The West Asia war between Israel and Hamas is spreading. The Iran-backed Houthi and Hezbollah militias have already joined the war. Israel has launched attacks on Lebanon and Syria to target these groups and the Hamas leaders based in these countries. The Houthis have taken the war to the Red Sea, one of the busiest shipping lanes of the world, by launching attacks on western commercial vessels. This has brought the US into the war. The US is leading an international patrol mission in the Red Sea to safeguard ships against attacks by the Houthis and has launched missile attacks in Iraq, Syria and Yemen to neutralise the Iran-backed militia groups. The war that was so far confined to West Asia with the players including Iran, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, besides Israel and Palestine, has now arrived at the doorsteps of the Indian subcontinent with Iran and Pakistan launching missile attacks on each other.
Iran and Pakistan have had problems on their 900-km border for a long time. Both countries have accused each other of harbouring militants who have fomented trouble on the other side. Iran attacked Pakistan after nearly a hundred Iranians were killed by a bomb that exploded during an event in the memory of commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by the US in 2020. Iran blamed the Pakistan-based Jaish al-Adl group and launched missiles at the group’s hideout in Pakistani territory in Balochistan.
Pakistan has launched retaliatory missile attacks against what it calls the sarmachar or the separatists living inside Iran. While the world was warned, including by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, about the Israel-Hamas conflict turning into a regional war, few expected it to spread outside the West Asian region. The war has already put global connectivity and energy supply at a risk. Any further escalation between Iran and Pakistan is sure to bring other major powers into the game and create instability in the region.
The road to peace is difficult but the dividends are rich. UN Secretary General António Guterres’s call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas has been ignored. Regional peacemakers such as Qatar, a small country that brokered peace between the US and Taliban, and Egypt, which has had a longest-standing peace treaty with Israel, need to double their efforts to engage the two sides. Israel and Palestine need to be brought back to the table for a lasting global peace.