Israel-Hamas Conflict: Risks to Journalists and Media Crews

The Israel-Hamas conflict has presented numerous new challenges to journalists within Gaza and Israel, including severe physical risk and new measures regarding censorship. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 37 journalists reporting from within Gaza have already been killed and dozens more injured.  

There are numerous reports regarding a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). Due to shortages of this within Hamas, there is also a realistic possibility that any PPE will be appropriated by Hamas whilst the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) sustains its strikes on the Gaza Strip. While IDF often declare their strikes on specific targets, there’s a risk that such information is sometimes withheld by Hamas to increase the chances of civilian deaths which will then be used to support their narrative and be used as part of their information campaign.  

Additionally, the indiscriminate firing of crudely made rockets by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) carries the risk of these projectiles landing unpredictably, endangering journalists and civilians alike. These rockets are also prone to malfunction, with some estimates suggestion that 40% of them fail to operate as intended, often resulting in unpredictable rocket detonations within Gaza.  

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Journalists in the region have also faced physical assaults, detentions, intimidation, as well as cyberattacks and censorship, not only in Israel but also within the Palestinian territories, encompassing Gaza and the West Bank. Examples have included Israeli journalists being attacked within Israel itself by the far-right after expressing solidarity with Palestinians or BBC Arabic reporters being searched and held at gun point by Israeli police. It is almost certain that the risk to journalists has increased as a result of the IDF’s ground offensive into Gaza. The IDF have encircled Gaza City and will employ the use of heavy shelling, mortars and other forms of indirect fire. Hamas will use their tunnel network to ambush the IDF and use weaponry designed to damage or destroy IDF armoured vehicles such as rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank guided missiles. This transition to urban warfare will escalate the fighting within northern Gaza and will present grave risk to any journalist operating near the line of contact. As Hamas and other militants will adopt guerrilla warfare and a use of ambush tactics, predicting where fighting will occur will be almost impossible and fighting could erupt almost anywhere in close proximity to known IDF positions. 

Since the start of the conflict there have been concerns that Iran will order its proxy forces throughout the Middle East to attack Israel or US personnel and interests. The most capable of Iran’s Shia proxy groups is Lebanese Hezbollah, who maintain a very capable arsenal of Iranian supplied precision weapons such as short-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles.   

To date, Hezbollah have conducted border skirmishes with the IDF in northern Israel, using drones, anti-tank guided missiles and shelling. This has led to the evacuation of several settlements in Israel near the border with Lebanon.  

However, this fighting has so far been contained to the border region. On 3 November, Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, broadcast a speech from Beirut, Lebanon. Nasrallah stated that Hezbollah had no prior knowledge of the Hamas attacks on Israel, but suggested that Israel had encouraged them. He continued to warn Israel that a pre-emptive strike on Hezbollah would be a huge mistake and that Arab nations are asking Hezbollah to not become involved, on a daily basis. He finished by indicating that Hezbollah’s next moves will be determined by two factors, firstly how the situation evolves in Gaza and secondly, how Israel acts towards Lebanon. The current consensus is that Hezbollah will not get involved for now, beyond border skirmishes. This is partly due to a huge augmentation of US and NATO forces in the region that is likely deterring Hezbollah. However, both Iran and Hezbollah likely have a threshold for IDF activity, and if the threshold is perceived to have been reached, there is a realistic possibility that Hezbollah will strike targets deeper into Israel. 

The best-case scenario is that the IDF’s sustained occupation and strikes on Gaza is so disproportionate that it forces Hamas to release hostages under the promise that the IDF withdraw from Gaza. Whilst the IDF is reticent to withdraw from Gaza until it has fully destroyed Hamas, there is a chance that they buckle to Western pressure, especially with sustained pro-Palestine protests throughout the West starting to influence key decision makers. 

The worst-case scenario is that IDF action triggers attacks across the region from Iranian-backed proxies such as Hezbollah and the Houthi Movement. Such a scenario, although currently deemed unlikely, would entail attacks not just targeting major population centres and strategic targets throughout Israel but also against Western interests throughout the region. This would likely entail Popular Mobilisation Forces in Iraq attacking US bases, Hezbollah opening a northern front with Israel and the Houthi Movement targeting positions linked to the US and the Saudi-led coalition which has been at war with the Houthis. The latter would likely involve missiles and drone attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as demonstrated by the Houthis before.  

This scenario is currently assessed as highly unlikely due to the force overmatch afforded to the US and its allies, also because it could trigger attacks on Iran itself which would be disastrous for the regime.  

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