Middle EastAnalysis

Israel-Hamas war: What are the chances of the conflict spreading beyond Gaza to the wider Middle East?

Houthi rebels in Yemen have hijacked a cargo ship owned by a wealthy Israeli businessman and, in Lebanon, Hizbullah continues to launch attacks on northern Israel

The longer there is no ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, the more likely the risk of a regional expansion of the conflict by accident if not design. Attacks against Israel in the Red Sea and clashes on Lebanon’s border with Israel increasingly threaten to cause an escalation of the conflict.

In the Red Sea, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have boarded Galaxy Leader, a Bahamas-flagged cargo ship belonging to a firm owned by wealthy Israeli businessman Abraham Ungar. The ship was bound for India with a 25-member non-Israeli crew. The Houthis, who control north Yemen and the Red Sea coast, have warned that Israeli-owned vessels should not ply the Red Sea.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that the seizure of the ship was in retaliation for the “heinous acts against our Palestinian brothers in Gaza and the West Bank”.

“If the international community is concerned about regional security and stability, rather than expanding the conflict, it should put an end to Israel’s aggression against Gaza,” he said.


The hijacking is the most daring Houthi operation against Israeli interests since the October 7th Hamas raid attack on Israel. The Houthis had previously launched cruise missiles and drones that were intercepted before reaching Israeli targets at the Red Sea port of Eilat. Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office said the vessel “was hijacked with Iran guidance by the Yemenite Houthi militia”.

On the Lebanese-Israeli border, carefully calculated evening artillery exchanges have been extended into daylong strikes, with Israel dispatching warplanes to bomb Hizbullah sites deep inside Lebanon, while Hizbullah has deployed armed drones and heavy-calibre missiles to hit northern Israel. Lebanon’s UN peacekeeping force spokesman Andrea Tenenti told the Washington Post: “Anything one of the sides could do, the other could decide it’s gone too far.”

Israel also blames Iran, which backs Hizbullah as well as the Houthis, for hostilities along the border. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani called the accusation “invalid”, adding: “We have repeatedly announced that the resistance groups in the region represent their countries and make decisions and act based on the interests of their countries.”

In the two televised speeches Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah has delivered since the Gaza war began, he said Hizbullah seeks to create a diversion along Lebanon’s border to reduce pressure on Hamas rather than wage war on Israel. AFP reports 80 Hizbullah fighters and 10 Lebanese civilians have been killed, while Israel has put its death toll at six Israeli soldiers and three civilians.

As Hizbullah has become Lebanon’s most influential political party, the movement does not want a repeat of its 2006 war with Israel. During that conflict 1,200 Lebanese and 157 Israelis were killed and Lebanon was devastated.

While the Gaza war continues, senior Hizbullah official has said “all resistance forces ... will continue to put pressure on Israel. There is no question today of talking about a ceasefire on one front and not the other.”

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