The United States will do everything it can to prevent the Israel-Hamas conflict from spreading, a former US Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations said.
But regardless of whether Washington succeeds or fails, the situation will remain violent.
“I don’t see a scenario where (Israeli forces) don’t ultimately launch a major ground invasion,” Frank Lowenstein told Mercedes Stephenson on The West Block.
“I’m afraid we are looking at a long and brutal and deadly ground war, both for the Israelis and of course, for the Palestinians.”
Lowenstein, who served as the American special envoy from 2014 until 2017, told Stephenson US President Joe Biden is working with Middle Eastern partners like Jordan, Egypt and Qatar to preserve stability and secure the release of more hostages.
In a speech from the White House on Thursday, Biden said the United States will hold Iran and terrorist groups in the Middle East accountable, saying that American leadership is what holds the world together.
“There are very cautionary messages being reiterated and highlighted by regional leaders about such (an Israeli) invasion, given that many are worried that this will encourage other non-state actors, primarily Hezbollah, on Israel’s northern border, to also escalate further,” Merissa Khurma said.
Khurma, the director of the Middle East program at the Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C., told Global News earlier in the week regional power Iran supports both Hamas and Hezbollah, though there is no evidence Iran directly contributed to the Oct. 7 attacks,
Lowenstein said a wider conflict could draw Washington into a military confrontation.
“If (the United States does) get dragged into that, I think we’ll do everything we can to keep our role as limited as possible to really prevent this from escalating,” he told Stephenson.
“Just the threat of the massive force we can bring to bear should deter others from getting involved. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to have a huge mess to deal with in Gaza.”
Netanyahu vowed to “crush and destroy” Hamas after the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack killed 1,400 people, a figure provided by the Israeli government.
Israeli retaliation has so far killed more than 4,300 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry.
Lowenstein said Hamas’s attack showed the militant group demonstrating a new level of brutality.
“I was very surprised that they chose to be so barbaric and cruel about it, because that doesn’t help their cause at all,” he said, adding that the attacks showed the group “effectively turned themselves into ISIS.”
“Once you take the steps that they took on October 7th, there’s no hope that they can govern any longer.”
Fulfilling Netanyahu’s pledge to demolish Hamas, Lowenstein told Stephenson, would come at great cost for Israelis and Palestinians.
He said the IDF would likely have fight go door-to-door in Gaza to destroy Hamas while the militant group would likely fight to the very last man, he explained.
But if Israel is successful in destroying the group, Lowenstein pointed out, it would then face another problem – finding someone another group to govern Gaza.
“I do think that there is an opening that may emerge here, which we haven’t had in the past. And that is with Hamas out of the picture, it is at least theoretically possible to have an election that unifies the Palestinian body politics,” he said.
Lowenstein said the most likely candidate would be the Palestinian Authority, a group separate from Hamas that governs the West Bank. But the group is not popular, barely projecting any power outside of the West Bank capital of Ramallah, he added.
And clashes in the West Bank between Israeli security forces and Palestinians are growing more frequent and deadly as Palestinians there protest the IDF’s continued bombardment and blockading of aid in Gaza.
Egypt and especially Jordan, he said, would be helpful partners for Washington in the West Bank because both countries work closely with the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank.
“I think if we just side with Israel in the West Bank as we sort of have in Gaza… then there’s very low likelihood that anything positive is going to come out of that,” he said.
In the coming days and weeks or at least until Israel invades, American efforts will be directed through partners that have connections with Hamas, Turkey and especially Qatar.
Lowenstein said he suspected the recent release of two hostages involved Qatari help.
“We’re going to work with the Qataris and the Turks and others as much as we can, to get the hostages out,” he said.
“And then I think we need to hear from them in terms of what a long term plan looks like in Gaza Strip… I think as we start to think about what the next step looks like in all this, the Qataris will play a critical role in helping us to figure that out,” he told Stephenson.
with files from the Associated Press