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Six parallels of the wars in Israel and Ukraine

Lack of earlier intervention by the international community contributed both to the latest escalation between Israel and Hamas and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
ISRAELI defense forces HAMAS
Israels “Paratroopers” brigade. Credit: Israeli defense forces
Six parallels of the wars in Israel and Ukraine

I don’t believe that the Third Intifada will reduce Western commitment to support Ukraine. The simple fact is that the Russian war of aggressions is an existential threat to Europe. The security and stability of NATO’s member states are threatened. The Alliance cannot live with the results of a potential Russian victory in Ukraine. On the contrary, Russia must be evicted from Ukraine to restore security in Europe.

That said, the war in the Middle East will have consequences for the war in Europe.

The Western failure to mobilize its defense industries and rebuild its Armed Forces has been extensively covered in past reports and articles. Nearly a decade into the war, the US and Europe are still in the process of ramping up their production of weapons and ammunition. Only 11 out of 31 NATO member states are fulfilling their pledge to invest 2% of GDP in their defense budgets. Three decades of underfunding, downsizing, and streamlining have left the countries without the sustainability to fight a protracted war.

This is reflected in the slow and incremental defense support for Ukraine. The West is slowly running out of defense support it can provide Ukraine short of military intervention.

Hamas’s unprecedented attack on 7 October forced the US to start delivering ammunition and military equipment to Israel. While the US has contingency plans and readiness to respond to its regional commitments, this will not alleviate its already acute logistic challenges.

While the historical backgrounds of the wars in Ukraine and Israel are highly different, there are still a great number of overarching similarities.

1. A long-lasting war is once again being described as if it just started

While both Israel and the world were surprised by the ferocity and scale of the attack, a low-intensity war has been raging for decades. The war in Israel did not start on 7 October 2023. The war in Ukraine did not start on 24 February 2022. In both cases, two simmering wars escalated and turned into something far sinister on the given dates.

2. The Israeli-Palestinian and Russo-Ukrainian wars were long predicted

On 7 February, Foreign Affairs published an article with the telling headline “The Third Intifada? Why the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Might Boil Over Again.” It highlighted past grievances and present trends, stressing that negotiated settlement seemed more distant than ever. Several episodes at the start of the year – like the attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem and an Israeli raid in a refugee camp in Jenin – laid a deadly foundation for what would follow. Last year was the deadliest year in Israel and the West Bank since the second intifada in 2000-05. The article is but one of several warnings of increasing tension and despair.

Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine followed a similar pattern. From 2014 and onwards, the international community watched Russia escalate a low-intensity war in Eastern Ukraine to include all of Ukraine, the Black Sea, and Europe. Equally important, for eight years the West watched Russia militarise Crimea and build up its military presence in Belarus and along the Ukrainian border in preparation for the war that followed.

Despite the signs and warnings, the World was surprised.

3. The Ukrainian and Israeli wars are fundamental by nature

Both Ukraine and Palestine are fighting for their right to exist. Both have experienced that their borders are being moved and their territory being occupied. They know that their country will cease to exist the very moment they stop fighting.

The military asymmetry runs deep. Ukraine is defending itself against an – on paper – far stronger enemy. Russia was until last year believed to have the second strongest Army in the World. Irrespective of its losses it is still the World’s biggest nuclear power. Its resource base – including the ability to mobilize soldiers to uphold its war of aggression, surpasses Ukraine many times over. It has a Navy whereas Ukraine has none. The Russian Air Force is by far superior.

The military asymmetry between Palestina and Israel is even more fundamental. The former is defending itself against one of the most technologically advanced Military Powers in the World.

As we have repeatedly seen throughout military history, military asymmetry triggers similar actions. While I utterly condemn attacks on civilians, we also need to acknowledge that the weak cannot fight the strong on equal terms. History also shows that very few nations stop fighting for their right to exist and that desperation – and lack of alternatives – foster acts of extreme violence and cruelty.

4. Civilians are the main victims in both wars

The differences between Russia and Hamas, however, are striking. Russia is involved in atrocities and genocide – not for lack of options – but because it’s seen as a prerequisite to succeed.

While I find Hamas attacks on civilian women and children particularly repulsive, I simultaneously recognize that it has no chance whatsoever to defeat the Armed Forces of Israel in battle. It is avoiding Israel’s strengths and instead, attacking its vulnerabilities. That does, however, not change the fact that its actions constitute crimes of war.

5. The Axes of Evil are involved in both wars

While Iran’s direct involvement in the present escalation of hostilities in Israel remains to be proven, its yearlong involvement in the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East is proven beyond doubt. As is Russia’s military participation in Syria. The latter is destabilizing the wider region.

Russia and Iran are the primary perpetrators or supporting agents in Ukraine, Israel, and the Middle East. The wars have triggered a humanitarian crisis and an unprecedented flow of refugees across Europe. The ripple effects from both are inflicting costs on populations outside the war zone and are undermining Western coherence, slowly changing the political landscape in Europe.

6. The international community is once again responding, not acting on an evolving situation

As we have witnessed in Ukraine, NATO’s inability or unwillingness to conduct Crisis Management to stop crisis and conflicts from evolving into a full-scale war has resulted in just that: A full-scale war.

What is by many described as a Third Intifada is a result of the international community taking the position of the spectator instead of an active contributor to peace and stability.

Russia has for nearly a decade succeeded in stopping the West from intervening militarily in Ukraine despite that this was a part of NATO’s strategic concept until last summer. It would be in line with the UN Charter and the UN doctrine “Responsible to Protect.” It would be upon Ukrainian invitation. Equally important, a military intervention would not least end the tsunami of ripple effects from the war presently shaping the political landscape at risk for both NATO and the EU.

Russia will try to use the fresh outbreak of new hostilities in the Middle East to its advantage. The bigger the problem, the more likely the West is to take another step back. It will use disinformation to undermine Western trust in Ukraine. The war will help increase Western sustainability problems.

We are once again experiencing the costs of inaction and indifference. A new strategy might be in order.

Hans Petter Midttun is educated at the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy, the Norwegian National Defence Command and Staff College and the Norwegian Defense College, as well as education from the Federal Defence Forces of Germany. He has broad international experience from both operations and postings abroad (NATO, Germany, Spain, Belgium, and Ukraine). The service includes seven years in command of frigates and six NATO deployments. Midttun put into operation, tested and verified the operational capabilities of one of the newest frigates in the Norwegian Navy. He served at the Norwegian Joint Headquarters and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) before being posted to Ukraine as the Norwegian Defence Attache (2014-2018). Based on previous experiences, Midttun is presently publishing articles and analytic works on the security situation in and around Ukraine as a private person.

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