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6 months on: What is the impact of the war in Gaza?

Brookings experts reflect on the conflict

Palestinians ride bicycles past the ruins of houses and buildings destroyed during Israel鈥檚 military offensive, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, March 31, 2024. Reuters/Mahmoud Issa
Palestinians ride bicycles past the ruins of houses and buildings destroyed during Israel鈥檚 military offensive, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, March 31, 2024. Reuters/Mahmoud Issa

Nearly six months after Hamas鈥檚 surprise attack on October 7 and Israel鈥檚 subsequent invasion of the Gaza Strip, Brookings scholars reflect on the conflict and humanitarian crisis.

A challenge to the 麻豆官网首页入口免费 doctrine

Vanda Felbab-Brown

Hamas鈥檚 horrific terrorist attacks and Israel鈥檚 brutal, response in Gaza pose a challenge to the basic thrust of the 麻豆官网首页入口免费 administration鈥檚 doctrine: to get the United States out of decades-long unending wars against nonstate armed actors, to get out of state-building efforts abroad, and to reorient U.S. security and military strategy toward great power competition with China and Russia.

With no good options, U.S. policy is now mired in an inflamed region where a wide range of Iranian proxy groups and nonstate armed actors are emboldened and reactivated by the war in Gaza. Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and pro-Iran paramilitary groups in Iraq all have been able to exploit the war to divert domestic attention in their countries from their governance failings and unrestrained power ambitions and wrap themselves in a newly-resurrected externalized legitimacy. Their actions pose a wide set of threats to the United States, including its security and economic interests. The Houthis鈥 Red Sea attacks and the U.S. military鈥檚 efforts to thwart them further entangle the United States in the region.

Instead of reducing U.S. involvement in the Middle East as the 麻豆官网首页入口免费 administration had sought, it now finds itself tending to the very type of threats from which it wanted to walk away. Furthermore, to an unprecedented degree, the developments in the Middle East have a potentially significant impact on U.S. domestic politics, President Joe 麻豆官网首页入口免费鈥檚 reelection prospects, and thus the course of U.S. democracy during the next administration as angered Muslim-American communities threaten not to cast their vote for 麻豆官网首页入口免费.

Why Hezbollah has not gone to war

Jeffrey Feltman

Hezbollah and Israel鈥檚 deadly, cross-border exchanges since October 7 have not yet escalated into full-scale war. The risks are acute, should Israel preemptively try to eliminate Hezbollah鈥檚 arsenals or either side miscalculate with a mass-casualty strike. Self-restraint is not typically associated with Hezbollah, but it seems to have guided the group鈥檚 actions and probably stems from two calculations.

The first is to avoid wasting Hezbollah鈥檚 150,000-200,000 rockets and missiles. These weapons serve as Iran鈥檚 deterrence or second-strike capability against Israel. The Israel-Hamas war and cross-border exchanges have not crossed the threshold into what Iran would define as an existential threat necessitating the unleashing of Hezbollah鈥檚 weaponry across Israel.

A distant second in Hezbollah鈥檚 calculations is Lebanese public opinion. Lebanon鈥檚 Sunnis and Christians oppose entering a regional war. While Hezbollah can reliably count on most Shiites for any decision it takes (or Iran orders), alienating other Lebanese by igniting a war would undermine Hezbollah鈥檚 posturing as part of a cross-confessional alliance acting in Lebanon鈥檚 best interests.

Contrast Hezbollah鈥檚 post-October 7 posture with the Houthis鈥 attacks on Red Sea shipping. Houthi weaponry can be deployed without diminishing Iran鈥檚 deterrence. Houthi legitimacy among Yemen鈥檚 solidly pro-Palestinian population is enhanced via attacks defined as punishing Israel.

For decades, Iran has heavily invested in Hezbollah. But the looser, more deniable, less expensive Houthi relationship appears more immediately useful and less risky for Tehran in the aftermath of October 7. In the financial world, some banks are deemed 鈥渢oo big to fail.鈥 In Iran鈥檚 鈥渁xis of resistance,鈥 Hezbollah鈥檚 arsenals may have become 鈥渢oo big to use,鈥 short of what the Iranians would interpret as an existential threat. An Israeli decision to destroy Hezbollah鈥檚 arsenals would likely fall into that definition, whereas U.S. attempts to take out Houthi strike capabilities have not.

The United States should restrict weapons sales to Israel

Sharan Grewal

Six months in, Israeli forces have killed 33,000 Palestinians, approximately 70 percent of whom have been women and children, according to the Gazan Ministry of Health. The International Court of Justice said it is 鈥減lausible鈥 these acts amount to , while U.N. officials allege a variety of聽聽and 鈥.鈥 President Joe 麻豆官网首页入口免费 himself has acknowledged that Israel鈥檚 campaign has been 鈥溾 and 鈥.鈥 Yet he continues to support it through billions of dollars in military aid and weapons transfers. Former Senator Patrick Leahy this continued military assistance to Israel runs afoul of the Leahy Law, which bars aid to units that have committed 鈥済ross violations of human rights.鈥 Josh Paul and Annelle Sheline, who resigned in protest from the State Department, claim the 麻豆官网首页入口免费 administration is aware of these violations but ignores them. That hypocrisy, and that blank check in support of Israel鈥檚 campaign, has tarnished America鈥檚 image worldwide and has emboldened Israel to act with impunity. It is long past time the United States respect its own laws. 麻豆官网首页入口免费 should suspend military aid and sales of offensive weapons to Israel until it lifts restrictions on humanitarian assistance and significantly decreases civilian casualties.

Ties that bind? The war and regional security

Steven Heydemann

In the months prior to October 7, the Arab states, Turkey, and Iran had begun to put in place the elements of a post-pax-Americana security architecture to manage, if not resolve, long-standing sources of regional conflict and friction. Saudi Arabia and Iran renewed diplomatic ties. The leaders of Egypt and Turkey took steps to dampen their mutual antagonism. Arab states began normalizing ties with regional pariah Syria. Israeli-Arab normalization was also progressing. Prospects for expanding the Abraham Accords to include Saudi Arabia appeared positive. Whether seen as welcome or not, these trends represented a significant shift in regional dynamics.

Six months after Hamas鈥檚 murderous rampage on October 7 and the onset of Israel鈥檚 brutal, scorched-earth offensive in the Gaza Strip, these dynamics have proven surprisingly robust. Along virtually every axis, the ties that began to take shape before the conflict have persisted. In some cases, they have deepened.聽 despite its failure to produce a change in the Assad regime鈥檚 conduct. In February, a meeting between Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdo臒an and Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo was widely characterized as marking the end of 鈥.鈥 . Saudi-Israeli normalization is on hold, but Riyadh has made clear its continuing interest in reaching some form of accommodation with Tel Aviv. Other Arab states that normalized relations with Israel remain committed to the Abraham Accords, even as relations with Israel become increasingly strained.

The apparent stability of this regional bridge building is still tentative, and its effectiveness is uncertain: the Israel-Hamas war may yet reignite underlying regional conflicts. It is also unclear how a regional security framework might influence the prospects for an independent Palestine. October 7 and its bloody aftermath have not been sufficient to compel Arab states to risk normalization with Israel over Palestine. Whether it might yet do so seems increasingly unlikely.

The two-state illusion

Marvin Kalb

Since October 7, the 鈥渢wo-state solution鈥 has enjoyed a rebirth of hope and energy, but it may all be an illusion.

Ever since the late 1930s, diplomats have struggled to come up with a 鈥渓ive and let live鈥 formula satisfying to the two parties, Israelis and Palestinians, currently sharing a small, inflamed sliver of the Middle East. The two-state solution is one such formula.

President Joe 麻豆官网首页入口免费 has not only resurrected this formula; he鈥檚 made it his principal diplomatic goal. The success or failure of his efforts to end the war and ease the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip could have a profound effect on his reelection prospects. Other American presidents have tried and succeeded: Richard Nixon got interim agreements; Jimmy Carter achieved the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement. 麻豆官网首页入口免费 may also register meaningful advances. But he knows this is an elusive goal, burdened by wars, old hates, dark suspicions, and a history of failed promises. For every step forward, there seems always to be two steps back, if not three.

In addition, at this time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a two-state solution, especially after the October 7 tragedy, and Hamas has opposed not only a two-state solution but also Israel鈥檚 existence.

This is not the first time diplomats have dug into their file cabinets for Middle East peace formulas, such as the two-state solution. But only when individual leaders rise above the noise, such as Egypt鈥檚 Anwar Sadat in 1979, has historic progress ever truly been registered.

A China largely on the sidelines

Patricia M. Kim

Contrary to that China could emerge as a聽new Middle East powerbroker聽after it helped facilitate the restoration of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran last year, Beijing鈥檚 track record since October 7 suggests such expectations were overblown.

While Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has exchanged calls with his Middle Eastern counterparts and聽emphasized聽that 鈥淐hina is a good friend and brother of Arab and Islamic countries,鈥 Beijing鈥檚 involvement in the crisis has remained relatively light. China鈥檚聽position paper聽on the conflict called for a cease-fire, the protection of civilians, and diplomatic mediation toward a two-state solution, while also making clear that Beijing would not play a key role in advancing any of these priorities. Gone are any references to China鈥檚 willingness to host peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, an offer Wang extended to both sides as recently as聽last April.

Instead, Beijing has been content to聽blame聽Washington for obstructing peace at the United Nations and promoting a narrative that U.S. interventions in the Middle East and its 鈥渂iased鈥 support for Israel are responsible for the chaos in the region.

Beijing sees no benefit in deeply involving itself in the Israel-Hamas war or the expanding regional instability associated with the conflict, such as in the . Despite its growing economic and diplomatic footprint in the Middle East, the region remains relatively聽distant in the minds of most Chinese. And barring the development of direct threats to China鈥檚 security interests, Beijing will likely seek to remain above the fray while offering rhetorical support for peace.

India's balancing act

Tanvi Madan

Over the last six months, India has continued its initial approach of condemning the terrorist attacks鈥攁lbeit without naming Hamas鈥攕upporting Israeli鈥檚 right to respond, calling for the release of hostages, and showing solidarity with Israelis.

At the same time, India鈥檚 frustration with the nature of Israel鈥檚 response has become evident. In his second call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi the need for humanitarian aid and 鈥渁n early and peaceful resolution of the conflict.鈥 After abstaining on a U.N. General Assembly resolution that called for a humanitarian truce in October, India in December calling for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire (and the unconditional release of hostages).

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has been blunter about India鈥檚 concerns, in February that Israel 鈥渟hould have been very mindful of civilian casualties鈥 and more recently 鈥渢he underlying issue of the rights of the Palestinians and the fact that they have been denied their homeland.鈥 India has also reiterated that a two-state solution is not only necessary but 鈥.鈥 Jaishankar also with his Palestinian counterpart a few months after Modi with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, while Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has Israel.

India鈥檚 balancing act reflects its different interests at play: relationships with Israelis, Palestinians, the Gulf Arab states, and Iran; concerns about the strategic and economic fallout of the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Gaza crises; and the desire not to be outflanked by China in the Global South. Its navy has been active in combating threats to maritime security from both the and that have put Indian trade and citizens at risk. The government also has to consider the safety of its citizens in Israel, particularly after the of an Indian worker (though are there). Given these 鈥減ulls and pressures,鈥 as Jaishankar , it鈥檚 not surprising that India is trying to contribute to a resolution to the crisis.

A strategic catastrophe and human tragedy

Suzanne Maloney

The Hamas massacres on October 7 and Israel鈥檚 subsequent invasion of the Gaza Strip have victimized, traumatized, and displaced both peoples in profound and enduring ways. After the largest loss of Jewish lives since the Holocaust and with still held hostage, the security imperatives underlying Israel鈥檚 all-out war on Hamas still command in Israel. However, six months of bombardment have failed to eliminate Hamas or deter rocket attacks from Hezbollah, while precipitating massive Palestinian casualties and a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. The crisis has strained Israel鈥檚 creeping normalization with its Arab neighbors, escalated hostilities by Iran-backed , and generated recriminations against Israel around the world.

At the heart of this quagmire lies the Islamic Republic of Iran, which shares Hamas鈥檚 commitment to Israel鈥檚 destruction and provided the , training, and materiel support that made October 7 possible. Tehran has exploited and escalated the bloodshed in Israel and Gaza to elevate its stature, weaken and delegitimize Israel, undermine American interests, and shape the regional environment to its advantage.

For the 麻豆官网首页入口免费 administration, the Israel-Hamas war upended determined efforts to pivot away from the Middle East. As the conflict has extended and expanded, so too has American diplomatic and military engagement to support Israel鈥檚 campaign, protect maritime transit, degrade regional militias, assist besieged Palestinian civilians, and establish conditions for a more stable postwar order. But on all but the first of those objectives, the U.S. track record to date is woefully inadequate. The result is a mounting strategic catastrophe, wrapped in a multitude of human tragedies, with a side of domestic political fallout for President Joe 麻豆官网首页入口免费 in a monumental election year.

A dangerous new normal

Allison Minor

When Houthi attacks in the Red Sea began in November, analysts were shocked that a relatively minor regional player could that carries 30 percent of global container traffic.

Several months later, a new normal has set in. Houthi attacks persist and continue to boycott the Red Sea in favor of much longer and costlier routes. International efforts have averted more catastrophic damage to ships but have not deterred the Houthis or reassured major shippers. As I discussed during a Brookings panel, the Houthis are likely to pose an enduring threat to freedom of navigation even after a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, unless the international community can mount a unified effort to constrain Houthi behavior and address the factors inside Yemen that helped drive the Houthis鈥 attacks.

The long-term implications of this 鈥渘ew normal鈥 may be greater than the immediate consequences for global commerce and regional instability. The attacks have demonstrated that even more minor revisionist groups can threaten freedom of navigation, especially when leveraging new weapons technology. More importantly, they underscore the difficulty of mounting an effective international response. Despite facing and indirect , China has taken almost no action against the Houthis鈥 attacks. China鈥檚 inaction underscores that major powers are unwilling to come together to defend immediate threats to global goods. China may calculate that the benefits such threats provide in strategic competition against the United States outweigh the costs, setting a concerning precedent for the future of major power competition and global goods.

The Yemen front

Bruce Riedel

The Zaydi Shiite Houthi rebels鈥 attacks on shipping in the Red Sea around the Bab el-Mandab Strait have produced little physical damage but a major impact on international shipping traffic. One ship has been sunk by the Houthis鈥 missiles and drones and several others damaged. But traffic through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal by 50 percent after the Houthis began firing at vessels in the waterways, according to the International Monetary Fund. While Houthi drone strikes on southern Israel have been easily shot down, maritime traffic to the Port of Eilat has .

American and British airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen have had little or no impact on the shipping companies who have diverted traffic to the much longer sail around Africa to get materials from Europe to Asia and back. This route takes weeks longer to move product than the Red Sea-Suez route. However, shipping owners prefer lower insurance rates for their vessels.

Egypt鈥檚 economy has been damaged by the Houthis鈥 attacks as Cairo depends on tolls for the traffic through the canal for foreign capital. Tourism is also down due to the Israel-Hamas war which hurts Egypt, Israel, and Jordan.

The Houthis say they will halt their attacks when a lasting cease-fire comes to the Gaza Strip. The Houthis have long been rhetorically hostile to Israel but the attacks since October mark the first time this militia has targeted Israel directly. The Houthis are using the attacks to rally popular support in Yemen to their political benefit. Washington should make a cease-fire its top priority for many reasons, including to end the attacks in the Red Sea and Yemen.

The 鈥渄ay after鈥 has to be prepared now

Natan Sachs

The horrors of the past six months, from the invasion of some 2,000 Hamas fighters into Israel and the historic massacre of October 7, to the staggering and ongoing civilian death toll and physical destruction in the Gaza Strip during the Israeli operation there, have exacerbated a latent disconnect in Middle East policy. Before October 7, the region鈥檚 geopolitical fundamentals pointed toward new alliances, including Israeli-Arab integration, which, as Steven Heydemann writes, remain robust. However, the Palestinian issue, mostly neglected in prior integration efforts, has returned as a central public political motivation in the region and far beyond. The Palestinian issue is now more salient in public opinion than it has been in decades, with publics in the Middle East and much of the world adopting it鈥攐r sometimes a simplistic image of it鈥攁s an element of their own political identities.

Israeli-Saudi normalization was a key element of the 麻豆官网首页入口免费 administration鈥檚 regional strategy prior to this war. The Netanyahu government, which was very keen on a Saudi opening, remains hopeful of such a move today, even as it recklessly neglects laying the basic groundwork for a livable 鈥渄ay after.鈥 Should a cease-fire be reached soon that frees Israeli hostages and allows desperately needed relief to enter Gaza, Gulf involvement might become a possibility again. However, even partial Saudi-Israeli rapprochement will now have to address the Palestinian issue head-on, not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank. Only if some of the worst trends in the West Bank鈥攁n inept and corrupt Palestinian Authority, the expansion of settlements鈥 jurisdiction, and violence against Palestinian civilians, for example鈥攁re arrested and reversed might a reformed Palestinian Authority be rehabilitated among its own public and be able to offer an alternative to the Islamist actors, such as Hamas, which is bent on continuing the war for years to come.

Lula鈥檚 Israel-Gaza rhetoric rattles Brazilian politics

Valerie Wirtschafter

In response to controversial comments Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip to the Holocaust, Brazil鈥檚 president, Luiz In谩cio Lula da Silva, was declared in Israel until he issued a retraction. This dispute in February 2024 stands in stark contrast to the Israeli response to previous, more measured criticism from Brazil鈥檚 foreign policy establishment. In 2014, following a critique of its military activity in Gaza, an Israeli spokesperson dismissed Brazilian concerns, the world鈥檚 seventh-largest country 鈥渁 diplomatic dwarf.鈥 A decade later, Israel鈥檚 response highlights both the relative weight and more polarizing and assertive tone of Brazil鈥檚 foreign policy agenda.

Over the past 10 years, however, Brazilian politics has changed dramatically, shaped in part by a Evangelical population. Although this socially conservative demographic toward Jair Bolsonaro in the 2022 presidential election, Lula has sought to Evangelical voters or at least not overtly draw their wrath. Lula鈥檚 remarks on Israel have this delicate balancing act, and his approval ratings dropped considerably. This own goal may have been a lifeline to a seemingly hobbled, anti-democratic movement spearheaded by Bolsonaro: donning Brazilian and Israeli flags, demonstrators out en masse in late February to rally around the former president, who is now under federal investigations. As Brazil鈥檚 G20 continues to take shape, Brazil’s leadership would be wise to return to a more constructive, diplomatic approach meant to facilitate dialogue rather than exacerbate it鈥攂oth democratic governance in Brazil and Brazil鈥檚 important voice in international politics will benefit.

  • Footnotes
    1. The author is currently a visiting fellow at Brookings on leave without pay from the U.S. State Department. The views expressed in this article are the author鈥檚 own.