While the world’s eyes are on Israel and Gaza, there have been 250 attacks on seventy cities and villages in the northeast of Syria, with at least 65 dead and 265 injured. The Syrian government and the Russians have intensified their attacks on the civilian population in opposition areas in recent weeks. These are the most severe in about three years.
It is a clear example of how rulers take advantage of the fact that the world increasingly can only pay attention to one conflict at a time.
The Syrian-Russian attacks mainly targeted residential areas, public places, schools, hospitals, markets, and camps for the displaced, according to reports from rescue workers on the scene.
Meanwhile, protests against the Assad government continue as usual, in areas under government control. And again, without reaching the world.
The same goes for the Turkish attacks on areas controlled by Syrian Kurds. There, the infrastructure has been bombarded for weeks, with the Turks’ only excuse being that it feels the Syrian-Kurdish administration has ties with the (Turkish-Kurdish) PKK. Water pumps have been destroyed, and now water is being distributed house to house by tanker trucks. This type of news no longer reaches the media. Or if it does, it is buried under news from Gaza.
Turkey uses the fact that the world wears blinders also to rekindle the old conflict with Greece. It decided to annex the tiny island of Ladoxera, which is officially Greek. Since the Ottoman territory was divided in 1923, the Turks have claimed that dozens of Greek islands are actually Turkish.
The Turkish media are now even talking about a total of 152. Turkey has informed the Greeks that the waters around the island, which it calls Zourafa, are Turkish. The Turkish military has recently started an exercise there.
Outside the world’s view in Lebanon, Syrian refugees have become a target of chaotic attacks by civilians and thugs. They are beaten up in the streets, and robbed at illegal checkpoints. In some neighborhoods, Syrians therefore no longer go out in the evenings. Companies are afraid to send out their (often Syrian) delivery people.
The rule of law in Lebanon has been fragile for a while due to the steadily deteriorating economic and political situation, in which more and more people take the law into their own hands. Many see the one and a half million Syrians who sought refuge here as a major cause of the problems. Earlier this year, the Lebanese army already deported hundreds of refugees without valid documents; this gave thugs as well as civilians a reason to try to drive away the remaining ones.
The fear among many Lebanese is that this violence will increase if Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah becomes involved in the war between Israel and Hamas. And it is questionable who will be the target of the attacks then. The country is, after all, heavily armed and deeply divided.
There is just as little attention for Iraq, where many live in fear of an escalation of the conflict in Gaza. The attacks that Shiite militias carry out on American targets in Iraq and Syria have been slightly less unnoticed. According to some reports, at least 21 American soldiers have been (lightly) injured.
Iranian-backed Iranian militias are using the opportunity to (again) demand the departure of all American troops, who are in Iraq at the request of Baghdad, to help in the fight against the terror group ISIS.
The Iranian Minister of Defense Mohammed Reza Ashtiani has announced that if the war in Gaza does not stop, the attacks on American bases will increase. Iran sees the war as a good way to finally get the Americans out of Syria and Iraq, two countries that Tehran considers as its own provinces.
American security specialists predict that the number of attacks on American and Western citizens and institutions could increase in the near future. By lone wolfs, but also by groups like ISIS and Al-Qaida, and targeting those that are seen as linked to the conflict in Gaza. And also the number of attacks by Iran’s proxies, Shiite militias that Iran controls in Iraq and Syria, will only increase.
The US has already removed part of their embassy staff from Baghdad; the Netherlands and Canada did the same. They will certainly not be the only countries. Because Iraqi politicians use the conflict for their own agenda. Moktada al-Sadr, the imam who has millions of Shiite followers, who he has deployed several times as a means to threaten, demands the closure of the American embassy in Baghdad.
Some Iraqi parliament members demand that all countries that support Israel must leave their embassies in Iraq. The Iraqi government responds by deploying extra security, as the actions of the militias are outside its command.
The Americans are taking into account that they may also have to evacuate hundreds of thousands of American citizens from the Middle East. The UN in Iraq is also already looking at its evacuation plans. Several European countries have told their citizens to be ready for a possible evacuation.
Iraqi citizens are also worried about what an escalation of the war will mean for them. Will it stop at attacks on American targets? Will stray rockets make civilian casualties? Where will Iran deploy its proxies exactly, when, and how?
At the same time, the war continues in Ukraine. President Putin, well aware of the shifting media attention, has launched several desperate offensives that cost him a lot of troops. His ally, the Belarusian President Lukashenko is floating a test balloon by calling for a ceasefire. The war in Ukraine is going nowhere, he states. It’s time to sit down at the negotiation table and press the stop button.
Interestingly, similar sounds are coming from the Ukrainian military side. Perhaps this process has a chance now that the eyes of the world are so fixed on Gaza, in much the same way they were not so long ago on the war in Ukraine.
This total focus on that one conflict leaves a vacuum. In which a human rights violator like Iran can become the chair of the UN Human Rights Council, and dictators get space to commit war crimes almost unnoticed. But on the other hand, it can hopefully also create opportunities to cease lingering conflicts, because in this vacuum, the loss of face can be limited.