JUSTIN BRONK reveals what Israel-Hamas conflict means for the world

Are we on the brink of WWIII? JUSTIN BRONK reveals how Israeli invasion of Gaza could trigger a wider conflict that could see Russia and China supporting Iran while lining up against America and the West – while stopping short of direct hostilities

The stand-off over the Israel-Hamas war could have the potential to drag America, Russia and China into the conflict, a military expert warned today.

Professor JUSTIN BRONK said that if Iran attacks Israel in retaliation for invading Gaza, Moscow and Beijing will be compelled to step in and the war could escalate.

He pointed out that Iran and its Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon provide a potential second front, with the US warning Hezbollah and Iran to stay out of the war.

Professor Bronk, a senior research fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), added that Russia and China have been relatively restrained so far.

But if Iran gets involved, then Russia might support it – and the war could include the US if Iran or its proxies attack Israel over the coming weeks.

Israel has now bombed areas of southern Gaza where it told Palestinians to flee ahead of an expected invasion, killing dozens of people.

Violence along Israel’s border with Lebanon has also led to concerns over a widening regional conflict that diplomats have been working to prevent.

It comes after historian Niall Ferguson wrote in the Sunday Times that the situation had a ‘unpleasant 1930s feeling’, asking: ‘Will there be a World War Three?’ 

Professor Bronk, who specialises in airpower and technology, has analysed the situation in Israel and its global context in this exclusive article for MailOnline:

The appalling mass violence unleashed upon Israeli communities by Hamas has produced the predictable heavy bombing campaign against Hamas targets throughout Gaza, and preparations for a large-scale ground offensive by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

Alongside at least 1,400 Israelis killed in the initial assault, more than 2,700 Palestinians in Gaza have now been killed in retaliatory strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza.

The death toll on both sides, but especially among Palestinians, will increase rapidly when the IDF launches its ground operation to root out Hamas fighters, leaders, and infrastructure.

Israeli soldiers block their ears as a M109 155mm self-propelled howitzer fires rounds today

The violence has rapidly drawn in wider geopolitical involvement from the US and other Western Israeli allies; from Iran and its Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon as a potential second front that might be activated in various ways to aid Hamas if Israel moves to a ground invasion of Gaza; and from the wider Arab world as states across the Middle East and the Gulf attempt to mediate and manage the crisis.

Throughout any Gaza ground operation – which is likely to take weeks at least – the IDF must also maintain reserve forces and conserve ammunition to guard against any potential attack in support of Hamas by Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, or from the West Bank.

Iran has also stated that it may take ‘pre-emptive measures’ against Israel, whilst the US government has warned Hezbollah and Iran to stay out of the war and sent two US Navy carrier battlegroups to the Eastern Mediterranean to strengthen that deterrence message.

Palestinians look for survivors today in buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Deir el-Balah

So far, the US military presence and messaging appears to have successfully reassured Israel that it does not need to take pre-emptive military measures to mitigate a Hezbollah entry into the war.

So far, Russia and China have remained relatively restrained in their public statements, but if Iran gets directly involved, Russia is likely to feel compelled to support it due to Iran providing important missile and UAV supplies and training support to the Russian military in its war against Ukraine.

Iranian proxy forces are also present in large numbers in Syria near the border with Israel, and under airspace guarded by Russian air defence systems.

The potential risk of the Israeli-Hamas war escalating into a much more serious regional conflict that includes the US is clear if Iran or its proxies attack Israel in the coming weeks.

For now, Israeli air strikes continue in large numbers.

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike at Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip today

The densely populated urban terrain of Gaza ensures that avoiding collateral damage is extremely difficult even when carefully trying to strike only military targets; especially since many Hamas command centres, rocket factories, tunnel entrances and ammunition storage sites have been deliberately positioned underneath civilian high-rise buildings.

This makes them relatively difficult to locate and provides several stories of physical protection from strikes with light weapons.

It also makes it more politically difficult for the Israeli Air Force to strike them due to the large number of civilian casualties and displacement that inevitably results from the use of the necessary heavy penetrating weapons against them.

People search for bodies of Palestinians following a blast in the central Gaza Strip today

The normal Israeli procedure when striking such targets in the past has been to ‘roof knock’ by dropping a very small bomb on the roof to signal civilians to leave a building, and then to strike the basement with multiple heavy 2000lb class JDAM precision-guided bombs a short while later to collapse the whole structure.

However, whilst ‘roof knocking’ reduces civilian deaths, the civilians in question are still made homeless and some may be unable to vacate in time.

Furthermore, the warning time also allows Hamas militants and commanders time to avoid being hit.

It also ensures that when the strike is conducted there will be multiple live camera angles broadcasting the powerful images of tower blocks being levelled to the world, which rapidly produces powerful international political pressure on Israel to cease strikes.

Israeli troops in Armoured Personnel Carriers patrolling along the Israel-Gaza border today

Since the violence unleashed by Hamas a week ago, however, Israeli policy has changed and strikes are being conducted in some cases without warning.

This increases the military effectiveness of strikes against key Hamas personnel but has also inevitably has caused far higher civilian casualties.

Air strikes alone, however, cannot provide Israeli policy makers with the level of assured degradation of Hamas capabilities that the Israeli public understandably demands following the mass atrocities committed against civilians during the initial attack.

Mourners gather around coffins of the Kotz family at their funeral in Gan Yavne, Israel, today

The only way to do that is to clear territory throughout Northern Gaza, including Gaza City using ground troops and find and destroy the extensive subterranean tunnels and facilities that Hamas uses.

However, the dense buildings and tunnel systems provide Hamas militants with ideal defensive cover with which to set ambushes, lay booby-traps and conduct urban skirmishes against advancing Israeli troops.

Urban combat greatly favours defending forces, as illustrated vividly by the heroic defence of the besieged city of Mariupol for three months by completely outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian troops in 2022.

A picture taken from Sderot in Israel today shows smoke over the northern Gaza Strip

The IDF will, like almost every army that has tried to clear urban areas in modern times, be forced to use heavy firepower in the form of artillery and more airstrikes to make progress against dug-in enemy troops without its own forces suffering prohibitive casualties.

However, the densely populated nature of Gaza following more than a decade of effective imprisonment of its population by Israeli authorities means that its people have few options for relocating to safer areas away from the borders.

The steady advance of Israeli settlements over decades and the mutual hatred on both sides also means that many Palestinian civilians will likely refuse to leave their homes and head south as ordered due to the fear that they will not be able to return to their homes and their land.

Palestinian emergency services and local citizens search for victims today in Khan Yunis, Gaza

The result is that any IDF ground assault to clear Hamas out of Gaza will not only be extremely bloody for the combatants on both sides, but will also cause a rapid rise in civilian casualties as both sides use heavy firepower in areas where civilians are still sheltering in place.

Put simply, there is no clean or simple military option for the objective that Israel is now understandably committed to – the elimination of Hamas in Gaza.

Effective air strikes displace and – when ‘roof knocking’ is not conducted first – kill large numbers of civilians who have nowhere else to go.

The ground invasion will be extremely dangerous for Israeli troops facing a dug in force that knows the urban terrain inside out and has had significant time to prepare, and so heavy firepower will be used to try and minimise the IDF casualties.

Israeli troops with a variety of military vehicles at a site along the Israel-Gaza border today

Orders for mass displacement of Palestinian civilians to southern Gaza are legally questionable and difficult to comply with, but there are no effective military solutions to respond against Hamas without causing massive civilian casualties if they are not evacuated first.

The scale and savage nature of the Hamas assault against Israeli civilians was calculated to provoke a massive Israeli reaction, and Hamas has deliberately postured itself to be impossible to effectively attack in Gaza without causing massive casualties amongst its imprisoned civilian population.

Calls for Israel to not respond militarily at scale are simply politically unrealistic.

However, the military reality of the challenge facing the IDF in Gaza means that it has no good options, and its most likely course of action in the shape of a ground invasion will result in loss and suffering on an even greater scale than that already endured by thousands of ordinary people on both sides.

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