Israeli ground invasion of Gaza is likely to escalate into larger Israeli-Iranian regional conflict.
As the Israeli offensive on Gaza continues, the Lebanese-Israeli border is facing its tensest days since 2006. A possible Israeli ground intervention in Gaza risks triggering a regional war with the involvement of Lebanon’s Hezbollah. The countries most likely to intervene in the conflict are the United States, Iran, Lebanon, and Egypt.
Prospect of new front against Israel in the north is growing
The possibility of a new front against Israel to the north is increasingly imminent. An Israeli ground intervention in the blockaded Gaza Strip is indeed on the table. However, this intervention is fraught with the potential to plunge the region into a devastating war and further instability. As we observe mounting demonstrations in the occupied West Bank and clashes involving the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, it becomes evident that a ground invasion would incite trouble in these areas first.
Israel now sees Hezbollah as part of the war. During a visit to Israel’s northern border, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said, “Hezbollah has decided to join the war and is paying a price for it, and we must be prepared for any eventuality. We have great challenges ahead of us.” Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus echoed this sentiment, cautioning that Hezbollah’s actions were dragging Lebanon into war.
While exchanges of attacks continue between Israel and Hezbollah, a full-scale war remains a distinct possibility if Israel launches a ground invasion of Gaza. Hezbollah, with the backing of Iran, is poised to react as the primary actor. Iran has made it clear through its statements that de-escalation is not on the agenda, which means that attacks in areas near American bases and within the range of Iranian proxies are to be expected.
Israel is reluctant to engage in Gaza without careful preparation, considering the looming threat in the north. Hezbollah’s fighting power is comparable to that of Hamas. In addition to its power within the Lebanese state, with its ministers, members of parliament, and its influence in state institutions, it has strong ties with the Assad regime and Iran. It also has large numbers of fighters and ammunition. Thousands of Hezbollah members have gained direct field experience in the Syrian civil war.
Hezbollah has 20,000-25,000 active fighters and about 30,000 reserve personnel, and it is claimed that the number of military personnel could reach up to 100,000 in case of war. It is also equipped with advanced weaponry. The latest estimates are that Hezbollah has 150,000 rockets and missiles, including long-range missiles. Given the support it receives from Iran, it is likely to open a costly front for Israel.
However, it is also known that Hezbollah does not want to engage in a full-fledged war with Israel. Apart from the deterrent effect of the two aircraft carriers deployed by the US in the Eastern Mediterranean, the political instability and economic crisis in Lebanon and the cost of a front against Israel make Hezbollah reluctant too. However, a war is likely to erupt under Iranian guidance.
A second scenario involves a preemptive strike from Israel, attempting to catch Hezbollah off guard. In either case, an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza is likely to escalate into a larger Israeli-Iranian regional conflict.
Risk of protracted regional conflict greater than ever
In the West, unwavering support for Israel persists. Western leaders condemn attacks on civilians but continue to provide Israel with unconditional backing. The absence of a cease-fire opens the door to a conflict that will extend instability throughout the Middle East.
The presence of Iran against Israel, which aims to eradicate Hamas from the region, increases the risk of a widening conflict in the region. Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria, where the US has bases, as well as its proxies in Yemen, are likely to be involved in the conflict. The fact that Iranian proxies have carried out drone attacks on US bases in the region is an indication that the escalating tensions will spread to other countries.
Egypt is also among the countries where tensions will rise in a possible ground operation. Egypt, which is the only direct escape route for more than 2 million Gazans, is demographically and economically unable to allow such an exodus. This will force Egypt to involve itself in the conflict, albeit reluctantly.
An Israeli-Hezbollah war on the border, possibly with a ground operation, followed by a protracted conflict involving Syria, Jordan, Iraq and the Gulf states, with the West taking sides, is the worst-case scenario. The effects of a second protracted conflict, similar to the Ukraine-Russia war, would be catastrophic for the region. In addition to the devastating effects on the peoples of the Middle East, a regional war would have a direct negative impact on the fragile economies in the region, and would likely increase the volatility of energy prices affecting the economies of many other countries.
China’s and Russia’s support for Palestine in the UN Security Council, and the Western bloc’s support to Israel, shows that UN efforts to de-escalate the conflict will be stillborn. Also, Türkiye’s vocal support for Palestine and its decision to cancel potential energy cooperation with Israel signal a polarization among states on the conflict.
As the Palestinian-Israeli conflict takes on a global dimension, the Israeli government faces a dwindling window of opportunity. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, confronted with mounting criticism, sees a ground operation as a potential solution to regain credibility. Although his government considers a ground operation the only way to save its damaged image, Western pressure may force Israel to carry out a short-term, localized ground operation to avoid further escalation in the region. But even this may not be enough to avert war.
The Middle East, already grappling with instability in multiple regions, teeters on the precipice, and a ground operation in Gaza could be the trigger for a breaking point in this highly tense region. The peoples of the Middle East, who have long struggled with economic and political difficulties, cannot afford this new crisis. All parties to the conflict must step up to the plate and de-escalate tensions before the situation passes the point of no return.