Israel-Hamas war keeping the world on tenterhooks : The Tribune India

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Israel-Hamas war keeping the world on tenterhooks

Statements by extremists in PM Netanyahu’s cabinet are disrupting third-party mediation on a possible ceasefire.

Israel-Hamas war keeping the world on tenterhooks

Collateral damage: Israel’s war on Gaza will soon complete four months, even as the Palestinian death toll has crossed 27,000 — mostly women and children. AP/PTI



Vappala Balachandran

Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat

ACCording to the United Nations, the Palestinian death toll in Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza has surpassed 27,000, with two-thirds of them being women and children. This has set off parallel offensives against Israel and the US by Lebanon-based Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthis and Iraq-based Kataib Hezbollah (KH). Statements by extremists in PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, such as Itamar Ben-Gvir, on occupying Gaza with Jewish settlements are disrupting any third-party mediation on the possibility of a ceasefire and the release of hostages.

Even before Israel sent tanks into Gaza on October 13 last year, Hezbollah started firing hundreds of rockets from Lebanon on October 8. Since October 19, Houthis have been launching drones and missiles at commercial sea liners and disrupting shipping in the Red Sea. On January 26, Houthis attacked US destroyer USS Carney. According to reports, at least 40 ships were thus attacked. News website Seamafor and the Wall Street Journal have said that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards stationed in Yemen and on ships are helping the Houthis target Red Sea liners.

Since October 17, there have been over 170 attacks on US military bases and assets in Syria, Jordan and Iraq. The latest was on January 28 by the KH, in which a drone attack on a secret base (Tower 22) on the Jordan-Syrian border killed three American military personnel and injured several others. President Joe Biden blamed the attack on Iran-backed militia groups and said that the US “shall respond”. Iran, which first denied responsibility, said it would “decisively respond” to any such strike. The Atlantic Council said on February 1 that this attack has “hit a nerve” in Washington as it is the “first time a member of the Army or Marines was killed by enemy airpower since 1953”.

Later reports said the attacking drone came in “very low and very slow” while an American drone was returning to the base from a mission, when counter-drone measures were turned off. This, in turn, raised concerns that anti-US militants were keeping surveillance on American operations.

Would all these lead to a wider regional conflagration involving the US and Iran or result in World War III, as some fear? Would the principal actors precipitate the crisis without knowing that they were ‘sleepwalking’ into a World War, as described by Christopher Clark in his book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914?

On October 23 last year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk warned that the current military conflicts in Ukraine and West Asia “could become World War III”. Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticised successor Joe Biden over his handling of the Ukraine and Gaza wars. Trump has proclaimed that he is the only American leader who can prevent World War III.

Robert Freeman, founder and director of the Global Uplift Project, fears that Gaza would be the Sarajevo of 2024. He was referring to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian extremist. This had led to World War I, although it was originally meant only to serve a local cause of breaking the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

After the assassination, several incidents followed. That was partly because pre-war Europe, much like the present West Asia, had become a tinderbox with territorial disputes. Europe was then divided into the ‘Triple Entente’ (Great Britain, France, and Russia) and ‘Central Powers’ (Germany and Austria-Hungary). The Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers in 1915. Each had a score to settle with the other.

France wanted to punish Germany for its defeat in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War when it lost Alsace-Lorraine. Russia wanted to help Serbia, a Slavic nation, and to check Austria-Hungary. The latter wanted to suppress Serbian nationalism. Britain wanted to help Belgium by keeping it neutral after the 1914 German invasion to maintain the balance of power in Europe. Germany supported Austria-Hungary to check France and Russia in Europe. It also wanted new colonial possessions in Africa. The Ottoman Empire wanted greater territorial control over the Turkic people in Russia and to secure its frontiers.

Italy, which was originally aligned with the Central Powers, shifted to the Entente. The British intelligence played a leading part in this process through Benito Mussolini, then an influential journalist editing Il Popolo d ‘Italia’ (The People of Italy). He was paid £100 every week by Sir Samuel Hoare of MI-5, then posted in Rome, for propaganda and to maintain Italian army veterans to beat up opponents, which was “a dry run for his fascist black shirt units”, as Cambridge historian Peter Martland wrote.

On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia. Criss-cross declarations of war then followed: Austria-Hungary against Russia on August 5; Serbia against Germany on August 6; Montenegro against Austria-Hungary on August 7 and against Germany on August 12; France and Great Britain against Austria-Hungary on August 10 and 12, respectively; Japan against Germany on August 23; Austria-Hungary against Japan on August 25 and against Belgium on August 28.

As a result, there was fighting in Europe, Asia, Africa, Pacific islands and West Asia. Oxford historian Margaret Macmillan said: “Soldiers had come from around the world: Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Indians, Newfoundlanders to fight for the British empire; Vietnamese, Moroccans, Algerians, Senegalese for France; and finally, the Americans, maddened beyond endurance by German attacks on their shipping.”

Millions of combatants died during World War I, which lasted four years: 18 lakh Germans, 17 lakh Russians, 13.5 lakh French, 12, 90,000 Austria-Hungarians, 7,43,000 British and 1,92,000 from the British empire. Even the tiny Montenegro lost 3,000 men. There were no massive civilian casualties, unlike in World War II. Perhaps this ghastly scenario is unlikely to happen, as President Biden looks determined not to let the war spill over to other regions. Also, if the report in the Wall Street Journal (January 31) is to be believed, Iran is reluctant to widen the war, as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is reported to have told senior Hamas, Lebanese, Iraqi, Yemeni and other Palestinian leaders “weeks after Israel invaded Gaza”.

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