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Digging into the Israeli-Hamas war's implications for the broader region


Earlier today, the leader of the Lebanese political party and militant group Hezbollah gave televised remarks - his first public address since the war between Israel and Hamas began nearly a month ago. Hassan Nasrallah boasts about Hezbollah's support for Hamas and suggests that a wider conflict is possible. I want to bring in Bruce Riedel. He's a former CIA analyst and a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution's Center for Middle East Policy. Welcome.

BRUCE RIEDEL: Thank you for having me.

SUMMERS: Thanks for being here. This speech was widely anticipated not just by those in the Middle East, but, of course, around the world. What stuck out to you?

RIEDEL: What struck out to me was that he strongly endorsed Hamas and sided with it but went out of his way to say Hamas' October 7 attack on Israel was a purely Palestinian affair. I think what this means is that Hezbollah is going to let the situation along the border with northern Israel be tense, to have occasional firefights, but it will not boil over into full-scale war as happened in 2006.

SUMMERS: I think that there are many folks out there who fear the idea of this conflict spreading. What type of consequences could that have for the region?

RIEDEL: It's already spread. We had a conflict in Gaza. We now have a conflict in Gaza and a conflict in the West Bank. The conflict in the West Bank is not as intense, but there is extremely high tensions in the West Bank. And in some ways, the West Bank is already in the first stages of a third intifada. But it could also spread to Lebanon. This is an extremely tense and volatile region. Potentially, this conflict could spread further.

One possibility is, of course, Jordan. Jordan is a country where 80% of the population are of Palestinian heritage. The Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty is not popular in Jordan. Overwhelmingly, the Jordanian people would like the king to break diplomatic relations with Israel. That's a possibility, too, and it is a very dangerous situation.

SUMMERS: From - based on what you have seen and your knowledge of the region, how likely do you think it is that we could soon see this become a wider conflict - that we could see Hezbollah fully enter the war?

RIEDEL: It's very unpredictable. You know, a single incident could set things off. We know from reliable reporting that there have been some in the Netanyahu government who advocated a preemptive strike on Lebanon. Now, the United States has discouraged that, and Prime Minister Netanyahu appears not to have gone that way, but it is certainly a possibility.

SUMMERS: Much of the battle is taking place in Gaza, where the death toll has been in the high thousands and continues to climb. What do you think is next for its residents? What are you paying attention to there?

RIEDEL: I find this posture of telling Gazans they have to leave the northern half of Gaza interesting because it suggests that Israel would like to have a buffer zone in northern Gaza. Would that be a buffer zone controlled by the Israel Defense Forces? Who is going to actually administer northern Gaza? I suspect that the Israelis don't have clear answers to these questions and that they're looking and trying to find their way forward. As General David Petraeus famously said when we started the war with Iraq, tell me how this ends. We don't have an answer to the endgame story at this stage.

SUMMERS: We heard Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reject Secretary of State Antony Blinken's calls for a humanitarian pause. He essentially has said that Israel refuses any sort of temporary cease-fire that does not include a return of those over 200 hostages that were taken by Hamas following that October 7 attack. And so I guess my question to you is it suggests that this conflict could be ongoing for some time, and what consequences could that have for the broader region?

RIEDEL: The Israelis are talking about a war that will last months - not days, not weeks, but months. And I think it's important to understand just how enormous the shock of October 7 was for Israel. Israel lost over a thousand casualties on that day. They've never had a day like this in the 75 years of Israeli history. So they are particularly not likely to give up unless they get their hostages returned. And there's going to have to be a lot of diplomacy behind the scenes if that is going to happen. It's a very fluid and dangerous situation. And the longer it goes on, the worse it will get.

SUMMERS: That is Bruce Riedel, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Thank you.

RIEDEL: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.