Two major confrontations have dominated as also divided the planet in the past year. The first is the ongoing Russo-Ukraine conflict while the second is the Israel-Gaza war. Like all conflicts, both have had their impact. In both cases, it has been the common citizen who continues to suffer. The UN, created to stop wars, has once again failed, as nations which form the core of the UN Security Council are playing sides, thereby vetoing proposals seeking an end to hostilities. Ukraine has become a western proxy to drag Russia into a long-drawn conflict.
In the Middle East, it is shadow boxing between the US and Israel on one side and Iran, alongside its proxies, on the other. While the west does not want to engage Russia directly in Europe, similarly, in the Middle East, Israel and the US are avoiding a conflict with Iran, preferring to counter its proxies. Both conflicts have had an impact on the rest of the world, mainly weaker nations.
Russia and Ukraine are both major producers of wheat as also direct and indirect providers to poorer nations of the planet. With Russia blocking Ukraine from using its Black Sea ports there were concerns on shortfalls and rising prices. Currently, by bypassing the Black Sea, this has been overcome to some extent.
Further, US sanctions on Russia did initially impact global oil and gas prices but these were suitably bypassed by nations, including India. Europe, which imposed sanctions on Russia, alongside the US, continued its import of oil from Russia, processed in Indian refineries. The western plan to destroy the Russian economy and bring about a regime change appears to have failed.
Currently, the war remains confined to the region, with little scope of expanding. Its front has stalled, while missiles and drones continue being employed to target cities killing innocents. Resolution of the conflict is dependent on how long the west will continue to pump Ukraine with weapons.
The Gaza conflict may possibly have an even greater global impact. The destruction of Gaza to rout the Hamas has been unprecedented. Numbers of civilians killed or wounded have been staggering. Reconstruction will be an expensive proposition as also would be its ultimate resolution.
With Israel hesitant to accept a ‘two state solution,’ proposed by many nations, options appear to be receding. Israel’s desire to control Gaza with a proxy government is unacceptable to most Arab states. Israel’s own proposals for a truce, including movement of Hamas leaders out of Gaza, in return for release of hostages, has been rejected by Hamas. The war has also slowed down Israel’s attempts to improve ties with Arab states.
The conflict only appears to be expanding, with the entry of Iran’s regional proxies. The joining in of Houthis from Yemen,targeting shipping in the Red Sea,has almost halted oil tankers from exploiting the Suez Canal to save distance and cost. This is bound to impact global oil prices. The Houthis have announced that their action is in support of Gazans and would continue till Israel stops its offensive.
The US and UK have retaliated militarily against the Houthis prompting other pro-Iran terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria to join the battle. In Iraq, US bases are being hit by missiles fired by Iran funded groups, against which Washington has begun to retaliate, angering Iraq. The indirect participation of Iran is evident with Israel targeting camps of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards in Syria and Lebanon.
Hezbollah has thus far hesitated joining the conflict directly, though it occasionally launches missiles and rockets. It appears to be unwilling to being dragged into a war which could impede its military capability and control over Lebanon. Israel has also avoided directly targeting Hezbollah fighters there by inciting them to open a new front. The rest of the Middle East watches silently, hoping the conflict does not blow over and engulf the region.
The recent Iranian missile strikes into Iraq and Syria were also an extension of the conflict. Iran claimed it had targeted an Israeli ‘spy hub’ in Iraq and ISIS positions in Syria. In reality, the strikes were a warning for the US, which has bases in Iraq as also Israel, which borders Syria, that targeting Iran would be responded with. The attack on Pakistan and its retaliation were possibly a decoy as only the Baloch were killed. Iran has realized that this is the right time to speed up its enrichment of Uranium and is doing so.
The involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and International Court of Justice (ICJ) also adds to the global expansion of the conflict. In March last year, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, on charges of ‘unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children.’ Russia is not party to the ICC and hence the warrant has little meaning. The US and Ukraine welcomed the ICC decision. It is unlikely that the warrant would ever be implemented.
In the Israel-Gaza conflict, South Africa has filed a case in the ICJ accusing Israel of committing genocide. While the conclusion of the case would take years, the ICJ has issued its ruling on emergency measures as requested by South Africa. South Africa’s initiative was appreciated by the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) and the Arab League amongst others. The US, its allies and Israel criticized South Africa, claiming Hamas should have been sanctioned for genocide.The ICJ ruling mentioned, among others, that Israel must take steps to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza, but stopped short of ordering a ceasefire.
While Ukrainian refugees were welcomed in Europe, no nation offered to accept Gazans displaced by the Israeli invasion. Even its neighbours, Egypt and Jordan sealed their borders to prevent an inflow.
Global protests for or against Russia were hardly visible. For the world this was a localized conflict. However, Europe and US cities witnessed large scale support for Hamas and Gazans, as also demanding an end to the Israeli invasion. On the contrary, protests against the actions of Hamas were relatively few. This is because the Israel-Hamas war has been viewed from the angle of a Jewish-Islamic conflict as compared to the Russo-Ukraine war, where both sides are largely orthodox Christian.
The author is Major General (Retd)
Global spread of ongoing conflicts