The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Israel-Hamas war

New contingency plans needed to tackle fallout from the war in the Middle East

By Korea Herald

Published : Oct. 11, 2023 - 05:30

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Saturday's surprise attack by Hamas on Israel has escalated into a deadly war in the conflict-laden Middle East, which not only puts the region’s geopolitical order in turmoil but also adds to the deep uncertainty of global politics and the economy at large.

In response to Hamas’ incursion of unprecedented scale and preparation, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, said in a statement: “We are at war.”

More than 900 people were killed in Israel, while Hamas gunmen held about 150 hostages, according to the Israeli government as of Tuesday. More than 600 Palestinians were killed, authorities in Gaza said. Thousands of people on each side were injured and displaced, and the death toll is feared to mount as Israel and Hamas continue to exchange attacks.

For Korean policymakers, the fast-paced developments over Hamas’ massive attacks followed by Israel’s retaliation should be taken seriously in multiple ways. First, the war complicates the already volatile geopolitical dynamics that has been clouded by Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine. The US-led allies have been focused on helping Ukraine fight on against Russia since February last year. Now, they are required to ponder a collective strategy to defuse the military conflict surrounding the Gaza Strip.

Aside from the logistical difficulty of paying attention and providing resources to two war zones at the same time, the task of quickly softening military tension in the clash-prone region is immensely difficult, if not impossible. It involves a host of neighboring countries and military groups, as well as those nations with close diplomatic or economic ties with the Middle East.

The latest conflict could upend Israel’s rather successful moves in recent years to normalize relations with some of its neighboring countries in connection with Jewish settlements and Palestinian statehood. More important is the much-dreaded scenario that the war would spin out of control, dragging other nations into a collective clash.

The outlook remains, at best, murky. As expected, the US pledged to fully support Israel, but given the labyrinthine relations among the countries involved, it is anybody’s guess when there will be a breakthrough deal to suspend mutual attacks -- at least temporarily.

What’s certain is that the sneak attack of Hamas exposed Israel’s intelligence and security failure in monitoring Hamas militants. Although what exactly went wrong would be uncovered after the end of the fighting, media outlets around the world are already raising questions about why Israel’s supposedly intensive surveillance of Hamas activities did not work this time.

Israel’s failure of intelligence is a wake-up call for South Korean policymakers in charge of security and defense. It faces North Korea, which does not hide its determination to keep engaging in saber-rattling, spy activities including cyberhacking and threats of possible attacks against the South.

Compared with Hamas militants, North Korea has far more lethal weapons and systematic attack capability. Some critics claim that South Korea’s counterintelligence ability seriously weakened in 2020 when the Moon Jae-in administration stripped down the National Intelligence Service. The Yoon Suk Yeol administration earlier pledged to strengthen the role of the NIS but there has been no visible progress yet.

Another critical issue for Korean officials is the economic fallout. The Korean economy is already confronting high energy prices, high interest rates and the weakening Korean currency. The Israel-Hamas war could wipe out the government’s hope for an economic recovery toward the end of the year, especially if oil prices spike in a way that deepens a slump in exports and consumer spending.

On Tuesday, President Yoon Suk Yeol instructed the government to respond to external uncertainty factors related to the war, citing the possibility of higher inflation and higher interest rates. Finance Minister Choo Kyung-ho said the conflict can increase volatility in oil prices, noting the need to monitor markets and check contingency plans again.

Instead of just checking existing plans, policymakers have to devise a new set of contingency plans based on the shifting developments, as the country could find itself in a crisis on multiple fronts if the war expands in the Middle East.