The Crisis In The Middle East

Why are Conflicts spreading in West Asia?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : West Asia

Mains level : Read the attached story

west asia

Introduction

  • What initially began as a localized conflict between Israel and Hamas has rapidly spiralled into a regional security crisis, casting a shadow of uncertainty and instability over West Asia.
  • This evolving crisis involves a complex web of state and non-state actors, each with its own objectives and strategies, making it a highly volatile and unpredictable situation.

Escalation beyond Borders

As Israel launched its military campaign in Gaza in response to Hamas’s cross-border attacks, concerns grew that the conflict could spill over beyond the borders of Palestine. The involvement of various actors has further complicated the situation:

  • Hezbollah’s Solidarity: Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia group backed by Iran, fired rockets at Israeli forces in solidarity with the Palestinians. This action marked an extension of the conflict beyond the immediate theatre of operations.
  • Exchange of Fire: Israel and Hezbollah engaged in multiple exchanges of fire, with both sides exercising restraint to prevent a full-scale war. Nevertheless, these incidents escalated regional tensions.
  • Iran-Backed Militias: Iran, a key supporter of non-state actors in the region, provided backing to groups such as Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Houthis, and Shia militias in Iraq and Syria. This support has contributed to the widening of the crisis.
  • Houthi Disruptions: In a bid to express solidarity with the Palestinians, Houthi rebels in Yemen began targeting commercial vessels in the Red Sea. Controlling significant portions of Yemen, including the Red Sea coast, the Houthis disrupted maritime traffic in a crucial international waterway.

Global Ramifications

The crisis in West Asia has not remained confined to the region; it has global implications:

  • U.S. Airstrikes in Yemen: The United States, in support of Israel’s actions, conducted airstrikes in Yemen, directly involving itself in the regional conflict. These airstrikes added a new dimension to the crisis.
  • Hashad al-Shabi’s Escalation: The Shia Mobilisation Forces of Iraq and Syria, backed by Iran, launched over a hundred attacks against U.S. troops stationed in these countries. These attacks were seen as retaliation against U.S. support for Israel.
  • Spread of Instability: As instability spread across the region, extremist groups, including the Islamic State, sought to exploit the situation. Iraq and Syria, in particular, remained vulnerable to internal and external challenges.
  • Cross-Border Retaliation: In response to Iran’s actions, Pakistan carried out airstrikes in Iranian territory, further escalating tensions in the region.

Key Players and Their Objectives

Understanding the crisis requires an examination of the key players and their objectives:

  • Israel’s Aims: Israel’s primary objectives include dismantling Hamas and securing the release of hostages held by the group. Israel enjoys unwavering support from the United States in pursuing these goals.
  • Iran’s Backing: Iran plays a central role as the primary supporter of various anti-Israel non-state actors in West Asia, offering support to groups such as Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Houthis, and Shia militias.
  • U.S. Interests: The United States, with a significant military presence in the region, seeks to ensure Israel’s security, protect American troops and assets, and maintain the U.S.-led order in West Asia.

Implications for Regional Security

The crisis in West Asia has ushered in a period of heightened insecurity and instability:

  • Widespread Security Crisis: Unlike previous conflicts that often involved nation-states or specific non-state actors, this crisis encompasses a broader range of powerful states and non-state actors, creating a highly volatile environment.
  • Disruption of the Old Order: The crisis has exposed the fragility of the old U.S.-led order in the region. Iran-backed proxies directly target Israeli and American positions, while Iran flexes its military muscle through cross-border attacks.

Looking Ahead

As the crisis continues to unfold, several key factors warrant consideration:

  • No Clear Resolution: With more than 100 days of conflict, Israel’s objectives in Gaza remain unfulfilled, and there is no apparent path to a resolution. The ongoing war fuels retaliatory attacks by Hezbollah and Houthis.
  • Effectiveness of U.S. Airstrikes: U.S. airstrikes against various groups have not proven effective in deterring them from launching new attacks. The region remains volatile.
  • Potential for Further Instability: The ongoing instability in West Asia creates opportunities for extremist groups, including the Islamic State, to exploit the situation. Iraq and Syria remain particularly susceptible to internal and external challenges.
  • Changing U.S. Role: Historically, the United States played a dominant role in the region, but it now appears more as a disruptor than a guarantor of peace and stability. Restoring stability and ending the war present significant challenges.
  • A Glimmer of Hope: Amid the ongoing crisis, a positive development is the maintenance of the Saudi-Iran détente and the Saudi-Houthi peace, providing a ray of hope amidst the turmoil.

Conclusion

  • The escalating regional crisis in West Asia underscores the intricate interplay of state and non-state actors in a highly volatile environment.
  • As the situation continues to evolve, its implications for regional stability and global security remain a subject of concern and vigilance.

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The Crisis In The Middle East

In news: Mediterranean Sea

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Mediterranean Sea

Mains level : NA

Central Idea

  • Iranian Revolutionary Guards has warned that the Mediterranean Sea could be closed if the US and its allies continued to commit “crimes” in Gaza.

About Mediterranean Sea

Details
Location Between Europe, Africa, and Asia
Size Approximately 2.5 million square kilometers
Depth Average depth 1,500 meters ; Calypso Deep in the Ionian Sea, over 5,000 meters deep
Climate Predominantly Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters
Bordering Countries Europe: Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey

Asia: Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel

Africa: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco

Major Water Bodies Connected Connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the Strait of Gibraltar; links to the Black Sea via the Dardanelles Strait
Islands and Archipelagos Includes several islands and archipelagos like Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Cyprus, and the Balearic Islands

 

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The Crisis In The Middle East

Bab El-Mandeb: A Strategic Choke Point

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bab El-Mandeb

Mains level : Read the attached story

Bab El-Mandeb

Central Idea

  • The war between Israel and Hamas in October raised concerns about Hezbollah’s involvement, but the focus shifted when the Houthis in Yemen expanded the conflict to the Red Sea.
  • Despite tensions, Hezbollah and Israel avoided full-scale war, with Israel concentrating on Gaza.

Houthi Involvement and Shift in Tactics

  • Initial Actions: The Houthis, aligned with Iran, initially targeted Israel in solidarity with Palestinians, using drones and missiles, which were intercepted.
  • Change in Strategy: Later, they shifted focus to attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea, threatening global shipping routes.

Understanding the Houthis

  • Background: The Houthis, known formally as Ansar Allah, are a Shia militia group in Yemen, named after their late leaders Badr al-Din al-Houthi and Hussein al-Houthi.
  • Iranian Support: They receive direct support from Iran and have significant military capabilities, including drones and ballistic missiles.

Strategic Importance of Bab el-Mandeb Strait

  • Geographical Significance: The Strait of Bab el-Mandeb is a crucial maritime chokepoint, connecting the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
  • Impact on Global Shipping: Houthi actions near the strait have led to a significant decrease in Red Sea traffic and increased shipping costs.

Global and Regional Consequences

  • Effect on Israel: Israel’s southern port traffic, particularly in Eilat, has been severely impacted.
  • Broader Trade Implications: Approximately 12% of global maritime trade passes through the strait. Disruptions here could exacerbate inflationary pressures worldwide.
  • Alternative Routes: Shipping companies are rerouting around Africa, significantly increasing travel time and costs.

International Response

  • US Naval Task Force: The U.S. has established a naval force to counter the Houthi threat.
  • Arab World’s Stance: Many Red Sea countries, including Egypt, have not joined the U.S. task force, reflecting regional discontent with U.S. policies.
  • Potential Offensive Measures: The U.S. has not ruled out bombing Houthi targets in response to continued attacks on shipping lanes.

Conclusion

  • Continued Houthi Threat: The Houthis vow to persist in their actions as long as Israel’s conflict with Gaza continues.
  • Challenges for Global Trade: The situation underscores the fragility of global shipping routes and the potential for regional conflicts to have far-reaching economic impacts.
  • Need for Diplomatic Solutions: This complex scenario highlights the importance of diplomatic efforts to resolve regional tensions and protect vital maritime trade routes.

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Global Geological And Climatic Events

Places in news: Mount Merapi

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Merapi Volcano

Mains level : Pacific ring of fire

volcano

Central Idea

  • Mount Merapi in Indonesia has erupted yet again this year, spewing an ash tower 3,000 metres into the sky.

 

Merapi Volcano: A Brief Overview

  • Location: Situated in Central Java, Indonesia, Merapi is aptly named “Mountain of Fire” in Javanese.
  • Activity: It ranks among the world’s most active and perilous volcanoes, known for frequent and often violent eruptions.
  • 2010 Eruption: The last significant eruption in 2010 led to over 350 fatalities and extensive damage to surrounding areas.
  • Tourist Attraction: Despite its dangers, Merapi attracts hikers and tourists drawn to its beauty and geological significance.

Other active volcanoes in Indonesia

volcano

Indonesia is home to many active volcanoes, with over 120 active volcanoes located across the country. Some of the other major volcanoes in Indonesia include:

  • Mount Krakatoa: Located in the Sunda Strait, it’s notorious for the catastrophic 1883 eruption.
  • Mount Rinjani: On Lombok Island, it’s Indonesia’s second-highest volcano and a trekking hotspot.
  • Mount Tambora: Famous for the 1815 eruption, it caused the “year without summer” and is situated on Sumbawa Island.
  • Mount Batur: In Bali, known for scenic vistas and hot springs.
  • Mount Merbabu: The highest in Central Java, it’s a favored destination for climbers.

Why so many volcanoes in Indonesia?

  • Pacific Ring of Fire: Indonesia’s location on this seismic hotspot explains its high volcanic activity.
  • Volcanic Density: With over 120 active volcanoes, Indonesia faces frequent eruptions, posing risks to its population and infrastructure.

Back2Basics: Pacific Ring of Fire

  • Geographical Span: This 40,000 km horseshoe-shaped belt around the Pacific Ocean is a seismic hub.
  • Volcanic and Seismic Activity: Home to 75% of the world’s active volcanoes and 90% of earthquakes.
  • Tectonic Movements: The Pacific Plate’s collision with smaller plates leads to subduction, causing friction and pressure.
  • Resulting Phenomena: This tectonic activity results in frequent volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
  • Countries Included: The Ring of Fire affects several regions, including Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, and the Americas’ west coasts.
  • Natural Resources: The region is rich in geothermal energy and minerals.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Places in news: Julian Felipe Reef

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Julian Felipe Reef

Mains level : Not Much

Julian Felipe Reef

Central Idea

  • The Philippines confirmed that more than 135 Chinese vessels made incursion on Julian Felipe Reef (also known as Whitsun Reef), a place off its coast.

About Julian Felipe Reef

  • Julian Felipe Reef is part of the Spratly Islands, located in the West Philippine Sea, a portion of the South China Sea.
  • It lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
  • It is a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef.

Recent Dispute

  • The reef gained international attention in early 2021 when a large number of Chinese vessels, described by the Philippines as maritime militia, were spotted at the reef.
  • It is subject to a territorial dispute involving several countries, primarily the Philippines, China, and Vietnam.
  • The Philippines claims the Reef as part of its territory, specifically within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, under the UNCLOS.
  • This dispute is part of the larger and complex South China Sea territorial disputes involving various countries in the region.
  • The Philippines has sought international arbitration under UNCLOS to assert its claims.

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