place across the region as words and images – some of which were disinformation – related to the war between Israel and Hamas spread.
American and Israeli diplomatic facilities have been at the center of these protests; Police in countries including Jordan and Lebanon used tear gas to disperse some protesters who tried to storm these buildings.
Autocrats who allow rallies in countries like Egypt are probably happy to let their people vent their anger against Israelis, the favorite bogeyman of Middle Eastern leaders, even those who have made peace deals with Israel .
But these same autocrats are often unpopular themselves, and there is always a risk that protests will turn against them. Frustrations with their own leaders could soar, especially as Palestinian casualties rise.
Few expect another round of pro-democracy protests like the Arab Spring, but the potential for violence – from demonstrators or the state – remains as high as the emotions stirred by the Israel- Hamas.
A second Arab diplomat, who was granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue, acknowledged the challenge posed by the protests, but argued that if the existing government remained firmly on the side of the Palestinians, its people would not than support it further.
“The demonstrations will continue and there will be very strong pressure on the authorities and on the leaders,” said the diplomat. “When it comes to the Palestinian cause… it’s a common cause. It’s in our blood.
Extremist violence elsewhere in the world
The Hamas attack could breathe new life into Islamist extremist movements whose cause has received less attention given growing international attention to Russia’s war against Ukraine and the United States’ rivalry with China.
Suspected Islamist sympathizers killed two Swedes in Brussels and a teacher in France this month. Although it is unclear whether these attacks have a direct link to the Israel-Hamas conflict, they all took into account the European Union’s increased concerns about better screening of migrants and asylum seekers.
Numerous anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim attacks have also been reported in recent days, particularly in the United States.
In Illinois, a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy was killed and his mother injured when they were stabbed in an alleged hate crime. Police said the suspect, their landlord, was angry over Hamas’ attack on Israel.