Insight Series - Israel-Hamas Conflict (#2)
Proximities, to better inform its clients and the international community, will be producing a weekly intelligence briefing on the key updates related to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict and how we see it developing. These briefings will be current as of 1400hrs (GMT+1). If you require any supplementary information or wish to speak to our analyst team about any recent developments, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Israel’s ground assault into Gaza has further intensified during this monitoring period, with tank and infantry operations and missile strikes in the Gaza Strip increasing in both frequency and civilian impact. While the international community has continued to call for a ceasefire in hostilities, Washington has maintained its stance that a “humanitarian pause” would be preferable.
- Nevertheless, neither Tel Aviv nor Hamas have shown an active willingness to de-escalate the conflict, with both sides instead allowing it to evolve into our scenario 3: “a war of attrition” despite the risk of the conflict's humanitarian impact exacerbating further as a result. As such, the conflict is likely also intensify via other indirect avenues – such as cyberspace or on social media via mis-disinformation campaigns – heightening the risk posed to critical infrastructure operators supporting Israeli government agencies and elevating customer and regulatory scrutiny of social media platforms' information verification policies.
- Meanwhile, the high number of civilian causalities caused by the conflict and growing anti-Jewish/Muslim sentiment sustained the risk of domestic unrest during this monitoring period. Both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protesters launched further demonstrations across the world, with the Turkish pro-Palestinian rally against the US-occupied air base underlying the heightened risk posed to targets perceived by demonstrators to be supporting the opposing side. While such activity is likely to pose a minimal risk to businesses, organisations operating in major Western cities will likely face some supply chain disruptions around popular demonstration areas, such as near major cities’ political buildings or Israeli embassies.
What are the key trends?
Key Military and Security Trends
- Israeli Defence Forces’ (IDF) “OperationSwords of Iron” (OSI) has continued to grow in intensity over this monitoring period, with its much-anticipated ground offensive into Gaza in full effect and causing notable destruction within the Strip. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres claimed that “ground operations by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and continued bombardment are hitting civilians, hospitals, refugee camps, mosques, churches, and UN facilities – including shelters”. Gutteres also claimed that“Hamas and other militants use civilians as human shields and continue to launch rockets indiscriminately towards Israel”. At the time of writing, 31 IDF soldiers and 10,000+ individuals in Gaza – including 89 UN Palestinian RefugeeAgency workers – have been killed since the conflict started on 7 October.
- Despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that OSI would take an aggressive approach to “eradicate” Hamas, the IDF has utilised a relatively cautious – but destructive – approach toward its ground offensive. The IDF’s build-up and reluctance to move its entire military force into high-density urban centres in Gaza appears to have dual rationality.
- First, the slow but constant bombardment of Hamas-controlled areas seeks to turn this into a battle of attrition and wear down Hamas’ leadership; and secondly, leave an opportunity for Hamas to enter into negotiation over their hostages
- Indeed, Prime Minister Netanyahu claimed that rescuing the 200+ Israeli hostages was an“integral” part of OSI. This goal will lower the likelihood of Tel Aviv employing overtly destructive methods against Hamas in the coming days to ensure the survival of the hostages
- Nevertheless, Tel Aviv is unlikely to accept any negotiation requests in the immediate future given its success in surrounding Gaza City with its military forces and ongoing assaults against Hamas conclaves. Prime Minister Netanyahu announced on 5 November that “there will be no ceasefire without the return of the hostages” and warned Israeli citizens of an “extended conflict”. In line with this, IsraeliLieutenant-Colonel Richards Hecht told international media outlets that the IDF has taken a Hamas military compound and is ready to strike Hamas militants in their underground tunnels and bunkers in Northern Gaza after “isolating the area with troops and tanks”.
- In line with the IDF’s ground assault into Gaza, its missile strikes into the contested region have also maintained pace during the previous monitoring period. Most notably, recent Israeli airstrikes into Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp (the northernmost and largest camp. see Figure 1) resulted in the death of at least 50 Palestinians and two alleged Hamas commanders who were hiding within the camp. Despite Tel Aviv’s claims that the strikes hit a Hamas command and control complex and were “based on precise intelligence”, concerns over Israel’s disproportional display of force were heightened by the incidents. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote on the social media platform X – formerly Twitter – that “given the high number of civilian casualties and the scale of destruction following Israeli air strikes on Jabalia refugee camp, we have serious concerns that these are disproportionate attacks that could amount to war crimes”. Such a high-level statement is highly likely to further international condemnation of the conflict and maintain the risk of pro-Palestinian protests emerging in the coming days (see the social section for further analysis).
Axis of Resistance:
- The risk of the Israel-Hamas conflict spilling over into the wider Middle East and Northern Africa region further increased during this monitoring period. The Yemen-based and Iran-backed Houthi rebels announced their support for Palestine after they fired a “large number” of drones and missiles at Israel last week. This incident occurred following the Yemeni rebels’ series of attacks against US forces in Iraq and Syria to which Washington and Tel Aviv have deployed naval units to the region and the Red Sea as deterrents to further attacks against Israeli and US assets in the Middle East. The Houthi’s Israeli-targeted missile’s flight path over Western Saudi Arabia and Jordan has, in particular, heightened concerns that it could potentially re-spark conflict between Riyadh and the Houthis after a recentUN-led peace mission has resulted in a more than a year-long period of relative peace between the two sides.
- Meanwhile, the cross-border conflict between Israel and the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah has also increased in intensity during this monitoring period. Hezbollah launched a series of tit-for-tat attacks against Israel in response to the rising civilian death toll in Gaza. Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem claimed during an interview with Western media that the group’s rocket attacks have “reached deeper into Israeli territory than any since the 2006 war”. Moreover, Qassem said that Hezbollah’s attacks were a “clear message that if you [Israel] expand[operations in Gaza] there will be serious consequences”. Such heightened rhetoric underlines the growing risk of the Axis of Resistance’s [an anti-Westand Israel coalition led by Iran] actions bringing Lebanon [the country where Hezbollah is located] into conflict with Israel, especially as tit-for-that border strikes continue to result in the deaths of both Lebanese and Israeli civilians.
- There is a heightened risk of the intensity of these attacks continuing to increase in the coming days, especially with the heavy-handed tactics of Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza unlikely to falter. The direct risk posed to businesses not providing critical services to US or Israeli military personnel in Israel, Syria and Iraq remains limited. Nevertheless, the risk posed to firms operating in larger Israeli cities will remain high in the coming weeks as the number of Gaza-located civilian causalities increases, and the Axis of Resistance forces are likely to utilise such a scenario to launch rockets against more provocative targets deeper within Israel’s territory. Critical infrastructure operators – energy, telecoms, water, etc. – will highly likely present the highest value targets for any Axis of Resistance rocket attacks.
Key Cyber Trends
- Israel-Hamas conflict-related cyber campaigns have also continued during this monitoring period but on a more frequent basis than their kinetic counterparts. Most notably, Iranian state-linked Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups such as MuddyWater – also known as OilRig – are targeting Israeli entities with either reconnaissance-focused social engineering operations or destructive malware. While the aims of these campaigns differ, the timing and location of the activity indicate they are likely tit-for-tat cyberattacks in response to Tel-Aviv’s military operations in Gaza. Further information about these campaigns remains scant at present, including the severity or targets of these campaigns. Nevertheless, there is a high likelihood that such activity will remain focused on Israeli governmental organisations and/or private sector partners supporting their operations against Hamas, such as telecoms, technology, or defence firms.
- Iran-backed reconnaissance campaigns willlikely seek to gather information that can be used to aid either Hamas or Iran-backed militant group’s kinetic operations against Israel and the US. In contrast, Tehran-linked destructive malware operations will likely seek to cripple Israel’s critical infrastructure as a form of retaliation for the high number of civilian casualties in Gaza or increase the success rate of its kinetic military strikes against Israeli targets, such as military compounds or critical infrastructure operators.
Key Mis-Disinformation Trends
- Mis-disinformation has remained an important tool for both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel netizens during this monitoring period. While there are hundreds of mis-disinformation campaigns circulating at the moment, the following is a selection of several high-trending campaigns:
- On social media platforms TikTok and X, a video allegedly depicted a film crew – believed to be Israeli - staging the deaths of Israeli children in Gaza, which netizens claimed Tel Aviv is doing to negatively portray Hamas. However, due diligence investigations into this video revealed that this footage was taken from a 2022 Palestinian short film about the 2015-2016 Israel-Palestine conflict and produced by a Palestinian film crew.
- Meanwhile, videos circulating on social media platforms depicting senior Israeli officials captured by Hamas have been proven false by technology firm NewsGuard. Indeed, a reverse image search found that the video originated from a 5 October 2023YouTube video of Azerbaijan security services arresting accused members of the Karabakh separatist group for “committing acts of terrorism and supplying illegal armed groups with weapons and other military equipment”. The arm bands worn by the security officials in the video further confirm their association with Azerbaijan’s security services.
- Further such misleading and false narratives are highly likely to be shared in the coming days, especially as the rapid on-the-ground developments in Gaza continue to cause significant uncertainty for foreign onlookers of the Israel-Hamas conflict. While such mis-disinformation campaigns are likely to be proven untrue after their release, these false narratives are nevertheless highly likely to spark further animosity amongst pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel supports and prolong the risk of domestic unrest emerging in major Western and Middle Eastern cities over the coming weeks (see Key Social Trends for further analysis).
Key Social Trends
- Tens of thousands of protesters across the world continued to call for the end of hostilities in Gaza during this monitoring period. For example, the London Metropolitan Police estimated that at least 30,000 individuals gathered in central London on the weekend of 4-5 November. Similarly, more than 100,000 demonstrators marched in Washington DC on 4 September, marking the largest pro-Palestine rally in US history. Elsewhere, hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters were dispersed by Turkish police after they attempted to storm an air base housing US military personnel in Turkey hours before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to arrive in the country.
- While these protests have been largely peaceful, violent altercations between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel demonstrators are increasing. For example, the death of a Jewish man involved in an altercation between the two sides in California on 5 November was ruled a homicide by local police. There is a high likelihood of further such altercations emerging in the coming weeks, especially as Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza sparks further pro-Palestinian demonstrations around the world. While such activity is likely to pose a minimal risk to businesses, organisations across all sectors operating in major Western cities are advised to diversify their supply chain routes to avoid areas typically congregated by demonstrators - such as near political buildings, monuments, or Israeli embassies - to minimise their exposure to these risks.
- This protest activity also underscores the growing anti-Jewish/Muslim rift in Western countries. For example, in New York City - the city with the largest Jewish population in the US - anti-Jewish hate crimes have increased 164% in October compared to the same time last year according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. In contrast, Anti-Muslim hate crimes in Germany – home to the second largest Muslim population in Western Europe - have escalated since the conflict, with the Germany-based Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs stating that more than half of the 81 attacks against mosques recorded in 2023 occurring after 7 October. Such anti-Jewish/Muslim sentiment is highly likely to further escalate in the coming weeks, especially as mis-disinformation related to the conflict creates an environment of uncertainty that fuels further political turmoil and unrest amongst the two sides (see mis-disinformation section for further analysis).
Key Political Trends
- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan on 6 November to discuss how the two sides could help ease regional tensions over the Israel-Hamas conflict. However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan– a vocal supporter of Palestine – declined to meet with Blinken. This decision underscores Arab and Muslim leaders’ frustrations towards Washington over their continued backing of Israel despite the high civilian and humanitarian damage its month-long assault on Gaza has caused.
- Meanwhile, Blinken met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian Foreign Sameh Shoukry, and Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi over the weekend (4-5 November). These meetings resulted in Blinken showing a rare public diversion of opinion from his Jordanian counterpart over the US-endorsed “humanitarian pause” and the Muslim-leaders’ supported ceasefire. For example, Blinken’s meeting with Abbas ended after less than an hour and without any public announcement on agreements made between the two sides, with Abbas pushing the US to seek a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Given this definition disagreement, there is unlikely to be any substantial developments towards a cease-fire or “humanitarian pause” in the coming week despite growing calls for such by the international community and leaders.
- Leaked information from Hamas-US-Israel’s indirect, Qatar-mediate hostage negotiations indicates that the militant group is counting on a prolonged conflict and international pressure will force Israel to end its ground assault on Gaza and allow Hamas to emerge from the conflict with tangible victories despite the high number of civilian causalities. This approach by Hamas and Tel Aviv’s equal reluctance to enter negotiations heightens the risk of the conflict further turning into a war of attrition over the coming weeks.
The growing uncertainty looming over the conflicts exacerbates the threat landscape faced by organisations operating both in Israel and the surrounding region. Therefore, Proximities has built out a series of scenarios (organised in decreasing likelihood) based on not only the ongoing developments but also the Israel-Palestine conflict’s historical context to indicate how the conflict could develop. Given the development during this monitoring period, Proximities has seen a shift towards scenario 3: a war of attrition (see below for further analysis).
Scenario 1: Return to Status Quo
The most sought-after scenario from humanitarian organisations, intergovernmental organisations, and Israel’s Western allies regarding this conflict is either a ceasefire and/or the situation de-escalates enough to where tensions between Gaza and the Israeli forces return to the“status quo”. This return could be triggered by events such as a UN peacekeeping mission or the economic burden of a prolonged conflict forces Tel Aviv to end its military operations (see scenario 3). A return to the status quo would refer to the retreat of the additional Israeli forces, the cessation of all bombing and military operations into the Gaza Strip, and the return of all critical infrastructure operations – such as energy, water, or gas – to Gaza by the Israeli government. However, there will still be a significant amount of investment and construction required to return the strip to what it was pre-conflict. This will likely - alongside historical factors – maintain tensions between Palestinians and the Israeli government for the coming months and heighten the risk of sporadic protests by Palestinian citizens in Gaza and the West Bank. Such activity could be met with a strict Israeli or Palestinian security response, and businesses and their personnel are advised to avoid areas of typical interest for protesters, such as outside political capitals or highways, to minimise their exposure to these threats.
Despite the great appeal of this scenario to not only Israel’s allies but also the international community, several mitigation factors ensure this is a lower likelihood scenario. Most prominently, the communication lines between Hamas and the Israeli government are limited to non-existent and neither side has shown an inclination to open such lines. This lack of communication highlights the two side’s all-time-low relations and Israel’s focus on eliminating Hamas as a threat and unwillingness to keep an option of diplomatic de-escalation readily available. Moreover, regional states with clout in the region have had limited success convincing either side to come to the negotiation table like the Egyptian government did during the 2014 Gaza War. While nation-states such as Egypt have had some success during hostage negotiations, other nation-states such as the US have largely toed the line of publicly supporting Israel and its actions whilst also calling for“diplomatic efforts” to improve the situation.
Scenario 2: Partial land acquisition & proxy-war
In this scenario, Israeli ministerial officials follow through with their promise and annex a large swath of the Gaza Strip as compensation for the Hamas attack. Such aggressive activity could trigger the Iranian government and its proxy groups – such as Hezbollah – to follow through with their promises of launching “pre-emptive” strikes against Israel if they engage in a ground offensive against Palestine and prompt a proxy conflict between these actors. Such a conflict would present a significant risk to not just the Palestinian territories but also Israel as well, particularly from these actors’ rocket strikes.
While Israel’s airspace is protected by its so-called“Iron Dome” air defence system, the dome is not 100% effective. Indeed, Rafael– the state-owned Israeli defence firm that developed the system – claims that the technology has a 90% success rate at intercepting enemy rockets. However, The University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute stated this claim is “very contentious” because it is based on “estimates and data” provided by the Israeli government itself. Indeed, data gathered during the early stages of the 2023 Israel-Hamas conflict found that the between 2,200 – 3,000 rockets fired by Hamas towards Israel since 7 October have been successful in overwhelming the Iron Dome.
But Hezbollah has much more sophisticated weapons systems and the financial support of the Iranian government and has hundreds of thousands of rockets at their disposal, with it probable that such an amount can surpass the Israeli rocket defence system. However, Hezbollah is highly unlikely to launch its entire rocket stockpile at Israel at once and instead sporadically launch a series of rockets towards Israel against strategic targets, such as military installations or weapons caches. Nevertheless, there remains a heightened risk that civilian targets could be selected as well, with critical infrastructure entities, such as those in energy, telecoms, or defence, constituting high-value targets for such activity. Entities and organisations based in an unpopulated area of Israel will be particularly vulnerable in this scenario as the Iron Dome is programmed to destroy rockets which are considered threats to civilian urban areas.
However, this threat will likely be notably mitigated by the presence of US military personnel in the region. For example, the USS Carney, a destroyer, located in the northern Red Sea shot down multiple rockets and several drones that reportedly were launched by Houthi Forces in Yemen and headed towards Israel. Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder stated that the missile interception was “a demonstration of the integrated air and missile defence architecture that we have built in the Middle East […] we are prepared to utilise, whenever necessary to protect our partners and our interests in this important region”. Nevertheless, there will remain a latent risk of Iranian proxy or pro-Palestinian militia groups’ missile attacks penetrating the Israel-US defence system and striking strategic targets such as critical infrastructure entities, government buildings, or military infrastructure.
Scenario 3: War of attrition
The war of attrition scenario entails that the current situation between the IDF and Hamas fighters continues indefinitely. While the two sides have historically already been engaged in a long-term conflict, this scenario would take a form like the Russia-Ukraine conflict in that both sides would engage in more regular operations aimed at targeting infrastructure, weapon caches, personnel critical to the opposition and civilian urban targets, such as public gatherings or critical infrastructure entities. Despite this, these operations would unlikely be able to deliver a critical strike that would end the conflict quick manner. This scenario would likely evolve if Israel partially succumbed to pressure from its allies – particularly the US – to not further escalate the conflict and implement its Operation Swords of Iron to the fullest.
This scenario would likely have one of the higher humanitarian impacts due to the significant imbalance between Hamas and the IDF’s military capabilities. More specifically, Palestine – in the Gaza and West Bank - has already experienced a significantly higher number of civilian causalities compared to Israel, a trend that is likely to intensify further in a long-term conflict.
On top of these social concerns, a prolonged conflict would also likely have significant economic impacts on both Israel and Palestine. Palestine’s economic outlook was already dire before the conflict broke out, with the World Health Organization (WHO) calling it a “humanitarian catastrophe”. In contrast, Israel was ranked as the fourth best-performing economy amongst the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2022 by the Economist. However, recent policy blunders by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – particularly his judicial overhaul – have seen FDI in the country drop by 60% and caused notable swings in the Israeli stock market.
However, Tel Aviv’s more aggressive approach towards this conflict iteration with Hamas has economic observers concerned about long-term impacts on Israel’s economy. Most notably, many of the reservists who have been called into service for this conflict are technology entrepreneurs, teachers, lawyers, or other sectors that make up an important part of Israel’s entrepreneurial economic activity. As such, rating agencies such as Moody’s or Fitch have downgraded aspects of Israel’s economic rating – such as debt –after warning that the heightened geopolitical tensions surrounding the conflict decrease investors’ confidence due to the risk of “a diversion of resources in the economy” emerging.
Nevertheless, Israel is highly likely to receive some type of financial aid from allies such as the US, with US President Joe Biden already expected to ask Congress for 14 million USD to provide Tel Aviv with security and military aid. While such financial support would likely mitigate the risk of any short-term economic instability, the prolonged nature of the conflict could heighten the risk of Tel Aviv introducing policies such as reducing interest rates to support its wartime economy but subsequently reducing the value of the shekel and hindering Israel’s long-term economic growth. As such, any prolonged IDF mobilisation will likely be weighed against its economic impact, with any significant hindering of Israel’s already slowed economy likely to heighten the likelihood of Tel Aviv calling for a reduction of troops or an extended ceasefire similar to 2014, which would trigger the start of our scenario 1.
Scenario 4: Full annexation of Gaza
While this can be seen as the worst-case and lowest-likelihood scenario, it would also likely have the greatest impact on business operations and regional stability in the region. Most notably, the full annexation of the Gaza Strip by Israel would bring about strong condemnation from the international community, particularly the Arabic-speaking community. Such a scenario would also likely see at the minimum the partial retraction of Washington’s support for Tel Aviv’s actions in Palestine, especially as calls from the international community increase for action to be taken by the UN Security Council and other intergovernmental organisations against Israel. While it is probable that this scrutiny will not be as severe as against the Russian government in response to the Ukraine conflict, there is a high likelihood that sanctions and other regulatory actions will be levied against Israel in response to the full annexation of the Gaza Strip.
In addition, more intense protests will likely be launched across the world in response to this action, which would be comparable if not of greater scale than those seen during the start of this current Israel-Hamas conflict. While these demonstrations are unlikely to be initially targeted against businesses, entities that show public support for Israel and/or are seen to be undermining the Palestinian cause will likely become targets of pro-Palestinian activist rallies. Indeed, these rallies are likely to be centred in areas of political importance, such as government buildings, embassies, or capital centres. However, protests in Palestine and Israel are likely to be met with significant resistance from Israeli security forces which could lead to clashes and violence. Demonstrations in other major cities – such as Washington D.C. or Amsterdam - are likely to remain peaceful and show solidarity with the plight of the Palestinian people, however, such activity could turn more violent if met with counter-protesters or with significant police resistance.