Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza has begun. After three weeks of air strikes on the territory, the past few days brought a change—what the Israeli government is calling the second stage of the current war. Dozens of tanks and other armoured vehicles, along with infantry and engineers, have moved into two areas in the northern part of the strip. The plan, it appears, is to encircle Hamas forces in the north. The operation could take months or more. There is every reason to believe that the campaign will be “difficult”, as the government has warned: Israel’s leaders will have to balance four competing objectives; at some point, they will have to choose what they want most.
For now the intervention looks relatively small and focused. Take a read of our analysis of this weekend’s military moves: I don’t see these as a prelude (at least not yet) to a massed assault to overwhelm the entire urban area. It may be that a salami-slice method, in which the Israeli forces take and hold small patches of territory, is less risky for them. And as long as there is doubt about the scale of Israel’s military moves in Gaza, then presumably some space remains for negotiating the release of more civilian hostages held by Hamas. In addition, the risks of a second front opening up, for example in southern Lebanon, are more contained.
We also published a story this weekend that I recommend, looking at the intensifying culture war around the world about the Gaza war, notably on the streets and screens in the West, as rival groups of sympathisers grow ever angrier over the conflict. Some on the left, in Britain, America and elsewhere, are horrified by the mounting death toll among Palestinians in Gaza, and show much less sympathy for the mass murder and kidnapping of Israeli civilians by Hamas on October 7th. Meanwhile, those who sympathise strongly with Israel can seem to dismiss the many deaths and suffering of Palestinians as mere collateral damage. As we write, “In a polarised age, lots of people infer their opinions from their political allegiance rather than the other way round.”
Beyond the conflict, we will turn to some other matters in the coming days. In news that will surprise precisely no one, Mike Pence has quit the race to become the Republicans’ presidential nominee. His campaign had gathered negligible popularity and money. What’s more interesting, I think, is what this confirms about the Republican Party as Donald Trump cements his grip on it. As we wrote in the latest edition, the party’s long history includes substantial periods of “paranoid nativism” in its approach to foreign policy, when it shunned free trade and adopted isolationism. It is a mistake, in other words, to see Mr Trump as an aberration.
America’s economy is booming. So why aren’t its bosses happier? We explain—and suggest it has a lot to do with interest rates. The Fed meets on Wednesday, and we’ll be asking how individuals and businesses will manage in a period of interest rates that are higher, for longer, than anyone had expected. One factor to consider is a shift in consumer behaviour, notably in America, as people are reluctant to venture out of their homes. We’ve dubbed this the age of the “ hermit consumer”—I predict you’ll be hearing a lot more about it.
This is also a week for pondering how the world might regulate the growth of artificial intelligence, as Britain hosts a global meeting on the subject. The fast-evolving technology is a boon for humankind, but AI also poses a range of threats—everyone agrees that some sort of control on the tech is needed, but no one knows exactly what to do about it.
Thanks for your emails. Peter Ellwood asks how, really, Vladimir Putin’s Russia might benefit from a war in the Middle East. My answer is that he could take advantage in myriad ways. A more distracted American government, unable to pay as much attention (or devote as many resources) to Ukraine would be the biggest risk. Add worries that a third party, China, might see a propitious moment for acting over Taiwan, and Ukraine’s most important backer (America) may be terribly entangled. A war involving Iran might mean disruption to supplies of oil, and thus soaring prices for it. For Russia, a big exporter of oil and gas, that’s a good thing. For democracies in Europe, also big backers of Ukraine, not so much.
My question for you this week concerns the global culture war. Are public divisions, and intensifying protests, over Israel and the Palestinians a serious domestic political issue for democracies around the world? It’s fairly rare to see voters (whether in Britain, America, India or anywhere) put foreign affairs high on their agendas. But could this be a moment? As ever, we welcome your thoughts at email@example.com.