Baker Institute experts are available to discuss the latest Israel-Hamas conflict. Contact Avery Franklin, Rice University media relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-348-6327.
The surprise attack on Israel by the militant group Hamas raises a number of critical questions related to intelligence, geopolitics, energy, and other global affairs. Baker Institute fellows and scholars are providing expert analysis as the conflict unfolds.
The Palestinian and Israeli Conflict Explained
Ambassador David M. Satterfield, director of the Baker Institute and Edward P. Djerejian Center for the Middle East, explained the timeline for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what prompted the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.
In conversations with the BBC and CBC, Satterfield also discussed Hamas' objectives, the difficulties of an Israeli ground campaign, and the potential role of Iran — directly or through the militant group Hezbollah.
Grim Prospects for Israeli Hostages
The Israeli government faces an “unprecedented” conflict and a military dilemma, with more Jews murdered in a single day since the Holocaust and over a hundred hostages taken, said Satterfield:
“How do you act in a way that doesn’t put those hostages at harm? How do you get the hostages returned without paying an unacceptable price to a terrorist organization?”
Gilead Sher, a former senior negotiator in the peace process with the Palestinians and the Baker Institute's Isaac and Mildred Brochstein Fellow in Middle East Peace and Security in Honor of Yitzhak Rabin, said Hamas is violating international law by not disclosing the identity, location, or health condition of the hostages.
“There's also a real fear that Hamas will treat the Israeli abductees with other Palestinian terrorist organizations. It has already announced that 30 of them have been handed to the Islamic Jihad,” said Sher.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian, founding director of the Baker Institute, told Bloomberg that “there would be much more bloodshed on all sides” if there was a major offensive by Israeli troops into Gaza.
Nonresident fellow Omar Rahman told CNN that the large number of hostages ensures that “this is not a short-lived military tit-for-tat that will die down and be forgotten, but ... has longer-term political implications.”
Preventing Regional Escalation
In an article for Foreign Affairs, fellow Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar explored Iran's role in the conflict. Tehran openly supports Hamas and likely views the war as an opportunity to achieve multiple objectives, Tabaar wrote, including bringing the proxy war between Iran and Israel — typically fought in Lebanon and Syria — to Israeli soil.
An Iranian-Israeli regional war would have far-reaching consequences, Tabaar emphasized, “including an influx of refugees to Europe from the Middle East, increased extremism across the region, and potentially major disturbances of the international oil market and global economy.”
Middle East fellow Kristian Coates Ulrichsen weighed the potential for diplomatic action by Qatar, which has attempted to hold mediation talks between Hamas and Israeli officials. Doha has brokered peace in the past, but “this time might be more challenging, given the scale and intensity of what has happened,” he emphasized.
Nonresident fellow Yasmine Farouk also provided commentary to French and Swiss media outlets, highlighting that the main objective of European countries is to prevent the war from escalating across the region.
The Deepening Humanitarian Crisis
Kelsey Norman, Middle East fellow and director of the Baker Institute Women's Rights, Human Rights and Refugees Program, joined GB News to discuss the humanitarian emergency that has unfolded amid the fighting between Hamas and Israeli forces. Wealthy countries like the U.S. and the United Kingdom have a moral obligation to accept more refugees, including Palestinians fleeing the conflict — but some Palestinians may be unwilling to leave the region for fear of being unable to return, she said.
In an interview with Scripps News Tonight, she also noted that more that 85% of the world's refugees are hosted in developing countries.
Some foreign nationals, including Canadians, will be allowed through the Egyptian border, but there is no hope of rescue for the millions of other Palestinians in Gaza who are not citizens of other countries, Norman told the Toronto Star. After the explosion at the al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza killed hundreds in October, offering refuge to Palestinians became “politically untenable” for Egypt, Jordan, and other Arab states, she said.
Norman explored Egypt’s unwillingness to open its border in depth in a commentary in Inkstick. “Egypt is balancing two geopolitical and moral dilemmas,” she writes: Preventing Palestinians from safe access to its territory will almost certainly lead to more deaths, but “President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and other Arab leaders do not want to be complicit in a permanent ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestinian territory.”
An Intelligence Failure
The assault leaves Israel facing many challenges, including possible action by Hezbollah or Iran, a pause on the normalization of ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and thinned internal security resources, Sindelar wrote.
It's unlikely that Hamas, Hezbollah, or Iranian forces can seriously challenge the Israeli military in an open fight, Sindelar said in a separate 19FortyFive op-ed. Instead, he wrote, “these groups will likely join as a loose coalition in a War of 1000 Bees, stinging the IDF and all of Israel with asymmetrical tactics from a widely dispersed array of locations — Gaza, Lebanon, Yemen, and probably Syria.”
Risks of Strategic Overreach for the US
The conflict highlights the risks of strategic overreach for the U.S. at a time when it also faces challenges in Ukraine and tensions with China, wrote Bonner Means Baker Fellow Joe Barnes in a Baker Institute commentary. “It is time to substantially reduce our commitments — or dramatically increase the resources, both financial and military, that we commit to defending our far-flung interests,” said Barnes.
A Blow to Push for Saudi-Israeli Normalization
Israel's military offensive forces Saudi Arabia to try to regain “their central position in the Islamic world at a time of Muslim suffering in Gaza,” Coates Ulrichsen told El País. “Saudi leaders must maintain a careful balance between their dialogue with the United States and Israel ... and the high levels of public anger over the situation in Gaza.”
The conflict “threatens to undermine a key pillar of Saudi Arabia’s foreign and domestic agenda: the ‘de-risking’ of the region,” said Coates Ulrichsen. “With Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman set on implementing ‘Vision 2030’ – an ambitious economic, social and cultural program – and developing the kingdom as a destination for tourism and investment, a renewal of regional instability is the last thing the crown prince needs.”
In Barron's, Coates Ulrichsen emphasized: “The Israel-Hamas war cuts at the heart of the regional de-escalation dynamics and strategy of ‘de-risking’ that the Saudi leadership has put a premium on achieving.”
Implications for Energy Markets
Israel's Energy Sector
The war is likely to hamper international investment in Israel's energy sector. “Oil and gas majors are always weighing one location up against a few others when they decide where to invest,” Jim Krane, the Wallace S. Wilson Fellow for Energy Studies, told Foreign Policy. “If there’s too much political risk, that’s one of the biggest things that frustrates investment.”
For example, the shutdown of Chevron’s Tamar natural gas platform, ordered by Israel following the events of Oct. 7, could make it harder for the company to market natural gas in the region, Krane said. “Right now, we have no idea where this conflict is going. That would call for some circumspection and call for some pause on investment.”
Krane also wrote in a Barron’s op-ed about the conflict's potential consequences for oil production. Oil prices have not spiked yet, thanks to the market’s improved insulation against geopolitical instability, but oil-producing governments may be “dialing back bilateral ambitions [with Israel] to avoid antagonizing publics overwhelmingly sympathetic to Palestinians.” That could mean Saudi Arabia would be less willing to raise oil production — and would be bad news for both President Joe Biden and American motorists.
The Biden administration is also likely to be wary of tightening sanctions on Iran, an ally of Hamas. Such a move could raise demand for oil from other rivals — like Russia. “A barrel is a barrel,” Mark Finley, fellow in energy and global oil, told Bloomberg. “All other things being equal, if you take a barrel out through policy actions, through trying to tighten these sanctions, you need another barrel to come from somewhere else in order to avoid a spike in prices.”
Updated on Nov. 6 2023, at 10:35 am CST.
Note: On Oct. 15, the State Department announced that Satterfield, a veteran diplomat who served as ambassador to Lebanon and Turkey before joining the Baker Institute, had been appointed as special envoy for humanitarian issues in the Middle East. According to the department, Satterfield will “lead a whole-of-government campaign to mitigate the humanitarian fallout of Hamas’ terrorist attack against Israel, supporting critical efforts by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.”
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