1705819853 A region in flames the 11 conflict hotspots in the

A region in flames: the 11 conflict hotspots in the Middle East

From the rubble that left Gaza City – in Israeli-occupied and besieged Palestine, right on the Mediterranean – reduced to rubble, to Panjgur – an oasis in the arid mountains of Pakistan's Balochistan, a haven for independence rebels across the country three groups distributed minority lands – 2,900 kilometers to the east. From the Lachin Corridor in the Caucasus, connecting Armenia with the former Nagorno-Karabakh (the vanished enclave in Azerbaijani territory), to the Yemeni port of Hodeida at the entrance to the Red Sea, where Houthi rebels are harassing cargo ships on one of the countries' main trade routes, connecting Southeast Asia with Europe connects – 2,800 kilometers south.

Since October 7 last year, when Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people and forcibly kidnapping 240 hostages into Gaza, the Israeli government has launched a military campaign by land, sea and air against the Gaza Strip that has already resulted in nearly 25,000 deaths 70% are civilians. This umpteenth revival of the conflict between Israel and Palestine has expanded and multiplied or intensified hostilities in an area of ​​10 states covering 3.7 million square kilometers (larger than India) and home to 454 million people. 5.6% of the world population.

In this vast territory, armed actions have been carried out by regular armies (Israel, Iran, Pakistan), Iran-backed militias (Hamas, Hezbollah, Shia groups in Syria and Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen) and terrorist groups such as the Islamic State or the Baloch separatists from Yeish al Adl in Iran. Two nuclear powers are also involved in the general violence: Israel and Pakistan. Other external actors have also acted on the ground, such as the United States (in Iraq and Yemen) and the United Kingdom, which also attacked the Houthis as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian, which involves ten other countries, including Germany and Canada.

More than three months have passed since the October 7 attacks and the Israeli military response, a cocktail that has set the entire region on fire. These are the main fronts on which we are fighting.

1. Gaza: 25,000 deaths in three months

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It is at the center of the crisis ravaging the Middle East. From this tiny, impoverished, overcrowded area (60 times the population density of Spain) and with no horizon of hope after 16 years of blockade and four offensives, militiamen emerged on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and kidnapping more than 200. In Israel. On the same day, massive bombings began against the Gaza Strip.

The rest is known: a ground invasion, the forced displacement of almost the entire population to the south, mass arrests and a humanitarian crisis caused by Israel's decision to limit imports of fuel, food and water. The death toll is approaching 25,000, more than 1% of the population. Most of them are women and minors. It is estimated that another 8,000 bodies lie beneath Gaza's rubble, with entire neighborhoods in ruins and more buildings damaged than intact.

The daily life of the population, largely concentrated in the south where they were forced to relocate and where the bombings are now the focus, consists mainly of obtaining food (from humanitarian aid or on the black market) at least once a day , as well as water and manage to warm up and charge your cell phone. They are missing because Israel restricts them as part of its war strategy. There are hardly any operational hospitals in the north.

The intensity of the bombing is unprecedented since the Second World War. South Africa has sued Israel over its massacre at the International Court of Justice based in The Hague. She accuses him of the crime of genocide, meaning that he acted with the intention of destroying the Palestinians as a people in whole or in part.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated on Thursday his determination to continue the campaign toward “total victory” over Hamas, the Islamist movement that has ruled Gaza since 2007 and has planned the attack that will take “many more months.”

2. West Bank: communicating ships

2023 was already the most violent year in the West Bank since the end of the Second Intifada (2005), when it hit on October 7th. Despite their geographical separation, Gaza and the West Bank are typically communications vessels, which is why violence has occurred. Today, an average of four Palestinians die there every day, mostly from shelling by Israeli soldiers and occasionally by radical settlers who have forced the relocation of communities, taking advantage of the fact that all eyes are on Gaza. According to UN figures, the year ended with 509 deaths. It is three times the total between 2008 and 2015.

The Israeli army has returned to tactics it has rarely used in two decades. It is increasingly carrying out “targeted attacks” with drones. Dozens of those killed are militia members, mostly during raids. Others are civilians, like the two children from Jenin whose pictures went around the world, a man who opened a barrier to enter his city, or a young man who was shot at close range by a settler.

The usual checkpoints, military checkpoints and barriers to movement have increased. It is difficult to move from one part of the territory to another, which has been under military occupation since the 1967 Six-Day War. The population usually stays where they are anyway. A large part of the 22% of the workforce is at home. There are tens of thousands of Palestinians who came to Israel or the colonies to work there. Their residence permits have been frozen since the Hamas attack. Nowadays they are often seen as salesmen or waiters, hired in return for a third of what they once needed to support their family.

The officials have not yet been paid for December. The Palestinian Authority pays its salaries in part from fees that Israel collects and must remit to it. The finance minister, the ultra-nationalist Bezalel Smotrich, has refused since October to transfer the corresponding portion to officials in Gaza: “Not a single shekel will go to the Nazi terrorists.”

3. Israel: from “shock” to multi-front war

A region in flames the 11 conflict hotspots in the

Since October 7, the deadliest day in its history, Israel has been engaged in what its Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has defined as a multi-front war. Each with different intensity. The most sensitive area is Lebanon due to its explosive potential, from where Hezbollah fires anti-tank shells, rockets or drones loaded with explosives every day. One of the latest exploded last week at the Northern Command military headquarters in Safed, 15 kilometers from the border. Occasionally, pro-Iranian or Palestinian armed groups from Syria also attack.

Although the Houthis' attention has focused on their harassment of ships in the Red Sea and retaliatory US bombings, the Yemeni militia fired five rockets (all intercepted) at Eilat, the city home to tens of thousands of evacuees from other parts of Israel.

In Gaza, Israeli soldiers took to the ground after the first weeks of air raids and entered the cities in armored vehicles, where Palestinian militiamen used typical guerrilla tactics against a superior enemy. They set up ambushes, shoot through the window, fire mortar shells at the armored vehicles or approach them to plant explosives on them and escape. 194 have already died.

Since late December, Israel has accelerated targeted killings in other countries, paving the way for escalation. Not just a Hamas leader, Saleh Al Aruri, in Beirut, but also men more directly tied to Iran, whom Netanyahu likes to refer to as “head of the octopus.” He killed two commanders of Hezbollah's military branch – Wissam Al Tawil and Ali Hussein Burji, whom he linked to the drone fired against Safed -, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general, Razi Mousavi, and five other members of this Saturday, also in Damascus.

4. Lebanon: a monumental crisis and possible war

By October 7, the Lebanese were worried about the present. With the country mired in one of the world's three worst economic crises since the 19th century as of 2019, as the World Bank defines them, the priority has been to move on. The central bank's president, Riad Salameh, had just resigned from office after 30 years amid a series of corruption allegations, and the country had and still has no president because no agreement could be reached on a successor.

Today we are worried about the future: the possibility of war. The decision does not depend on the state, but on Israel and the Hezbollah militia with tens of thousands of rockets and fighters with experience in the Syrian war. Initially timid and increasingly open, they have daily confrontations at the border. Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah has given several speeches whose grandiose rhetoric does not disguise a lack of will to take full-force action against one of the world's most powerful armies.

Although many steps are being measured, worrying signs are accumulating. An anti-tank projectile killed two civilians in Israel following the targeted killings of a Hamas leader in Beirut and a Hezbollah army commander this month. The response was the most violent air strikes since October. In a different context, everything would have already degenerated into an open conflict. This Wednesday, Israeli Chief of General Staff Herzi Halevi admitted that the likelihood of war in the coming months is “much greater.”

Israel is demanding guarantees for the return of the 80,000 nationals displaced from the border to their homes. Two paths are suggested: with an agreement – like the one the US is negotiating – or with a war that would dwarf the one in 2006 and send Lebanon “back to the Stone Age,” as Israel's defense minister put it.

5. Syria: Turkish, Jordanian and Israeli bombs

In the shadow of Gaza, Syria is facing a 13-year war that has killed more than half a million people and driven more than half the population from their homes. Adding to the feeling that time has stood still is the fact that the front lines have changed little this decade, with Bashar al-Assad's regime controlling most of the territory, including major cities Doors have reopened to tourism and the Arab League has returned to the embrace of those who tried to overthrow him. The rest is a mystery under the control of Kurdish, jihadist or other rebel forces, with fighting between foreign powers playing a role.

Some events remind us that Syria still exists. A year ago there was the earthquake with the epicenter in Turkey, which claimed around 6,000 lives in Syria, especially in the northwest, where three million displaced people are crowded together. Then Sueida, a city with a pro-government Druze majority, chanted anti-Assad slogans not heard since the civil uprising in the middle of the Arab Spring. In October, explosives-laden drones caused 80 deaths at a military academy, in one of the deadliest attacks in the Assad-controlled region.

Meanwhile, 90% of the population continues to live in poverty. The contagion from the Lebanon crisis, Covid and the impact of the war in Ukraine on the price of wheat have worsened their situation. In 2022, inflation reached 85%.

In troubled waters, Türkiye bombs Kurdistan; Jordan, drug traffickers near the border; and Israel, to the pro-Iranian or Palestinian militias that have been firing rockets or drones against the Golan Heights since October. Israel has been bombing Syria monthly for years, but the war in Gaza has increased the crossfire.

6. Iraq: from regional power to zone of friction between Washington and Tehran

Before 2003, Iraq was one of the largest regional powers in the Middle East, a supporter of Palestinian factions and an avowed enemy of Israel. The U.S. invasion plunged Iraq into chaos and provoked a series of interlinked conflicts—U.S. insurgency and repression, sectarian violence, the spread of the Islamic State—that have caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and from which the country has never recovered. It is at the mercy of foreign powers.

The political model imposed by the American occupation reinforced ethnic divisions (Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen) and religious divisions (majority Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Christians, Yazidis), which allowed Iran to increase its influence in a country that until where the country was was forbidden to him. Several Shiite political parties and Popular Mobilization Units militias coordinate directly with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Tehran.

Since October 7, pro-Iranian militias have carried out nearly a hundred attacks on US bases in Iraq, leaving dozens injured. Washington, which still has around 2,500 troops on Iraqi soil, responded by killing around thirty Shiite militiamen, including one of its top commanders, Mushtak Taleb al Saidi, in a drone strike in Baghdad on September 4.

The Iraqi government has denounced Iran's recent bombings on Iraqi soil at the United Nations and also called on Washington to completely withdraw its troops from the country.

7. Iran: the leader of the Axis of Resistance with diverse connections

In 2002, US President George Bush coined the term “Axis of Evil” to refer to North Korea, Iran and Iraq, a country he would invade the following year. Paradoxically, the destruction of Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad – a long-time rival of Tehran – and the chaos it unleashed allowed Iran to expand its regional influence and create the “Axis of Resistance,” a series of alliances aimed at counteracting the American presence confront and fight against Israel.

Under the leadership of a brilliant strategist, Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards' foreign operations – assassinated by the US in Baghdad in 2020 – Iran increased political, economic and military support for actors in Iraq (militias and political parties). , Syria (the regime of Bashar al-Assad), Gaza (Hamas and Islamic Jihad), Lebanon (the militia party Hezbollah) and Yemen (the Houthi movement). This has helped, for example, to keep the Syrian regime standing in the face of rebel offensives; that the Houthis were under attack from the Saudi-led coalition or that Hamas and Hezbollah could rebuild their structure after the wars with Israel.

In response, Israel has attacked Iran within its territory with drones, bombings and sabotage of military and nuclear facilities. The Mossad murdered half a dozen scientists involved in Iran's nuclear program, presumably in collaboration with militants from the People's Mujahideen, an Islamist organization that broke with the Islamic Republic shortly after the 1979 revolution and carried out numerous attacks in Iran. In addition, Iran faces attacks from the Islamic State as well as Kurdish and Baluchi groups.

8. Yemen: the guerrillas threatening global trade

One of the actors who contributed most to increasing the dimension of the conflict was the Yemeni guerrilla Ansar Allá (Supporters of God), also known as Houthi, after the surname of its key leaders. Thanks to the strategic territory controlled by this Iran-backed militia, adjacent to the Strait of Bar el Mandeb – the entrance and exit of the Red Sea to and from the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean – their continuous attacks on merchant ships are possible Ships in transit This sea route, the most important between Asia and Europe and through which between 12 and 15% of world trade passes, has tripled freight prices worldwide, forcing several of the main shipping companies to circumnavigate Africa to avoid this point.

The Houthi offensive and its global economic influence have led to the formation of an international coalition led by Washington that includes the United Kingdom, Germany, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Singapore. The Alliance has launched Operation Prosperity Guardian to ensure safe navigation in the region. On January 11, the US and UK bombed more than 60 targets in Yemeni territory controlled by the rebels, following 27 Houthi attacks.

Early in the conflict, in the first weeks of October, the Houthis also launched missiles and drones against southern Israel, but all were shot down before reaching their targets. The remains of some of them fell on Egypt.

9. Kurdistan: divided between Türkiye, Iraq and Syria

After three decades of fighting the PKK, in which more than 45,000 people died, Turkey has managed in recent years to neutralize the presence of this Kurdish armed group on Turkish soil, which is why the fighting has largely been concentrated in Iraq and Syria have relocated. In Iraq's Kurdistan region, Ankara has established military bases and regularly bombs PKK positions on the mountainous borders between Turkey and Iraq and between Iraq and Iran, despite complaints from Kurdistan's regional authorities and the federal government in Baghdad that they see them as violating their Rights consider sovereignty. In addition to the Turkish bombings, Iran and its allied militias have continued their artillery, rocket, drone and assassination attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan for three years against US targets, Kurdish businessmen it deems close to Israel, and Iranian Kurdish exiles have increasingly sought refuge in the neighboring country.

In northern Syria, which the Kurds refer to as Rojava or Syrian Kurdistan, a PKK-linked People's Protection Unit (YPG), currently integrated into the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has established an autonomous administration in the midst of the civil war, thanks to support from the United States (although the PKK is on the lists of terrorist organizations in Washington and Brussels). But in addition to the thousands of US soldiers stationed, soldiers from the Bashar al-Assad regime and Russian forces are also present in the region. This has not stopped Turkey from attacking the area as it considers it a haven for “terrorists”.

Since October, Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has launched a bombing campaign on the region's infrastructure, particularly power and oil facilities. At the same time, Arab tribes in the desert areas of eastern Syria have risen in anger against the Kurdish government in recent months and fighting has intensified.

10. Balochistan: the contagion on the Indian subcontinent

Last Tuesday, instability in the Middle East transcended the region's borders and spread entirely to the Indian subcontinent. In addition to Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria, Iran launched missiles and drones that day against targets of the Sunni and jihadist pro-independence group Yeish al Adl in Pakistan's Balochistan. The attack sparked concerns about harm to Pakistan's nuclear power. Islamabad, which protested strongly and recalled its ambassador to Tehran for consultations, responded two days later by bombing suspected Baloch insurgent bases in the Iranian-controlled part of the territory. Despite both incidents and mutual complaints from both governments, the two countries quickly emphasized their good relations.

The shooting in Balochistan is not directly related to the Gaza conflict. Analysts interpret it as a show of force by Tehran against the resistance organizations operating on its territory. On December 15, Yeish al Adl attacked a police station in the Iranian city of Rask (Sistan-Baluchestan Province), killing 11 officers. The attack on Pakistan also came after the Kerman attacks, in which two suicide bombers killed more than 80 people on January 3 in an operation claimed by the Islamic State.

However, some experts see an indirect connection with the hidden conflict that Iran has been waging with Israel through its satellite organizations since October 7th. Although these attacks are part of other wars and respond to internal tensions, Tehran cannot afford to show vulnerability in this context. Neither in front of his enemies nor in front of his public opinion.

11. Armenia and Azerbaijan: another scenario of confrontation between Israel and Iran

With a bombing campaign and ground advances, Azerbaijan launched its final offensive on Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-majority region within Azerbaijan's borders, at the end of September. The more than 100,000 Armenians who lived in the enclave fled to neighboring Armenia (only about twenty people remained), violently ending a conflict that had led to two open wars between the two countries since the fall of the USSR and countless Border conflicts with more than 40,000 dead and more than a million displaced. The Armenian government, poorer and more poorly armed than its neighbor, is now trying to make a final peace with Azerbaijan, but is faced with growing demands from Baku and tensions on their shared border – where exchanges of fire are common and where the EU is stationed is an observation mission – raising fears that the process could fail.

Israel and Türkiye are Baku's main weapons suppliers. Pakistan is also a strong ally and has also sent military trainers to Azerbaijan in addition to conducting regular joint military exercises. The Azerbaijani-Israeli alliance and Baku's expansionist efforts are troubling Iran, home to Azerbaijani and Armenian minorities that are significant in both size and influence. Iran has sent military forces to the border with Azerbaijan several times in recent years to send a message to the government in Baku. Russia also has troops stationed in both Caucasian countries.

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