Insight Series - Israel-Hamas Conflict (#3)
Proximities, to better inform its clients and the international community, will be producing a weekly intelligence briefing on the key updates & analysis related to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict and how we see it developing. These briefings will be current as of 1400hrs (GMT+1) on the date of publication. If you require any supplementary information or wish to speak to our analyst team about any recent developments, please email email@example.com.
- Israel’s ground assault operations into Gaza have continued during this monitoring period, with tank, infantry operations and missile strikes in the Gaza Strip increasing in both frequency and civilian impact. The Israel Defence Force’s march towards Gaza’s two largest hospitals - Al Shifa and Al-Quds – is underway in response to intelligence that Hamas leadership is utilising the Strip’s medical facilities as HQs to avoid being targeted by Israeli strikes. The Israel Defence Force reportedly successfully took control of Al-Shifa from Hamas militants. Nevertheless, any strikes against the hospitals that result in significant civilian causalities regardless of the validity of the aforementioned Hamas-related intelligence will likely result in notable domestic unrest amongst pro-Palestinian groups globally.
- Meanwhile, the threats associated with the conflict – including from cyberspace and the risk of spillover into the wider Middle East region – have remained in lockstep with the kinetic conflict in Gaza itself. Much like in previous weeks, Iranian state-linked cyber threat actors continue to present the most prominent and active risk, with APT group Imperial Kitten broadening its activities to target Israeli transportation, logistics, and technology sector firms. Elsewhere, Iranian proxy group Hezbollah’s border clashes with Israel have turned into the two sides’ deadliest conflict since the month-long war in 2006 after the terrorist group launched missiles at civilians reportedly repairing downed powerlines. Further Iran-linked attacks – both cyber and physical – are highly likely to continue, especially as tensions over Tel Aviv’s intensive ground assault into Gaza persist over the short-term. Israeli or US military/government institutions and the private sector organisations supporting their operations – e.g., transportation or telecoms firms – in Israel, Iraq, or Syria will remain the main targets of these activities.
- International demonstrations against Tel Aviv’s actions in Gaza remained a persistent risk over the previous week, with rallies in countries such as the United Kingdom reaching historic levels. In concert, protest movements in Indonesia have escalated further after prominent social and religious organisations ordered its supporters to boycott the fast-food chain McDonald’s because it allegedly provided material aid to the Israel Defence Force’s fighting in Gaza. With demonstrations against the Israel Defence Force’s ground assault into Gaza unlikely to falter in the coming days, there is a heightened risk of further boycott movements emerging against organisations perceived to be providing support to the military actions in Gaza.
- Lastly, neither Tel Aviv nor Hamas has shown an active willingness to de-escalate the conflict during this monitoring period. While international pressure continues to mount from numerous European and Muslim majority countries for Israel to halt its ground assault of Gaza and institute a ceasefire, Israeli allies –such as the US and UK – uphold Tel Aviv’s “right to self-defence” and push for a “humanitarian pause”. Despite this diplomatic pressure, the Israel Defence Force’s operations in Gaza are unlikely to halt in the coming days given its strategic position with the Strip and Washington’s signalling that its support for Tel Aviv and its military will persist.
What Are The Key Trends?
Key Military and Security Trends:
- Israeli Defence Forces’ (IDF) “OperationSwords of Iron” (OSI) remained in full effect during this monitoring period(8-15 November). The IDF has penetrated deeper into Gaza City during the previous two months than at any point during the 2009 and 2014 ground campaigns. Two determining factors for this have been Tel Aviv’s focus on eliminating Hamas’s vast tunnel network (see Proximities’ Israel-Hamas Conflict Brief #1) and its alleged intelligence that Hamas leadership are utilising Gaza-located hospitals – particularly the Al-Shifa hospital deep within Gaza City – as covers to avoid IDF strikes/raids (see figure 2 for further details on these locations). The impact that this intelligence is having on the IDF’s course of action (CoAs) is reflected in the critical infrastructure damage conducted in the Strip. According to figures from several Palestinian institutions – including the Ministry of Health – at least 270 IDF attacks against healthcare facilities have been documented since 7 October, with 60% of Gaza’s hospitals non-operational as a result. The IDF entered Al-Shifa hospital on 15 October and claimed that they indeed found a Hamas HQ and weapon stockpile. No civilians were reportedly injured during the IDF’s clashes with Hamas militants for control of the hospital.
- In light of the heavy civilian impact, the US government announced on 9 November that Israel agreed to “pause military operations” in parts of the Strip for four hours a day. This proposed pause would allow Gaza-located civilians to evacuate the area along two humanitarian corridors. Counter this announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that any pauses would be “scattered” that there would be no “stoppage” in the conflict with Hamas and that they would attempt to open a safe passage for civilians whilst preventing Hamas from utilising these pauses to regroup. This force on maintaining pressure is confirmed by on-the-ground reporting that the IDF is continuing to encircle Gaza City and specifically the region’s two largest hospitals, Al Shifa and Al-Quds.
- It is highly likely that the intensity of IDF’s missile strikes and ground assault in Gaza City will continue in the coming days, with areas believed to be built on Hamas’ tunnel network and/or harbouring Hamas leadership – such as Al Shifa and Al-Quds hospitals –remaining the focal point of the IDF’s strikes. While Gazan citizens increasingly seek safer refuge in more southern parts of the Strip, there remains a heightened risk of civilian causalities (currently over 11,000 at the time of writing) further escalating in the coming days because of tit-for-tat strikes near civilian infrastructure. Any strikes – whether they have been confirmed as IDF or not – will likely heighten calls from global pro-Palestinian groups for a ceasefire and maintain the current trend of large-scale protests in major cities (see the social section for further analysis).
- 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 IDF claimed that the Iran-backed Hezbollah group launched 15 rockets towards northern Israel on 12 November, with Tel Aviv’s iron dome only able to intercept four of them. Similar attacks were launched in Southern Israel as well. For example, the IDF launched a series of sortie strikes against Hezbollah targets based in southern Lebanon after the extremist group wounded “a number of civilians” near the Israeli village of Dovev in an attack over the weekend (11-12 November). The Iran-backed group claimed that they targeted an Israeli team installing“eavesdropping and spying devices” along the border, but Tel Aviv refuted those allegations and claimed they were repairing downed powerlines.
- This extended exchange between Hezbollah and Israel marks the deadliest conflict between the two groups since the month-long war in 2006. While Tel Aviv stated that it does not want to be fighting in separate theatres as its primary goal remains dismantling Hamas, Hezbollah leadership appears to be launching attacks designed to be large enough that they prevent Israel from putting its full military capabilities in Gaza but not inflammatory enough that it escalates into a full out conflict. Nevertheless, the border conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is highly likely to continue for the foreseeable future, especially with Tel Aviv’s ground offensive against Gaza City and its civilian infrastructure –such as hospitals – remaining a driving factor for their attacks. Such attacks will also sustain the risk of further attacks from other Axis of Resistance parties [an anti-West and Israel coalition led by Iran], against Israeli or US targets in countries of typical interest, such as Israel, Syria, or Iraq.
- 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. The Axis of Resistance forces are likely to continue utilising these heightened tensions to launch further 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 infrequent basis than their kinetic counterparts. Like in previous weeks, Iranian state-backed hacking groups have remained the primary threat actors active. For example, cyber security firm CrowdStrike claimed that the Iranian state-backed hacking group Imperial Kitten targeted Israeli transportation, logistics, and technology sector firms. Imperial Kitten reportedly lured its victims onto compromised websites via social engineering techniques to steal data – likely log-in credentials. Further information about these campaigns remains scant at present. Nevertheless, these campaigns are indicative of Israel and Iran’s tit-for-tat cyber conflict and underscores Tehran’s continued targeting of Israeli critical infrastructure in response to the IDF’s ground offensive in Gaza. Further Iran-backed reconnaissance or malware campaigns will likely emerge in the coming weeks, especially with Iran’s support of Gaza unlikely to change. This activity will seek to gather information that can be used to aid either Hamas or Iran-backed militant groups’ kinetic operations against Israel and the US. These campaigns could also seek to cripple Israel’s critical infrastructure as a form of retaliation for the high number of civilian casualties in Gaza. As such, the most high-value targets for these cyberattacks will remain Israeli military compounds or critical infrastructure operators, such as telecommunications, logistics or energy firms.
Key Mis-Disinformation Trends:
- No notable mis-disinformation trends were recorded during this monitoring period.
Key Social Trends:
- Hundreds of thousands of protesters across the world continued to call for the end of hostilities in Gaza during this monitoring period. For example, for the third week in a row, pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered in central London over the weekend (11-12 November), with the estimated 300,000 - 800,000 people marking potentially one of the largest political protests in British history. Similarly, tens of thousands of Indonesians – including Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi –rallied at the National Monument in Jakarta in solidarity with Palestine.
- While the physical threat these protests posed to businesses has remained limited, the first inklings of reputational or business continuity threats have emerged in Indonesia. Social media postings claiming that fast food company McDonald's provided “thousands of free meals to Israeli military amid its war with Hamas” prompted numerous Indonesian organisations, such as the United People Front or the Islamic Defenders Front, and their supporters to begin boycotting the firm.Demonstrations over the conflict set to remain in step with the IDF’s incursion into Gaza. As such, there is a heightened risk of such activity intensifying in the coming days, especially if the Strip’s medical or other critical infrastructure is significantly damaged and/or results in further loss of civilian life. In line with this, firms perceived as aiding or supporting the conflict in Gaza will be at a high risk of being targeted by similar boycotts or associated protests over the coming months. All companies are advised to refrain from making public statements of support for military personnel/activities related to the conflict to minimise their exposure to this risk.
Key Political Trends:
- Political leaders across the world have also continued to call on Israel to end its hostilities in Gaza during this monitoring period. Officials from Muslim-majority countries such as Indonesian President Joko Widodo claimed that “a ceasefire is a must for the sake of humanity” and called on the US to “do more to stop the atrocities in Gaza”. Meanwhile, officials such as newly appointed British Foreign Secretary David Cameron fell more in line with the US government’s humanitarian pause stance (see Proximities’ Israel-Hamas Conflict briefing #2 for more analysis) and defending“Israel’s right to self-defence and the need for humanitarian pauses to allow the safe passage of aid into Gaza”.
- While the US – Israel’s most important ally – has largely continued to support Israel and its actions during the conflict, differing opinions over what post-war Gaza will look like have resulted in a small tear in the two parties’ united front. On 8 November, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that “no reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict ends. No attempt to blockade or besiege Gaza. No reduction in the territory of Gaza [by Israel should take place after the conflict]”. This is the most comprehensive comment Washington has given on the Israel-Hamas conflict and directly clashes with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement that Israel will “for an indefinite period” have“security responsibility” on the Gaza Strip in a post-Hamas environment. While both Tel Aviv and Washington have reportedly discussed a potential return of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority – which oversees parts of the occupied West Bank – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas claimed he will not return to Gaza “on an Israeli military tank” and that a diplomatic solution is needed.
- Despite the growing pressure from the international community for Israel to halt its ground offensive in Gaza, Tel Aviv is unlikely to yield given the strategic position it currently occupies throughout Gaza (see Figure 2 for further information). Meanwhile, while differing opinions between Washington and Tel Aviv over a post-Hamas Gaza will likely slightly strain relations between the two parties after the war and cause additional confusion over power structures in the Strip, this is unlikely to result in a notable fracturing of the US-Israel partnership.
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 continued 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.