As the mortifying destruction of the besieged and overpopulated Gaza Strip by Israel continues at full speed, with hundreds of Palestinians losing their lives in a single attack on the al-Ahli Arab Hospital on Tuesday evening alone, fears that the conflict may spill over and trigger another multi-front war in the region are also growing.
The Israeli missiles that already transformed much of Gaza into piles of rubble have also struck targets in Lebanon and Syria. In Syria, Israeli missile strikes left two major airports out of service. In Lebanon, Israeli shelling in the southern part of the country killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah, and injured several others. Egypt has also been directly affected by the escalation, with Israel repeatedly bombing the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza.
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On Wednesday, Iran warned of a possible “preemptive” action against Israel in response to the devastation caused by the attack on the hospital. Earlier, members of Iraq’s powerful Popular Mobilization Forces indicated a readiness to intervene should the attacks on Gaza persist and the Lebanese Hezbollah has already fired some rockets at Israel in response to its attacks on Lebanese territory. The United States and the United Kingdom have also stipulated a larger conflict is on the cards, and swiftly dispatched powerful aircraft carriers and navy ships to the already volatile Eastern Mediterranean. Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak also paid visits to Israel. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people across the world, from Washington, DC, and London, Istanbul to Beirut took to the streets to express their solidarity with Palestinians and to call for an end to the attacks on Gaza.
It is clear that unless something happens to stop the violence, we could be faced with a world-changing war. If the senseless violence, which already claimed over 3000 Palestinian lives in Gaza, spreads across the Middle East and North Africa, the death tolls and the devastation experienced by the long-suffering peoples of the region would be unprecedented.
Most countries in the Middle East are desperately trying to heal and maintain some stability after decades of deadly hot conflict, and simply cannot take another major war, let alone a multi-fronted, multi-party regional confrontation like the one that appears to be looming.
Take my country of origin, Iraq. Today, Iraq is doing relatively OK. Its economy is one of the fastest growing in the world and the nation is experiencing a rare period of relative stability. But the country did not get here easily. It has taken Iraq 20 years to heal from the US-led invasion in 2003.
From 2003 to this day, a whole generation of Iraqis have known nothing but war. In just a few days following the 2003 invasion, some 15,000 Iraqis lost their lives (compared with less than 10,000 civilian deaths in Ukraine since the Russsian invasion began until now). At the end of 2006, the death toll had reached 600,000 and continued to increase rapidly in the following years as the sectarian tensions and unprecedented political instability caused by the invasion resulted in a catastrophic civil war.
Should the current conflict in Gaza spread to other nations, it would undoubtedly destabilise Iraq and reverse some, if not all of the progress it made in recent years. The security vacuums that a major regional war would inevitably create could reignite deep-rooted geopolitical and sectarian tensions across the Middle East and invite renewed violence.
As a result of the 2003 invasion and the consequent civil war, Iraq still suffers from a chronic energy crisis, a healthcare system on the edge of collapse and widespread governmental corruption, among other challenges. Should the Gaza crisis fully spill outside the besieged enclave’s borders, it will inflict similar, long-term, even permanent damage to basic infrastructure, overall progress and development in Iraq and other countries in the region.
Syria is similarly healing from years of conflict and is at risk of plunging back into chaos if it gets pulled into a major war with Israel. Almost 70 percent of the Syrian population is already in need of humanitarian assistance with 90 percent living under the poverty line. If another conflict reaches the country’s borders, the suffering of the Syrian people will be immeasurable.
Likewise, Yemen, which was described as the “world’s largest humanitarian crisis” in March by the United Nations, would face devastation if it finds itself in the middle of a regional conflict before its own devastating war is over.
Lebanon, meanwhile, which suffered many wars with Israel in the past, is four years into one of the worst financial crises in modern history and facing a real risk of state collapse. Getting sucked into yet another war with Israel would plunge the country into an unprecedented disaster that may make its recovery and long-term survival impossible.
Since the very beginning, Israeli authorities have been equating Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel with 9/11, signalling their intention to respond to it with the same lack of care for human life and international law we’ve seen in America’s so-called “war on terror”.
The US-led invasion of Iraq – which was a direct response to 9/11 – was deemed illegal by then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Now, Israel has embarked on its own illegal war in response to its own 9/11. Against all tenets of international law, it is punishing Palestinians in Gaza collectively for Hamas’s actions.
It is clear that Israel has learned nothing from the myriad mistakes the US made, and the countless crimes it committed, in its efforts to avenge 9/11. Just like the US, Israel is determined to spill as much blood as possible, but is not interested in addressing the root causes of the conflict and breaking the cycle of violence.
If Israel remains on this path and triggers a new multi-party conflict in the Middle East, consequences for Israelis, Palestinians, other countries in the region and the world at large would be unthinkable.
The international community needs to act and it needs to act now. We have a very short time frame to ensure we do not repeat the mistakes of the past and push the Middle East, beyond the unimaginable nightmare in Gaza, into yet another period of senseless death, violence and suffering – an episode that many countries in the region might never be able to recover from.
The first, and most important, step the world needs to take to prevent another major war in the region is putting an end to Israel’s ongoing atrocities against Palestinians.
The Middle East cannot take another major war – but it won’t idly watch the senseless massacre of Palestinians in Gaza for much longer, either.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.