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Concerns grow that the Israel-Hamas war will extend beyond Gaza and Israel

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Apart from the battle with Hamas, Israel says it has been striking at targets belonging to Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon. This after a new barrage of rockets aimed at cities in northern Israel. So the question becomes, do these battles signal a wider war that goes beyond the bounds of Gaza and Israel? To help us explore that question, we turn to Randa Slim. She is a senior fellow and director of a conflict resolution program at the Middle East Institute. That is a nonpartisan think tank that seeks to promote better understanding of the Middle East. Randa Slim, thank you so much for joining us. Good morning.

RANDA SLIM: Good morning. Good to be with you.

MARTIN: Are we already seeing a spillover war?

SLIM: We are seeing a limited escalation, a limited spillover of the war. We are seeing escalation on the Lebanese Hezbollah front, but it remains a limited tit-for-tat escalation between the two sides. And we are seeing also Iraqi militias that are close to Iran hitting U.S. assets in northeastern Syria, in western Iraq, in northern Iraq. So in that case, yes, we are seeing, but it is a limited spillover.

MARTIN: Do you think that the potential for a broader war is part of Israel's or Hamas's calculus right now? And I guess I would ask you to take those separately.

SLIM: Hamas will benefit from escalation, from a regional expansion, partly because it will bring into the fight resources from these other actors that are allied with Hamas in the resistance axis. It will bring these resources into the fight and help Hamas in the fight. For Israel, I think it differs. You know, I mean, Israeli official keeps saying they can fight a multifront war without much - you know, without too much effort. But definitely, I think the danger of that is to expand into neighboring countries. And I think the U.S., the U.S. involvement - part of the reason why the U.S. has sent all these military assets to the region, including recently a nuclear submarine, is to basically deter other actors from expanding this conflict. For Israel, especially for Israeli officials like Netanyahu, a protracted war can create maneuvering room for him to salvage his political future. And for the settler groups in the West Bank, for them, it might be an opportunity to achieve their long-held dreams of establishing a Jewish state without Arabs. And we are seeing forcible transfers of Palestinians from the West Bank. And more than 100 Palestinians in the West Bank have already been killed by settler groups.

MARTIN: You said that this would - that a wider war would be in Hamas's interest because it would bring in other actors. But are there any other parties in which case - that would also benefit from this?

SLIM: I don't think that many other parties in the region will benefit. I mean, if we take the countries, you know, like whether it is Arab Gulf countries, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, even Lebanon, I mean, Iraq, all of them - I mean, the government themselves, all of them have said that a wider war is not in their interest. Even Iran - Iran's interest is to keep Israel mired into a never-ending conflict, especially if Israel were to reoccupy Gaza. So for Iran, that goes to its benefit. It doesn't seek a resolution of the conflict, but at the same time, it doesn't seek an expansion of the conflict. There are parties here and there, like Iraqi militias that are interested in using this conflict and their role in this conflict in basically highlighting the resistance narrative against Israel and the Americans and hoping that if this expands and America enters kinetically into the war and suffers from its involvement in the war, that eventually, their long-held objective of kicking America out of the region is achieved.

MARTIN: Just briefly, you know, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an interview last night on ABC was asked, who will run Gaza after the bombardment ends? This is what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ABC NEWS BROADCAST)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I think Israel will, for an indefinite period, will have the overall security responsibility, because we've seen what happens when we don't have it. When we don't have that security responsibility, what we have is the eruption of Hamas terror on a scale that we couldn't imagine.

MARTIN: As briefly as you can, how do you think a state like that is being received?

SLIM: I think it's being received badly in the region, and I think Israel will be facing an insurgency if it were to go into Gaza and reoccupy it.

MARTIN: That is Randa Slim. She's a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. Randa Slim, thank you so much for sharing these insights with us.

SLIM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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