The latest escalation in the Israel-Palestine conflict has dominated global news since last week, turning away global attention from the war raging on since February last year in Ukraine.
Aside from the shift in attention, experts say the Middle East situation could have more consequences for the Ukraine conflict, but when and how remains dependent on various possibilities.
The escalation began when Hamas initiated Operation Al-Aqsa Flood against Israel, a multi-pronged surprise attack including a barrage of rocket launches and infiltrations via land, sea, and air, which Hamas said was in retaliation for the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem and Israeli settlers’ growing violence against Palestinians.
In response to Hamas’ actions, the Israeli military launched Operation Swords of Iron against Hamas targets within the Gaza Strip. It has gone on to cut water and electricity supplies to Gaza, further worsening the living conditions in an area under a crippling siege since 2007.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the “sharp escalation” of the situation in the region is a clear example of “the failure of the policy of the United States in the Middle East.”
Russian Foreign Ministry’s immediate statement on the conflict called on both sides to enforce a cease-fire, renounce the violence, exercise restraint and begin talks “with the assistance of the international community.”
Ukraine, on the other hand, expressed support for Israel “in its right to defend itself and its people,” according to a statement by the Foreign Ministry, while President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Israel has “every right to protect itself from terror.”
In later statements, Zelenskyy went on to claim that Russia is interested in triggering a war in the Middle East to “undermine world unity,” while also arguing that the Israel-Hamas conflict risks “distracting” the international community from Ukraine.
Length of Israel-Hamas conflict to determine impact
According to Simon Schlegel, a senior analyst on Ukraine at the International Crisis Group, the impact of the conflict on the Russia-Ukraine war will depend on its length and on how far it may spread.
“If it morphs into a long, regional conflict, resource constraints on Ukraine may grow in time. If it remains localized on the Gaza Strip, its effects will be only limited,” Schlegel told Anadolu.
Concerning discussions about the possibility of the US diverting military support away from Ukraine, Schlegel said Washington has enough resources to support both Israel and Ukraine in the short term.
While the conflict could divert attention from Ukraine, it could also make pursuing a coherent security policy a central part of the 2024 presidential campaign in the US, which he argued would “not necessarily be a bad thing for Ukraine.”
“Much will depend on how long the war between Israel and Hamas takes and whether it spreads to the wider region,” he added.
Joseph Dresen, a senior program associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, said the most likely impact of the Israel-Palestine conflict on the Russia-Ukraine war is “to drive the war in Ukraine from the headlines, for at least a time.”
Dresen went on to argue that this situation will be to Moscow’s advantage over time since it will divert away global attention.
On the possibility of Washington diverting support from Ukraine, Dresen also said the Biden administration will be able to focus on both conflicts in the short run.
He also underlined that Russian efforts to weaken public support for Kyiv in the West, which he described as successful, will be undermined in the case where supporters of Ukraine manage to equate the attacks on Israel to those on Ukraine in the public mind.
“If, as a result of the long conflict between Israel and Palestine, the US has to cut military support to Ukraine … the consequences won’t be until next summer. A short conflict won’t make a difference,” Oleg Ignatov, a senior analyst on Russia at the International Crisis Group, also told Anadolu.
He said there is no indication yet on a possible cut of US military support to Kyiv, stressing that domestic political calculations in Washington are more important in this regard.
Ignatov further said a possibly larger conflict in the Middle East involving Hezbollah, Iran and Syria could impact the Russia-Ukraine war, in which case Moscow may benefit “not only from a reduction in Western support for Ukraine, but also from rising oil prices.”
“However, Russia’s ally Iran will have problems, leading to a reduction in military cooperation. If Syria becomes involved in the war, Moscow could also have additional problems in the region,” he further said, adding that the conflict could also lead Israel to take a stance supporting Ukraine.
Can Europe fill Ukraine military aid gap?
The possible diversion of US military support for Ukraine has also brought up the question of whether Kyiv’s European partners can fill that Washington-shaped void.
“The answer almost certainly is no – not entirely,” Dresen told Anadolu.
He further said that public support in the US for extending additional military aid to Ukraine has been weakening in recent months, adding that it is unclear, however, whether the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict will accelerate or reverse that decline.
Schlegel, meanwhile, said Europe will have to prepare to step up its military aid to Ukraine regardless, indicating that the future of US support to Kyiv depends a lot on what role Ukraine will play in the upcoming US presidential election, which he said “remains highly unpredictable.”
“Europe’s defense industries have invested in more production capacities as a response to Russia’s invasion. The escalation in the Middle East adds more insecurity but also underlines the need to grow production capacities,” Schlegel said.
Ignatov said European countries are planning and have already planned to increase their support for Kyiv, specifically in terms of the production of ammunition.
“However, this process will not be so fast, and US assistance during 2024 will remain critical for Ukraine. At the moment, only the US has the capacity to rapidly increase arms production,” Ignatov added.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.