US facing growing Middle East crisis tied to Israel-Hamas war

Thursday, Dec 07, 2023

WASHINGTON: Washington is facing an increasingly complex and dangerous crisis resulting from the Israel-Hamas war, which has sparked repeated militant attacks and drawn US military attention and assets back to the Middle East.

The United States has deployed two aircraft carriers and other forces in a bid to deter a devastating region-wide conflict. But the current violence in the Middle East -- while not rising to that level -- still carries significant danger.

Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen raised the stakes over the weekend by striking commercial vessels in the Red Sea, while a US Navy destroyer shot down several inbound drones as it operated in the area and responded to distress calls.

“Without question there´s been escalation,” but all parties, especially the United States, “are trying to manage these clashes in ways that do not explode into a regional war,” said Jeffrey Feltman, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and former US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs.

However, “I think we should be deeply, deeply worried that step-by-step escalation, while perhaps no party intends it to turn into a regional conflagration, could lead us there,” he said.

The Huthis said they targeted two of the three ships that were hit in the Red Sea on Sunday, claiming they were Israeli vessels and that such attacks would continue “until the Israeli aggression against our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip stops.”

The US Navy shot down three drones launched from Yemen the same day -- the targets of which were unclear -- and others as well as missiles during the past six weeks, while the Huthis downed an American drone last month.

Feltman said the Huthis and Lebanon´s Hezbollah, which has repeatedly traded fire with Israel since the outbreak of the war with Hamas on October 7, “are basically trying to have their cake and eat it too.”

“They´re trying to say that they are part of the resistance, that they are standing in solidarity with the beleaguered Palestinian population in Gaza,” but “they´re doing it in a way, I think, that they believe will prevent a full-scale war,” he said.

In addition to the attacks launched from Yemen and Lebanon, US troops in Iraq and Syria have been targeted by rockets and drones on dozens of occasions since mid-October, with the militants who claimed responsibility repeatedly citing the situation in Gaza.

Meanwhile, G7 leaders reaffirmed their support for a two-state solution to the long-running Israel-Palestinian conflict in a statement issued after a virtual meeting on Wednesday.

“We remain committed to a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution that enables both Israelis and Palestinians to live in a just, lasting, and secure peace,” they said.

The statement comes as Israel continues to battle Hamas in Gaza -- a situation that has made any broad peace deal between the two sides a distant prospect for the moment.