03.11.2023 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

The Mideast Conflict and the Korean Peninsula: Part Three. Potentially Broken Seals.

The Mideast Conflict

In this article, we will talk about the global consequences of this conflict, especially taking into account the fact that while this text was being written, even more gasoline was poured on the fire. According to Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, Israel launched the guided missiles at al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in the Gaza Strip on 17 October, which was overcrowded with wounded and refugees, allegedly several hours after Israel’s General Security Service contacted hospital staff several times, threatening to blow up the hospital. According to updated data, this attack claimed the lives of 471 people, but the initial numbers were much higher, triggering outrage and resentment in the Muslim world and among international organizations such as WHO, Doctors Without Borders or the ICRC. Angry protesters in front of the embassies, anti-Israeli demonstrations on the streets of Amman, Tunis, Beirut and Tehran, strong statements from the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, the Arab League, the African Union and even Turkey, whose president condemned the incident as, “the latest example of Israel’s attacks devoid of fundamental human values.” The UN Secretary-General and the US President expressed their deep sadness, while the French President said that nothing could justify attacks on civilians, demanding that the blockade on Gaza be lifted.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry also expressed deep concerns over the “growing number of victims among the civilian populations due to the intensification of armed conflict between Israel and Hamas,” calling on both sides to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and take measures to protect civilians, as well as provide humanitarian aid helping those in need.

However, it is not yet clear who is responsible for this gross violation of international law. The Israeli side repudiates its engagement. Drone images provided by Israel showed the hospital parking lot before and after the incident. They show that the explosion caused a large fire in the area, and the roofs of nearby houses were riddled with shrapnel. However, there are no craters at the site, which usually remain after the explosion of Israeli ammunition. The Israeli Defense Forces blamed the hospital attack on Islamic Jihad, a smaller and more radical Palestinian militant group that often collaborates with Hamas. An IDF spokesman said there were no Israeli attacks in the area at the time of the explosion, and intercepted communications between militant groups indicated that Islamic Jihad fired the rockets.

Islamic Jihad dismissed those claims, accusing Israel of “trying hard to evade responsibility for the brutal massacre it committed” and that the scale of the explosion, the angle of the bomb’s fall and the extent of the destruction pointed to the involvement of Israel. The Hamas spokesman also said their group would provide the international community with evidence proving Israel’s guilt in the bombing, but did not specify when that would happen.

The author notes that a war crime against the backdrop of war and the long-term dehumanizing military propaganda by Israel and its opponents leads to a situation where each side is ready to believe only in things that it believed in initially. But what is more important is how it intensified hatred.

At the same time, the United States is working to manage the situation and South Korean security experts attribute the weakening of Israel’s offensive actions against Hamas to behind-the-scenes pressure from Washington, expecting that the conflict will end through compromise. But there are a number of factors that work against this scenario.

First, unlike the Palestinian leadership, which controls the West Bank, the Hamas leadership is pursuing a course that can be called anti-national. They fight against “world Zionism” mainly from Qatar, and the survival of ordinary Gaza residents or the safety within this territory, which they have turned into a breeding ground for terrorism and corruption, is not a first-class priority for the Islamists. From the point of view of a cynical politician, by throwing civilians under the wheels of an Israeli bulldozer, one can achieve a more favourable reaction from the world community and more active involvement of potential allies in the conflict. That is why a large-scale and demonstrative sabotage attack, which had no chance of developing into a successful offensive military operation, should be considered an attempt to disrupt the alliance between Tel Aviv and Riyadh, which threatened to seriously disrupt the flow of sponsorship money.

By combining real facts and fake news, Hamas manages to create a benign picture of events. Civilian casualties as a result of the extremely poor quality of buildings (built largely “on sand and corruption”) and the blockade of Gaza (which previously existed at Israeli expense at least in terms of electricity supplies) create an image that can be presented as “deliberate genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Secondly, the Israeli leadership is faced with the need to teach terrorists a powerful lesson. Taking into account the population of Israel, the number of killed and wounded means that there are casualties among the friends or acquaintances of every citizen. This adds a personal factor to the conflict and means that half-measures and indecisiveness will be taken offensively by the public. Especially considering the difficult domestic political situation in which the Netanyahu regime was before 7 October 2023. It will not be enough to say that enemy decision centres have been destroyed from the air or to prove the death of the field commanders who took part in the attack.

The success of the first days of the attack caused serious damage to Israel’s reputation; the attack was even compared to the events of 11 September 2001. The conflict exposed many weaknesses in border defences, training and warning systems, destroying Mossad’s image as the world’s best intelligence agency. The IDF, despite belonging to three constantly warring armies, was not ready to wage a large-scale war against a more numerous and well-prepared enemy. Those mistakes will be taken into account, but the damage caused will require tough and demonstrative measures to be taken, although it is assumed that the ground operation will be long and difficult. Now we are moving on to the next point.

Third, the likely operation against Gaza already shows the difference in paradigms in which it can be conducted. Hamas turned this territory into a fortified area and made the civilian population hostage to the situation. There is currently no technical way to “destroy all militants without civilian casualties.”

Thus, the IDF will face a problem understood by the Russian audience: humanism or efficiency, aimed at the complete destruction of enemy infrastructure and leadership. Actions aimed at preserving the lives of civilians in Gaza will prolong the war, lead to large Israeli losses (again, both military and civilian), and deal reputational blows to the country’s leadership. A pragmatic Patton or Luttwak-style approach would destroy Hamas’ infrastructure as it would in a full-scale war, not a police operation, reducing the city to rubble and ignoring the problems of the population unable to leave the combat zone.

However, if the actions of the Russian Armed Forces during a special military operation often represent a balancing act between the strategies of a “war of liberation” and a “war of annihilation,” public consensus within Israel more justifies tough options. From the point of view of the country’s security, the hotbed of terrorism must be completely destroyed, otherwise, perceiving the weakness of Tel Aviv, the Islamists will only increase their pressure.

This creates a high probability that pragmatism will prevail in the Israeli leadership and they will begin to mop up Gaza, about the same way that the US army seized Mosul back in time. Yes, they will be forced to do so, but such emergency measures will require actions and tactics that have so far been regarded as unacceptable. It was considered improper to equate Mosul, Aleppo and Mariupol, but the author considers it unlikely that such actions will be condemned by the “international community” or that relevant reprisals will be applied if Israel does this.

However, a radical cleansing of Gaza could no less radically increase the scale of the conflict, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Pro-Palestinian forces will regard it as genocide, a fight that other traditionally anti-Israeli states may join. Domestic political pressure, ideological attitudes, the security dilemma, and Israel’s habit of preemptive strikes on foreign territory against objects that they consider to be associated with Islamists will all have an impact.

In the short term, we may be talking about “border” countries that have traditionally fought with Israel in previous conflicts. In the medium term, about Iran, and in the long term, even about Turkey, which could create a serious threat to Israel from the sea.

If such a coalition is formed and war breaks out in the region, then the question arises as to whether the resources of modern Israel are sufficient to win the conflict without nuclear weapons, and a number of the author’s respondents in private conversations fully admitted their use. Both in the case of the formation of an alliance superior to Israel in conventional weapons and in the case of tactical nuclear weapons against enemy-fortified areas. In rhetoric reminiscent of some Russian political scientists.

As the author noted, nuclear weapons were used only once as a counter-value strategy aimed at forcing the enemy to surrender by destroying the population and infrastructure, which shaped its image as being used not so much on the battlefield as to crush the human and infrastructural potential of the country. However, the emergence of, on the one hand, high-precision and the other hand, tactical nuclear weapons makes it possible to use them not only to bomb cities. And if previously any use of nuclear weapons was taboo, now the use of their tactical options aimed at solving direct military problems is fully discussed within the framework of, let’s say, the American ‘bloody nose’ concept: they say, in the event of an ultra-small explosion, “rationally thinking” opponents will not respond with their nuclear club.

With the return to politics of a “big” war, not an anti-terrorist war, the problem of demarginalizing tactical nuclear weapons or other techniques, which during the Second World War were perceived not as war crimes, but as “effective because they are the ones who should die for our land, not us” is the following. Many people would like to get it back on the board, but no one wants to be the first one to “break the seal”. Such a person will definitely be branded, although the extent of branding will depend on reputation and circumstances, but further developments will open the way to double standards, accelerating the slide down.

Let us note how strongly, at a certain stage of the special military operation, the Ukrainian side accused the Russian Federation of using the nuclear factor in one form or another (although it later turned out that it was they who tried to attack the Zaporizhia NPP), partly in the expectation that the use of nuclear weapons by Russia would finally create grounds for the direct involvement of NATO troops in the conflict. But what if these weapons are used in another conflict before the end of 2023, and not necessarily in the Middle East or the inter-Korean conflict? The fire may suddenly flare up elsewhere.

That is why the author is closely monitoring the situation around Gaza to see if this will contribute to “the lifting of the seals», and if so, which ones and how. This will also be a test for the outgoing world order as to whether or not it will be able to repel the threat, since a) if significant demarginalization occurs, then a significant part of the old world will sink into oblivion; b) the violation of the nuclear taboo can lead to uncontrolled nuclear escalation in the “now we can do it too” style, or in the “indicative execution of the violator by the world” option. At any rate, the conflict over Gaza is of great importance from the point of view of the evolution of global security structures and will definitely affect the political situation in East Asia.


Konstantin Asmolov, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Leading Researcher at the Center for Korean Studies, Institute of China and Contemporary Asia, Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook”.

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