Insight Series- Israel-Hamas Conflict (#4)
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 into Gaza has remained focused on targeting areas in the Strip that are perceived to be housing Hamas militants, such as refugee camps, religious buildings, critical infrastructure such as hospitals or schools, and the terrorist group’s vast tunnel network. While the Israel Defence operations towards Gazan hospitals have proven partially successful in rooting out Hamas members, they have also incurred international commendation for their civilian causalities. However, this ground assault has been partially paused after Israel and Hamas signed a ceasefire agreement on 21 November. Despite this development, Tel Aviv’s inability to achieve its strategic goals within Gaza heightens the risk that a second round of fighting may emerge after the short-term ceasefire, sustaining the risk to businesses operating in Israel and the wider Middle East region.
- Meanwhile, the Israel-Hamas conflict spilt over further in the wider Middle East and northern African Region after the Yemen-based Houthi militant group seized an alleged Israel-linked ship (the Galaxy Leader) in the Red Sea and took its crewmembers hostage. This incident underscores the high risk posed to firms operating in the region, especially in light of the group’s threat that any Israeli or Israel-linked ships sailing in the Red Sea will be targeted by the group. As such, maritime and shipping firms that can redirect their business activities around the Red Sea are advised to do so to minimise their exposure to this threat.
- Lastly, international pressure for Tel Aviv to end its hostilities in Gaza has persisted during this monitoring period, with the IDF’s assault on the Indonesia hospital in Gaza sparking ire from both the Indonesian and Qatari governments. With the military operations likely to persist over the coming days, there is a heightened risk of not only diplomatic protests but also physical demonstrations across the world continuing in lockstep. These protests will further exacerbate the ongoing trend of government officials and the general public calling for stronger law enforcement handling towards rallies. However, the likelihood of such measures eliminating the overall threat is low.
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 (15-23 November). IDF operations continued to target regions in Northern Gaza that they believed were housing Hamas militants, including refugee camps, religious buildings, and critical infrastructure such as hospitals or schools. For example, the IDF began operations against a hospital funded by the Indonesian government in Northern Gaza on Monday (19 November), killing 12 Palestinians in the complex in artillery strikes. The Indonesian government strongly condemned these strikes and raised concerns about the safety of the nearly 700 people currently residing in the hospital.
- In concert, the IDF has remained focused on eliminating Hamas’ vast tunnel network that lies beneath the Gaza Strip. (see Proximities’ Israel-Hamas Conflict Brief #1). However, this latter goal has proved difficult for the IDF to achieve without sustaining significant causalities. According to Israeli officers, destroying Hamas’ tunnel network has proven more difficult than initially thought because it requires physically entering the tunnels, which have been rigged with a significant number of improvised explosive devices by Hamas. As a result, there reportedly is a current standing order that “no one is allowed to go into a tunnel” according to leaked information provided to Western media outlets by IDF members.
- Tel Aviv’s apparent inability to achieve its strategic goals in Gaza and the growing international pressure over the heavy civilian causalities in the Strip is happening in concert with the signing of a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas late on 21 November. According to the Qatari government – who mediated the ceasefire alongside the US –Hamas would release 50 civilian hostages in exchange for the release of “a number of Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons”. While Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that the ceasefire will be extended an additional day for every 10 hostages Hamas releases, Hamas leadership have not given an indication as to whether they will be releasing additional hostages outside the original agreement. While a ceasefire agreement – while likely presenting military benefits to Israel – would have negative political consequences for Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and lower the likelihood of it happening.
- The signing of a ceasefire – regardless of how short – will likely be viewed as a failure by supporters of Israeli President Netanyahu. The Israeli President has staunchly maintained throughout the conflict that there would be no ceasefire and that the conflict would only end once Hamas had been “eradicated”. As such, this break in hostilities will likely be seen as Netanyahu bending to international pressure and further exacerbating his already low approval rating and political instability within Israel (see Proximities’ Scenarios forecast for further analysis). Nevertheless, there is still a notable likelihood that a ceasefire agreement could be signed in the coming days given that the military benefits granted by a ceasefire could outweigh its negative political impacts. However, in this scenario, any pause would likely be short-lived and merely act as a pretext for the IDF to re-examine its strategies within the Gaza Strip and launch a more effective second round of operations against the Hamas militant group.
- The risk of the Israel-Hamas conflict spilling over into the wider Middle East and Northern Africa region remained extremely high during this monitoring period. While border strikes between the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah and the IDF continued in the background this previous week, tensions related to the Yemeni Houthi rebels escalated after they seized an Israeli-linked cargo ship (The Galaxy Leader) in the Red Sea. Houthi chief negotiator and spokesperson Mohammed Abdul-Salam claimed that the ship – which flies under a Bahamas flag and is operated by the Japanese firm NYK Line – was targeted because of its alleged links to an undisclosed Israeli billionaire. While Mohammad refrained from providing specific details about the crew members’ wellbeing, he did claim that “all ships belonging to the Israeli enemy or that deal with it will become legitimate targets [for seizure]” so long as the war in Gaza continues.
- This incident represents the most severe direct risk posed to non-government-linked businesses since the start of the conflict. Moreover, the Houthi threat presents a significant risk to global economic activity. The Red Sea is a vital passageway for international commerce, with more than 17,000 ships passing through it every year. While ships sailing in this region largely pass through international waters, the Red Sea’s southernmost end – the Bab al-Mandeb Passage – presents a narrow chokepoint less than 20 km from Yemen. It currently remains unclear how deeply connected ships need to be with Israel for them to become targeted by the Houthis. However, given Israel’s significant economic status within the region, there is a heightened risk of a significant number of the nearly 50 ships passing through the Bab al-Mandeb Passage per day having some level of relationship with Tel Aviv. As such, there is a high likelihood of further ships with perceived links to Israel being targeted or seized in the coming days. Maritime and shipping firms that can redirect their business activities around the Red Sea are advised to do so to minimise their exposure to this threat.
Key Cyber Trends:
- No notable cyber trends were recorded during this monitoring period.
- No notable mis-disinformation trends were recorded during this monitoring period.
Key Social Trends:
- Medium and large-scale protests against the IDF’s ground operations in Gaza have continued across the globe during this monitoring period. In the Netherlands, hundreds of demonstrators staged sit-ins at train stations in major cities such as Amsterdam, Utrecht, Eindhoven, and Rotterdam. Meanwhile, thousands of protesters gathered in other major cities, such as Tehran and New York City to call for a ceasefire to the Israel-Hamas conflict.
- While these rallies remained peaceful and did not result in any property damage, calls for a stronger law enforcement approach towards these demonstrations by government officials and the general public have increased in the last week. For example, the chair of the California Democratic Party claimed that there would be “repercussions” for any Democrat party members who took part in future pro-Palestinian activities. Meanwhile in the Netherlands, public transport firms ProRail and NS have raised concerns that the police need to disperse protesters sooner as the sustained and widespread presence of demonstrators is negatively impacting the critical transport infrastructure. Despite these concerns, train stations in the Netherlands – while not completely public property – are open to the public. As such, demonstrations on these grounds fall under a legal grey zone where they could potentially be prosecuted for disrupting the peace but are still protected under freedom of expression.
- Nevertheless, further protest movements are highly likely to emerge in the coming weeks, especially as the IDF’s ground assault into Gaza shows no sign of relenting. Crackdown initiatives against protest movements are likely to increase in concert with these demonstrations. However, they are unlikely to have any significant impact on the level and size of these protests unless severe legal punishments are placed on these activities, but there is currently no political will in any Western country for such a move at the time of writing. As such, rally activities in and around major cities, public transport infrastructure, and political buildings will continue to present a notable disruptive threat to businesses operating around these high-risk areas.
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. Qatari officials have condemned Israel’s attack against the Indonesian hospital in Gaza in “the strongest terms” and have said they would support legal actions to be taken against Israel to deal with the “brutal crime” against the hospital. In contrast, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell claimed during a meeting with 27 ministers that the creation of a Palestinian state is “the best guarantee for Israel’s security”. While Tel Aviv has not responded to these comments, it is highly unlikely that talks for the creation of a Palestinian state will emerge following the end of the Israel-Hamas conflict given the low political will to do so within Israel.
- While international pressure against Israel to halt its ground offensive in Gaza is highly likely to persist in the coming weeks, Tel Aviv is unlikely to yield given that it has yet to achieve its strategic priorities within the conflict (see Key Security Trends for further analysis). Nevertheless, the likelihood of a long-term ceasefire being signed between the two sides will become increasingly more likely as the ongoing war of attrition continues to have negative military, economic, and political impacts on Netanyahu’s presidency (see Proximities’Scenario 3 below for further analysis).
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 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, the conflict has continued to sit firmly within Proximities’ scenario 3: a war of attrition (see below for further analysis).
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 Swordsof 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 casualties 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 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 sides’ 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 USSCarney, 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 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.