A performance of teddy bears representing the Israeli children who were kidnapped to Gaza by Hamas terrorists | Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Videos and images of the atrocities committed by the Palestinian militant group Hamas when it launched a deadly attack on Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7 are horrific and appalling – with infants, young children, men, women, and the elderly killed, and hundreds dragged away as hostages.
But the latest Israel Defense Forces (IDF) airstrike in Gaza, specifically at the Jabalya refugee camp, has also left equally disturbing images of the devastation that the Israel-Hamas war has wrought, with people digging through the rubble to look for survivors, the massive crater in the middle amid a backdrop of wrecked buildings somehow capturing the sense of devastation that residents must be feeling. What is even more heartbreaking for many are the photos and videos of the wounded and crying children who are unable to make sense of the chaos that surrounds them.
The IDF said they have surrounded Gaza City, with soldiers “fighting in close quarters” as they seek out members of the Palestinian terrorist group. But the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, warned that Israel’s soldiers would go home “in black bags.”
Needless to say, the situation is causing an ever-increasing concern not only in Washington, DC, but all over the world because of the risk of escalation that can go beyond the Middle East as malicious groups and actors try to exploit the situation. US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby admitted that the United States is “deeply concerned about the potential for any significant escalation of these attacks in the days ahead.”
For one, the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group has already entered the picture – obviously supported by Iran – launching rocket and drone attacks against US troops in Syria and Iraq two weeks ago. In response, the US conducted self-defense airstrikes on weapons depots in Syria used by Iran-backed militant groups and may conduct even more defensive airstrikes to deter Iran-backed militias. There is US intelligence suggesting that Syria has agreed to supply Hezbollah with a Russian-made surface-to-air defense missile system to be delivered by the Wagner Group. However, it is unclear if delivery has been made.
During his trip to Tel Aviv, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Israeli officials, State Secretary Antony Blinken reiterated that the US stands by Israel and recognizes that it has the right and the obligation to defend itself and make sure that the horrific Oct. 7 attack will not happen again.
Visibly shaken, Secretary Blinken also expressed shock that the brutality of the attack by Hamas against Israeli communities near Gaza seems to have “receded so quickly in the memories of so many” as he described some of the horrific videos shown him during the meeting with the Israeli leaders.
But at the same time, he also called for humanitarian pauses in the war with Hamas to facilitate the exit of people from Gaza and allow aid to come in, saying “civilians should not suffer the consequences” for the inhumanity and brutality of Hamas.
“We need to do more to protect Palestinian civilians,” Blinken stated, admitting that “a number of legitimate questions were raised,” including the use of such pauses to maximize the flow of humanitarian assistance and the release of hostages while making sure that Hamas will not use the arrangements to its advantage.
This is a conflagration that everyone observes, with people monitoring how things will pan out, walking on eggshells because the situation is rapidly deteriorating.
During a dinner I attended recently, I spoke with an analyst of a Washington-based think-tank that the US political climate – with sharp divisions among legislators – is adding to the anxiety of the world as Congress gears up for a new round of resolutions to avoid another government shutdown because the Nov. 17 deadline is fast approaching, right in the middle of the APEC Summit in San Francisco.
The Gaza conflict could also impact the outcome of the 2024 US presidential elections, with President Joe Biden having to manage the conflicting pressure coming from Jewish, Arab, and Muslim communities whose leaders have met with the President. While anti-Semitism is on the rise, particularly on college campuses, there is also growing Islamophobia among Americans.
But what is concerning for a lot of countries, including the Philippines, is that the Israel-Hamas war, the volatile situation in the Middle East, plus the war in Ukraine could distract the US and make it lose its focus on the Indo-Pacific region. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink, the top US diplomat for East Asia, assures us, however, that the upcoming trip of Secretary Blinken to Japan, India, and South Korea following his trips to Israel and Jordan is proof that the United States continues to be “laser focused” on the Indo-Pacific region.
Surely, the anxiety level will continue to grow until next year as there seems to be no clear sign at this time when the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine will ultimately end. So far, a small glimmer of hope for the Indo-Pacific region – although many analysts are saying that nothing substantial will really come out of it – is the meeting between President Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in San Francisco.
It will take more than a bilateral meeting to smoothen relations between the US and China. Nonetheless, it’s an encouraging sign that also brings some hope there would be some room for dialogue that could somehow ease tensions, especially in our part of the world.