Why the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has not sparked a full-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon — so far

Special Why the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has not sparked a full-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon — so far
Lebanon has witnessed pro-Palestine rallies organized by Hezbollah since the launch of the Israeli war on Hamas in Gaza on Oct. 7. (AN photo/ Marwan Tahtah)
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Updated 21 November 2023
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Why the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has not sparked a full-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon — so far

Why the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has not sparked a full-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon — so far
  • Exchange of fire among the heaviest since war between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006
  • Analysts say Biden administration’s strategy for preventing a regional war is working, at least for now

DUBAI: The latest spike in border violence between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Israel has prompted concern that the war in Gaza could still ignite a broader conflict in the Middle East.

On Saturday, Israel reportedly struck an aluminum factory in southern Lebanon some 15 km from the border, while Hezbollah claimed to have shot down an Israeli Hermes 450 drone and launched five other attacks.

These recent exchanges of fire were among the heaviest since the war between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, which left the Beirut government with a colossal reconstruction bill and entrenched the Iran-backed militia in the country’s fabric.


Hezbollah members inspect the wreckage of a vehicle in which civilians were killed during an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon, near the border with Israel, on Nov. 6, 2023. AFP

Black smoke rises from an Israeli airstrike on the outskirts of Aita al-Shaab, a Lebanese border village with Israel, in south Lebanon, on Nov. 4, 2023. AFP

“It’s very clear right now that Hezbollah and Iran both have a preference to avoid a larger direct confrontation with Israel,” Firas Maksad, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told Arab News.

“They are instead sort of managing what can be referred to as ‘gray zone warfare,’ short of a complete ceasefire or stalemate, but also short of a full-on war.”

This is something Iran and Hezbollah, with their paramilitary allies across the region, excel in, according to Maksad.

“They have the ability to dial this up or dial it down depending on the circumstance and what the situation in Gaza is, but it is not a full-on war,” he said.

“One of the main reasons for that is that Hezbollah is the single largest investment Iran has made outside of its borders.”

That investment has seen Hezbollah attacking Israeli troops since Oct. 8, a day after Hamas attacked Israeli towns killing 1,200 people and taking another 230 Israelis and foreigners hostage, according to Israel.

Israel fought a five-week war with Hezbollah in 2006 after the group’s fighters kidnapped two Israeli soldiers during a cross-border raid.

The conflict left an estimated 1,200 Lebanese and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers, dead; displaced 4.5 million Lebanese civilians; and caused damage to civil infrastructure in Lebanon totaling $2.8 billion.

UN Resolution 1701, which was intended to resolve the 2006 conflict, bars Israel from conducting military operations in Lebanon, but Israel has repeatedly accused Hezbollah of violating the resolution by smuggling arms into southern Lebanon.

INNUMBERS

• 90 People killed on the Lebanese side in cross-border hostilities since last month, at least 10 of them civilians.

• 9 People killed on the Israeli side, including six soldiers and three civilians, according to authorities there.

• 1,200 Number of Lebanese, mainly civilians, killed during the 2006 war with Israel.

 

“Hezbollah is the first line for deterrence and defense for the Iranian regime and its nuclear program if Israel decides to strike, and it is not going to waste that to try and save Hamas,” Maksad said.

While tensions along the Blue Line (policed by a UN peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL) separating Lebanon and Israel have not escalated beyond sporadic exchanges of fire, any miscalculation could potentially spark a regional conflict between Israel and Iran’s proxies.

Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, has said “all options are open” but stopped short of declaring war. In Maksad’s opinion, it all indicates a clear preference from the relevant parties to avoid regional escalation.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Lebanese political analyst told Arab News: “The Americans, playing the role of mediator, don’t want a war, especially in a re-election year. The Gulf states are focused on economic growth and the price of oil, and so don’t want one. Neither does Iran or its proxies.”

Buttressing this impression, Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s foreign minister, has publicly stated several times that Iran does not want the Israel-Hamas war to spread.

“Iran achieved most of its objectives, such as disrupting Israel-Saudi diplomatic normalization and shattering the myth of Israel’s invulnerability, on Oct. 7,” Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at Arab Gulf States Institute, told Arab News via email.

“Hezbollah’s small provocations against Israel serve the purpose of complicating the calculations of the Israel Defense Forces, but as apparent in the Lebanese militia’s low fatalities in Lebanon and Syria since Oct. 7 (only 72 according to my database), Iran has no interest in sacrificing Hezbollah for the sake of the more expendable Hamas.”

Sought after or not, fighting continues to erupt on multiple fronts. This has included the hijacking of an Israeli-linked cargo ship and its more than two dozen crew members on Nov. 19 by Yemen’s Houthis, another Iranian proxy. Per reports, the militia claimed the ship was targeted over its connection to Israel.

Furthermore, American forces in Iraq and Syria have been subjected to 61 attacks by Iranian-backed militants since Oct. 17, according to the Pentagon.




A car belonging to Qatar's Al-Jazeera media network burns after it was hit by Israeli shelling in the Alma al-Shaab border village with Israel, in south Lebanon, on Oct. 13, 2023. AFP

Keen to walk a tight line, the US has struck back just three times, but it has bolstered its regional military presence. In late October, it deployed 2,000 non-combat US troops, two aircraft carriers with around 7,500 personnel on each, two guided-missile destroyers, and nine air squadrons to the Eastern Mediterranean and Red Sea region as a deterrent force.

Some are asking how long the US can afford to keep its aircraft carrier strike forces and nuclear submarines in the Middle East to deter a regional war while at the same time supporting the war in Ukraine.

“I do not believe there is a clear time limit,” Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States in Washington, told Arab News by email. “These aircraft carrier strike groups are designed to be at sea for long periods of time. I think they can stay there for a tremendously long time.”

The consensus view of these analysts seems to be that the Biden administration’s strategy for preventing a regional war is working, at least for now.




A shell that appears to be white phosphorus from Israeli artillery explodes over a house in al-Bustan, a Lebanese border village with Israel, in south Lebanon, on Oct. 15, 2023. AFP

“American efforts at deterrence have worked,” Maksad said. “Whether it is (via) the aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean or in the Gulf or the quiet diplomacy via messages that have been sent to Iran via various interlocutors warning of the consequences that America would very much get involved if the war spreads.”

He believes all the above elements have yielded a result and are managing the fighting so that it remains short of an all-out war or confrontation.

But what would change that equation? For one, might Israel turn toward Lebanon after settling scores with Hamas?

“Lebanon has dodged a bullet — so far,” said Maksad.

But a miscalculation could see Lebanon dragged into a larger war. In 2006, neither Hezbollah nor Israel wanted a war, but they ended up fighting for 34 days. And there is also a risk on the Israeli side, which has made it clear that it would not spare Lebanon were Hezbollah to join the war.

“What we are doing in Gaza, we can do in Beirut,” Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, said on Nov. 11 in a warning to Hezbollah against escalating the violence along the border.

Gallant has reportedly shared with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken his desire to strike Hezbollah preemptively, but he has evidently been overruled by his Israeli colleagues.

If Hezbollah were to join the war, said Ibish, while Israel might be “badly hit with tens of thousands of casualties at a minimum,” Lebanon would be “utterly decimated and set back in generational terms.”

One turning point that could see Hezbollah dragged into the fighting would be Hamas’ impending destruction as a military organization.

“Hezbollah would then have a tough choice to make: whether to sit back and watch the Palestinian leg of the alliance being dismantled or try and throw in their lot in an effort to save them,” said Maksad. “I think that they wouldn’t. They would stick to the sidelines.”

Were Hezbollah to be sucked into the conflict more fully, though, the result would be devastating.

“What Hamas did on Oct. 7 is kindergarten stuff compared to what Hezbollah can do if it were to get involved more fully and it can at any time, but it doesn’t want to,” a Lebanese political analyst based in the country’s south told Arab News.

“Hezbollah’s job is to be a deterrent. Occupied Palestine wants to set a trap for Hezbollah to fall into. Hezbollah hasn’t fallen for it yet.”

Still, according to Ibish, an attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in occupied Jerusalem could see Hezbollah dragged in.




Hezbollah members inspect the wreckage of a vehicle in which civilians were killed during an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon, near the border with Israel, on Nov. 6, 2023. AFP

“That would be a different story, but if the war remains contained to Gaza, I think Hezbollah will be able to stay out of it,” he said.

“Indeed, one of the few things that all four actors who had the ability to make this a regional war — Israel, Iran, the US and Hezbollah — could agree upon from Oct. 7 is that this war must not spread to include Hezbollah or anything of the kind.

“That is the main reason why it has not spread and why it probably will not spread.”

This then leaves the actions of third parties — such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian factions — operating inside Lebanon.

“Small groups might attack Israel with rockets or some such and have a ‘lucky strike,’ going further into Israel, well beyond the tacitly agreed upon one mile in each direction radius for contained skirmishing, and killing a significant group of Israeli soldiers, for example, 25 or more,” said Ibish.

“If that (were to) happen, Israel might retaliate with a great deal of force, unsure if Hezbollah was involved or it tacitly tolerated the action and needed to be blamed. Once rockets are flying and paranoia begins to set in, it is very common for armed foes to begin to misrecognize and misread each other’s intentions and actions. It can easily degenerate into a conflict that nobody wants.”

As if predicting a storm gathering on the horizon but whose course is still uncertain, the anonymous Lebanese political analyst said: “You can visit Beirut before the end of the year. I am sure there won’t be a war before then.”


Gaza officials report two more child malnutrition deaths

Gaza officials report two more child malnutrition deaths
Updated 2 sec ago
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Gaza officials report two more child malnutrition deaths

Gaza officials report two more child malnutrition deaths
GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Two children have died “of dehydration and malnutrition” in war-torn Gaza, the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry said Wednesday, the latest reported deaths as the UN warned of “imminent” famine.
The latest fatalities were at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza city, the largest hospital in the besieged territory, said health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra.
“The death toll from the famine among children rose to six martyrs as a result of dehydration and malnutrition,” Qudra said.
The deaths could not be independently verified.
“We call on international institutions to take immediate action to prevent the humanitarian catastrophe in the northern Gaza Strip,” the spokesman added.
UN agencies have said the latest humanitarian convoy was allowed into the north more than a month ago.
The United Nations humanitarian coordination office on Wednesday said two children had died earlier of dehydration and malnutrition in northern Gaza’s Kamal Adwan hospital — deaths previously announced by Qudra.
A dire humanitarian emergency is unfolding in Gaza as Israel continues its relentless bid to eliminate Hamas in response to the Palestinian group’s October 7 attack.
The surprise attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Nearly five months into the war, the Israeli campaign has killed at least 29,954 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.
With aid still blocked from entering northern Gaza by Israeli forces, and only entering the rest of the territory in dribs and drabs, the World Food Programme said on Tuesday that “if nothing changes, a famine is imminent.”
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNWRA, has reported a 50-percent drop in trucks entering Gaza so far this month compared to January.
The UN humanitarian office OCHA also cited projections indicating that “the entire population of the Gaza Strip faces crisis or worse levels of food insecurity.”
More than 500,000 people out of Gaza’s 2.4 million inhabitants are “facing catastrophic conditions characterised by lack of food, starvation and exhaustion of coping capacities,” it warned.

US urges Israel to let Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan

US urges Israel to let Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan
Updated 52 min 48 sec ago
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US urges Israel to let Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan

US urges Israel to let Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan
  • “It is not in Israel’s security interest to inflame tensions in the West Bank or in the broader region,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters
  • Israel has been assessing how to address worship in Jerusalem during Ramadan

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday urged Israel to allow Muslims to worship at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem during Ramadan, after a far-right minister proposed barring Palestinians from the occupied West Bank from praying there.
“As it pertains to Al-Aqsa, we continue to urge Israel to facilitate access to Temple Mount for peaceful worshippers during Ramadan consistent with past practice,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters, using the Jewish term for the site, the holiest in Judaism.
“That’s not just the right thing to do, it’s not just a matter of granting people religious freedom that they deserve and to which they have a right, but it’s also a matter that directly is important to Israel’s security,” he said.
“It is not in Israel’s security interest to inflame tensions in the West Bank or in the broader region.”
Israel has been assessing how to address worship in Jerusalem during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that will start on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
The month of fasting comes as Israel wages a relentless military campaign in the Gaza Strip in response to a major attack by Hamas inside Israel on October 7.
Hamas has called for a mass movement on Al-Aqsa for the start of Ramadan.
“We call on our people in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the occupied interior (Israel) to travel to Al-Aqsa from the first day of the blessed month of Ramadan, in groups or alone, to pray there to break the siege on it,” Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised statement Wednesday.
Last week, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said that Palestinian residents of the West Bank “should not be allowed” entry to Jerusalem to pray during Ramadan.
“We cannot take risks,” he said, adding: “We cannot have women and children hostage in Gaza and allow celebrations for Hamas on the Temple Mount.”
Ben Gvir leads a hard-right party advocating Jewish control of the compound.
The United States has been pressing for a deal before Ramadan begins in which Israel would halt strikes in the Gaza Strip and hostages snatched on October 7 would be freed.
The Israeli military campaign in Gaza has killed at least 29,954 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest figures by the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
It was launched in response to Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.


Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy

Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy
Updated 28 February 2024
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Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy

Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy
  • Parliament vote could see a low turnout ­— a constant feature of past elections

DUBAI: Iran is holding parliamentary elections this Friday, yet the real question may not be who gets elected but how many people actually turn out to vote.

Widespread discontent over the cratering economy, years of mass protests rocking the country, and tensions with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program and Iran’s support for Russia in its war on Ukraine have many people quietly saying they won’t vote in this election.

Officials have urged people to cast ballots but tellingly, no information has been released this year from the state-owned polling center ISPA about expected turnout — a constant feature of past elections. Of 21 Iranians interviewed recently by The Associated Press, only five said they would vote. Thirteen said they won’t and three said they were undecided.

“If I protest about some shortcoming, many police and security agents will try to stop me,” said Amin, a 21-year-old university student who gave only his first name for fear of reprisals. “But if I die from hunger on the corner of one of the main streets, they will show no reaction.”

Over 15,000 candidates are vying for a seat in the 290-member parliament, formally known as the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Terms run for four years and five seats are reserved for Iran’s religious minorities.

Under the law, the parliament has oversight over the executive branch, votes on treaties and handles other issues. In practice, absolute power in Iran rests with its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Hard-liners have controlled the parliament for the past two decades — with chants of “Death to America” often heard from the floor.

Under parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guard general who supported a violent crackdown on Iranian university students in 1999, the legislature pushed forward a bill in 2020 that greatly curtailed Tehran’s cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

That followed then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 — an act that sparked years of tensions in the Middle East and saw Iran enrich enough uranium at record-breaking purity to have enough fuel for “several” nuclear weapons if it chose.

More recently, the parliament has focused on issues surrounding Iran’s mandatory headscarf, or hijab, for women after the 2022 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody, which sparked nationwide protests. The protests quickly escalated into calls to overthrow Iran’s clerical rulers. A subsequent security crackdown killed over 500 people, with more than 22,000 detained.

Calls for an election boycott have spread in recent weeks, including from imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, a women’s right activist, who called them a “sham.”

“The Islamic Republic, with its ruthless and brutal suppression, the killing of young people on the streets, the executions and the imprisonment and torture of men and women, deserves national sanctions and global disgrace,” Mohammadi said in a statement.

The boycott calls have put the government under renewed pressure — since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s theocracy has based its legitimacy in part on turnout in elections.

On Wednesday, Khamenei himself urged people to vote, describing it as a national duty. “There is no reasoning behind not voting,” he said. “It does not solve any problem of the country.”

He also said “those who express a lack of interest in the election and encourage others not to participate should think some more.”

“If the election is weak, all face harm,” he added.

Though ISPA, the polling agency, conducted election surveys in October, its results have not been made public. Figures from politicians and other media outlets suggest a turnout of around 30 percent.

In the 2021 presidential election that brought hardliner Ebrahim Raisi to power, the turnout was 49 percent — the lowest on record for a presidential vote. Millions of ballots were declared void, likely from those who felt obligated to vote but did not want to cast a ballot.

The 2019 parliament race saw a 42 percent turnout.

Separately, Iranians will also vote on Friday for members of the country’s 88-seat Assembly of Experts, an eight-year term on a panel that will appoint the country’s next supreme leader after Khamenei, 84.

Barred from that race is former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate under whose term Iran struck the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Some said Iran’s economic woes were the reason they are staying away from the polls. Inflation is reportedly at around 50 percent, with unemployment around 20 percent for young Iranians.

“I will not vote,” said Hashem Amani, a 55-year-old fruit merchant in southern Tehran. “In 2021, I voted for Raisi to become president in hope that similar people in the government can work together and make a better life for me. What I got in return was rocketing prices for everything.”


Syrian air defenses intercept Israeli strikes in vicinity of Damascus, state media says

Syrian air defenses intercept Israeli strikes in vicinity of Damascus, state media says
Updated 28 February 2024
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Syrian air defenses intercept Israeli strikes in vicinity of Damascus, state media says

Syrian air defenses intercept Israeli strikes in vicinity of Damascus, state media says
  • Syrian state media gave no further details about the attacks or the intended targets
  • Regional intelligence sources say Iran’s Quds Force and militias it backs have a strong presence in the Sayeda Zainab neighborhood

BEIRUT: Syrian air defenses intercepted Israeli strikes in the vicinity of the capital Damascus, state media said on Wednesday.
Syrian state media gave no further details about the attacks or the intended targets.
Pro-Iranian Lebanese television al Maydeen said a big explosion was heard in the heavily fortified Sayeda Zainab neighborhood of the Syrian capital where a major Shiite shrine is located. It gave no further details.
The Israeli military declined to comment.
Regional intelligence sources say Iran’s Quds Force and militias it backs, whose presence has spread in Syria in recent years, have a strong presence in the Sayeda Zainab neighborhood of southern Damascus where Iranian backed militias have a string of underground bases.
Iran has been a major backer of President Bashar Assad during Syria’s nearly 12-year-old conflict.
Its support for Damascus and the Lebanese group Hezbollah has drawn regular Israeli air strikes meant to curb Tehran’s extraterritorial military power.
Those strikes have ramped up during the Gaza war, with more than half a dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers killed in suspected Israeli strikes on Syria since December.


Will refugee wave from Sudan be a wake-up call for ‘fortress Europe’?

Will refugee wave from Sudan be a wake-up call for ‘fortress Europe’?
Updated 56 min 17 sec ago
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Will refugee wave from Sudan be a wake-up call for ‘fortress Europe’?

Will refugee wave from Sudan be a wake-up call for ‘fortress Europe’?
  • Deaths in Mediterranean show how migration route could easily turn into graveyard for people in search of a sanctuary
  • Europe is beginning to feel the repercussions of the coups and conflicts that buffeted Africa’s troubled Sahel belt last year

FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE: As the latest conflict in Sudan approaches its 12th month, the humanitarian situation in the country remains dire.

A combination of food, water and fuel shortages, limited communications and electricity, and sky-high prices for essential items has made life unbearable for millions of people. Medical care has been critically affected too amid severe shortages of medicines and vital supplies.

Under the circumstances, it was probably just a matter of time before the Mediterranean Sea turned from a migration route into a graveyard for Sudanese in search of a sanctuary.

The news of 13 Sudanese perishing and 27 more going missing when a small boat capsized off the Tunisian coast on Feb. 8, is the latest tragic chapter of that ongoing saga.

As the crashing waves of the Mediterranean claim yet more lives, however, a pressing question looms: How will Europe cope with a new wave of asylum seekers and refugees?

Nearly 6,000 Sudanese arrived in Italy last year, most of them displaced by the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces that erupted in April. This year, that number will likely be much higher.

Sudanese girls who have fled from the war in Sudan gather under a shade at a Transit Centre for refugees in Renk. (AFP/File)

Europe is also beginning to feel the consequences of last summer’s coup d’etat in Niger, particularly given the country’s historical role as a transit route for migrants from West Africa crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

European leaders have already expressed concern about potential new waves of refugees. Earlier this month, Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said in Rome that “Sudanese refugees are no longer stopping in Egypt but heading for Libya and from there coming to us.”

With nearly 6 million people internally displaced by the current conflict in Sudan and another 1.5 million being hosted by neighboring countries, UNHCR head Filippo Grandi anticipates further movements toward Libya, Tunisia and across the Mediterranean.

“When refugees go out and they don’t receive enough assistance, they go further,” he said after visiting Sudan and Ethiopia earlier this month.

Grandi spoke of the potential consequences if a ceasefire agreement is not signed promptly, explaining that the war in Sudan is becoming increasingly fragmented, with different factions controlling different parts of the country.

“Militias have even less hesitation to perpetrate abuse on civilians,” he said, suggesting that continued war crimes and human-rights violations could trigger further displacement.

As grim and foreboding as Sudan’s immediate future may be, the two feuding factions “seem to favor a fight-and-talk scenario, where the conflict continues both on the battlefield and at the negotiation table,” Kholood Khair, a Sudanese policy analyst, told Arab News.

Armed Sudanese civilians wave weapons and chant slogans as they drive through the streets of Gedaref city in eastern Sudan. (AFP/File)

She said the optimism generated by the recent Manama talks in Bahrain was tempered by the realization that the meeting served just as an initial step, requiring further persuasion by international mediators through coordinated efforts — not the current status quo of competition over mediation venues and strategies.

“Europe has started to wake up to the reality,” Khair said. “Also, the appointment of a new special envoy to Sudan by the US with a potentially different approach is promising.”

Over the past decade, the EU has sought to shift the responsibility for preventing irregular migration onto countries like Sudan, utilizing a policy that, on the surface, aims to combat smugglers and traffickers.

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The so-called policy of externalization of Europe’s borders — building legal, procedural and often coercive walls in neighboring states to stop migrants leaving to enter Europe — has been controversial since its inception.

Critics fault the policy for its perceived reliance on state-centric approaches, saying that this aspect often ignores or even contributes to violent conflicts.

Sudan, with its porous borders and strategic location adjacent to Libya and Egypt, has been in the crosshairs of EU migration authorities before the eruption of the latest conflict.

Nearly 6,000 Sudanese arrived in Italy last year. (AFP)

Analysts say the EU’s demands for migration control on Sudan were delegated to proxy militias with a history of causing mass displacement themselves.

Whatever the merits and demerits of Europe’s externalization policies, Sudan, already host to one of the highest numbers of internally displaced people globally, is facing a dangerous descent into warlordism.

The UN says at least 12,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far, although local doctors’ groups say the true toll is far higher.

Against this backdrop of violence and suffering, analysts say the EU’s border externalization policy is, far from being strategic, actually short-sighted.

According to Franck Duvall, senior migration researcher at Germany’s Osnabruck University, beneath the veneer of fighting human trafficking lies the objective of keeping migrants as far away from EU borders as possible, sidestepping international obligations to protect the rights of refugees and migrants.

INNUMBERS

• 6m People internally displaced by Sudan fighting since April 2023.

• 1.4m+ People forced to flee into neighboring states during this period.

• 409,000 Sudan-hosted refugees forced to return to their home countries.

Source: UNHCR

“The EU’s primary strategy revolves around containing refugees within the region, allocating funds — 160 million euros since 2016 — to support internally displaced persons and host communities within Sudan itself,” he told Arab News.

“To this end, the EU has also reached the agreement with Egypt to stop Sudanese refugees from moving on to the EU’s border.”

Duvall added that “for a long time, the EU has even collaborated with militias in Libya and the regime in Tunisia to stop Sudanese from seeking protection in Europe.”

Anticipating an increasing number of refugees, EU leaders have also quickly made controversial deals with European countries outside the EU bloc.

Sudanese refugees who have fled from the war in Sudan get off a truck in Renk. (AFP/File)

On Feb. 23, the Albanian parliament approved an agreement that would see tens of thousands of asylum seekers rescued from the Mediterranean held in Italian-run processing centers in Albania.

According to critics, the geographical displacement, occurring beyond European territory, conveniently allows the EU to turn a blind eye to these violations.

Moreover, they say, the emphasis on containment not only obstructs the free movement of people within the region but also diverts resources from development priorities, prioritizing securitization over genuine progress.

Kilian Kleinschmidt, a Tunisia-based migration expert and former UNHCR official with extensive experience, advocates for a paradigm shift. He says newcomers in Europe should be integrated into the workforce from the outset, bypassing prolonged bureaucratic processes.

“We are losing a lot of energy and time and money in this triage, and we need to really be much more pragmatic,” he told Arab News.

“Opening up space for the freedom of movement is not going to create a massive wave, not what we think. It should be balanced and combined with substantial investment in the African continent.”

Kleinschmidt believes the Mediterranean should be a symbol of shared responsibility and proactive solutions rather than a watery grave for those seeking refuge in Europe.

A South Sudanese returnee stands next to a boat loaded with belongings from families who have fled the war in Sudan. (AFP/File)

He says the case for the establishment of special economic zones in Africa is not just about addressing migration challenges, but also “about fostering economic growth, stability, and improved living conditions.”

As Europe grapples with a demographic decline and the continued need for a labor force, many officials and humanitarian actors say that embracing pragmatic approaches such as integrating newcomers into the workforce from the beginning will not only benefit migrants, but also contribute to the vitality of European economies.

The Sudan conflict, in a sense, underscores the urgency of a comprehensive, humane, and forward-thinking approach that transcends borders and prioritizes the well-being and aspirations of individuals seeking a better life.