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The fight between Israel and Hamas has implications for other countries.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The fighting in the Middle East is between Israel and Hamas, but the U.S., Iran and several other countries have a big stake in the outcome, and the moves they make could limit the current fighting or contribute to a wider battle. To break it down for us, we're joined now by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Hi, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right. Let's start with the U.S. How should we understand the U.S. approach here?

MYRE: So, Ailsa, there's really two parts. The first is just back Israel to the hilt. We've seen a very strong statement by President Biden. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Israel today. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will be there tomorrow. The U.S. is already sending weapons to Israel as part of this support package.

CHANG: Right.

MYRE: Now, the second part is to deter other actors from getting directly involved. President Biden offered one-word advice on that possibility - don't. Biden has also sent an aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald Ford, to the eastern Mediterranean. And the U.S. has given the green light to Israel for a major military operation in Gaza. But the U.S. wants to contain the conflict to avoid a wider regional war. I asked Brian Katulis of the Middle East Institute about the prospects that the U.S. might become directly involved militarily.

BRIAN KATULIS: It's hard to envision a scenario at this point that the United States military would directly get involved with boots on the ground or with airstrikes. You just want to make sure you have enough assets in place to prepare for any contingencies. But I doubt that they'd be used at any point.

CHANG: OK. That's the U.S. position for now. Let's turn to Iran. How much do we know about the role that Iran is or is not playing in all of this?

MYRE: Well, yeah, there's been a lot of talk. Was Iran directly involved? And so far, there's no evidence of that. But Iran's leaders are openly celebrating the Hamas attack on Israel. And really, I think the larger and more important point is that Iran has been the main backer of Hamas for decades, and this is part of Iran's policy to weaken Israel wherever it can. And that's why there's a close watch on the other big Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, which is a potent force in southern Lebanon. And it could fire rockets into northern Israel, as it has done in the past. Now, we don't know if Iran wants Hezbollah to get involved or not. But it's important to note Hezbollah's arsenal is much more powerful than Hamas. And so if it were unleashed, this would open a second front for Israel and could lead to a much wider regional conflict.

CHANG: OK. Well, let's talk about Egypt now. It shares a border with the southern end of the Gaza Strip. Could we see Palestinian refugees from Gaza flowing into Egypt, you think?

MYRE: Well, this question comes up every time there's fighting in Gaza, and Egypt's position is always the same. It keeps the border closed. Brian Katulis says Egypt has taken this position for a number of reasons.

KATULIS: They don't want to see a flood of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. And then second, they fear this is a backdoor way of actually ending the idea of a two-state solution.

MYRE: And by that, he means that Israel could effectively push the Palestinians out of the Gaza Strip into Egypt and then empty Gaza, which is a territory that the Palestinians want, for a future state. Now, that said, Egypt is facing pressure to provide a humanitarian corridor so food and medicine could get into Gaza. Perhaps the wounded could could get out that way as well.

CHANG: And what about Palestinian people in all this? I mean, the vast majority of them are civilians, and they aren't part of any of this fighting.

MYRE: Yeah. There are some 2 million Palestinian civilians in Gaza. They're just trying to survive under these horrific conditions, with Israeli airstrikes now taking place regularly and a ground invasion that appears imminent. And in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority is nominally in charge, but it's extremely weak. And as a result, the Palestinians are really spectators as this fighting plays out in Gaza. There could be unrest in the West Bank. We've certainly seen that before. And that, too, would further complicate the existing conflict.

CHANG: That is NPR's Greg Myre. Thank you so much, Greg.

MYRE: Sure thing, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Greg Myre
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.