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Why Iran holds the key in deciding the fate of the Hamas-Israel conflict

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will play a pivotal role in deciding the fate of the Israel-Hamas conflict

After being taken by complete surprise by Hamas, which attacked Israel inside its territory across the Gaza border, shockingly taking several Israelis hostage and killing a senior military commander, Israel has expectedly mounted an open-ended counterattack from land and air.

The Israeli navy would have been naturally deployed to ensure that the Hamas is denied war material through the maritime route from its allies. Israel’s tech and cyber-intelligence heft would also be in overdrive.

Unsurprisingly, after facing the humiliation of a complete intelligence failure, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that country was “at war” and promised Hamas retaliation they “have never known before.”

What happens now?

Amid the fog of war, some key developments can be safely predicted. First, the unfolding Hamas-Israel conflict is set to trigger an all-out refugee outflow. This is not the first time that refugees would be fleeing Palestinian territories. The string of Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, such as the hilltop Al Wehdat camp in Amman, the Yarmuk camp on the outskirts of Damascus and several in Lebanon illustrate the adverse human dimension of previous Arab-Israeli wars

Since Gaza is under attack, it is natural that the Palestinian refugees will knock on neighbouring Egypt’s door, to cross the Rafah border crossing and stream into the Sinai Peninsula. This is also the area which is deeply tunnelled. These passages have been used for cross-border smuggling from Egypt, after Cairo decided to end its conflict with Israel, and diluting its support for the Palestinians.

Unsurprisingly on Saturday, Egypt called for an immediate halt to the ongoing clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians. Cairo warned of “serious risks” resulting from the escalation between the Palestinian and Israeli sides, and called for utmost restraint. Saudi Arabia, which is asserting its role in the Arab world’s primary conflict, also urged the big powers to initiate a peace process leading to a two-state solution.

With Gaza turning red-hot, its impact would naturally spillover into violence in the Palestinian West Bank territories, leading to Israeli attacks. This would trigger refuges flows in the direction of Jordan.

Is escalation likely?

Second, there is clear danger of escalation as Saturday’s attacks has already triggered a chain reaction. The step up in violence is likely along the Lebanese front. The Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah has already fought a war with Israel in 2006, where it was not second-bested. It is quite likely that the Shiite group led by Hassan Nasrallah may open a second front to relieve pressure on Hamas in Gaza, causing a diversion in Israeli deployments.

On Sunday, Reuters reported that Hezbollah fired dozens of rockets and shells at three Israeli positions in a disputed area along the country’s border with Syria’s Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

In a statement Hezbollah said that the attack using “large numbers of rockets and shells” was in solidarity with the “Palestinian resistance.” It said the Israeli positions were directly hit.

Any attack by Israel on Hezbollah, a group that owes lineage to the Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, will indirectly draw Tehran into the conflict, causing a major escalation.

With Hamas also being backed by Turkey, it may not be entirely surprising, if Ankara also gets passively drawn into the conflict, opening the doors of the broader regional conflagration.

What happens inside Israel?

The surprise attack on Israel, is likely to strengthen Netanyahu and the security first idiom in the country. Consequently, it is, for now likely to bridge societal rifts, which has found expression in powerful anti-Netanyahu Street protests. The Hamas attacks have come as cold shower, demanding a whole-of-society response, in a country where a disastrous Woke culture eroding the country’s foundations and horrific memories of the World War 2.

What happens to diplomacy?    

With elections coming up in the United States next year, the Biden administration, relying on support from the uber powerful Israeli lobby, will have to go all-out to support Tel Aviv, both militarily and diplomatically.

This will force the US to re-focus on West Asia, diluting attention to both China and Russia in the Indo-Pacific and Ukraine. The development in the Gaza is also likely to snuff out any sentiment to revive the nuclear deal with Iran, which is bound to remain in sharp focus as the on-going conflict unfolds.

Also Read: UNSC to hold close door session on Middle East situation today afternoon