Israel’s Neighbors

The decades-long Israel-Hamas conflict has entered a dangerous new phase since early October, when militants carried out the deadliest attack in Israeli history, and Israel launched a devastating bombardment of Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in response. As the humanitarian crisis worsens in Gaza and unrest grows in the West Bank, there are dangers that the conflict could affect states that border Israel and the Palestinian territories.



Egypt and Israel have fought multiple wars along their shared border, with Egypt occupying the Gaza Strip from 1948 until the 1967 Six-Day War, after which Israel gained control of Gaza and occupied Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The 1973 Yom Kippur War ended with a peace treaty in which Egypt became the first Arab state to formally recognize Israel, and Israel subsequently withdrew from the Sinai in 1979. Since then, Egypt has been one of Israel’s most important security partners in the region.

The relationship was tested following the 2011 Egyptian Revolution’s overthrow of longtime president Hosni Mubarak and the subsequent election of a government backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, from which the Palestinian militant group Hamas broke off. Although a 2013 military coup removed the Muslim Brotherhood from power, an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai has continued to trouble both countries.

An Israeli soldier secures an area near the border between Israel and Egypt, June 18, 2012. (AP)

Israel’s current border with Egypt is marked by a high-tech barbed-wire fence ranging from 5 to 8 meters in height and stretching 245 kilometers from Israel’s port city of Eilat on the Red Sea to the Gaza Strip. Egypt maintains its own barrier along its border with Gaza, which includes the only crossing in and out of Gaza not controlled by Israel. Egypt has often strictly restricted the Rafah Border Crossing, both as part of enforcing Israel’s blockade of the Hamas government in Gaza, and due to its own security concerns regarding the flow of weapons, militants and undocumented migrants across the border.



Jordan participated in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War against Israel and afterward occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel gained control of the territory after the 1967 Six-Day War, although Jordan continued to provide some administrative services before fully disengaging in 1988 and renouncing its territorial claims.

In this Nov. 13, 2019, file photo, a portion of the Israeli-Jordanian border is viewed through a barbed wire fence from Baqoura, in the Jordan Valley. (AP)

In this June 22, 1967, file photo, Palestinian refugees carry their belongings as they prepare to cross the wrecked Allenby Bridge over the Jordan River from the Israeli-occupied section of Jordan. In the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza Strip, 300,000 Palestinians fled, mostly into Jordan. (AP)

Since signing a peace treaty in 1994, Jordan and Israel have largely maintained economic and security cooperation, with all outstanding border issues settled. Today, Israel’s 482-kilometer border with Jordan has three crossings and is considered its most secure, notwithstanding the unresolved status of the West Bank. The Allenby Bridge, or King Hussein Bridge, provides the West Bank’s only border crossing point outside of Israel and is used by Palestinians traveling abroad.



After a 1949 armistice ended the Arab-Israeli War, the demilitarized border zone between Israel and Syria remained disputed, particularly regarding water rights around the Sea of Galilee. As a result of the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel gained control of the plateau known as the Golan Heights, and most Syrians living in the area, except several Druze communities, were driven out.

Today, Israel continues to occupy the strategically important Golan Heights, claiming the right to do so under its interpretation of U.N. Resolution 242’s stipulation for “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” The U.N. Security Council rejected this territorial claim in 1981. While the United States under the Trump administration recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights in 2019, the broader international community continues to regard it as Syrian territory.

Residents of the Golan Heights wave Syrian and Druze flags as they gather in front of a portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad during a protest against U.S. support for Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights, in March 2019. (AP)

The region has also experienced instability and occasional cross-border fire as a result of the Syrian Civil War, during which President Bashar Assad was supported by Iran and the Shia militant group Hezbollah in his violent crackdown on Sunni rebels. This led to a fracture of Syria and Iran’s alliance with Hamas, a primarily Sunni group that supported the rebellion, but ties were largely restored by 2018. Israel has officially remained neutral in the civil war but has carried out several strikes against Iranian and Hezbollah forces operating in the country.



Israel has a complex history with Lebanon’s various religious and political factions. Lebanon played only a small part in the 1948 and 1967 wars and did not participate in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. However, as Palestinian rebel groups began to use southern Lebanon as a base in the late 1960s, Israel began to launch retaliatory strikes on Lebanese territory and allied with Christian militias that committed massacres of Palestinians in the country.

In this Sept. 28, 1982, file photo, Israeli tanks rumble through West Beirut streets, having just left the West Beirut port area. (AP)

Following Israel’s 1982 invasion and occupation of Southern Lebanon, the Shia militant group Hezbollah was formed, attacking Israel Defense Forces and its allied forces in the region. Israel withdrew to the U.N.-recognized Blue Line border in 2000 but retained control of a strip of land known as the Shebaa Farms. Although it was occupied during Israel’s capture of the Golan Heights from Syria, Lebanon claims that the Shebaa Farms had always been Lebanese territory.

Smoke rises from Israeli shelling on the outskirts of the Lebanese village of Kfar Chouba, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. The shelling occurred during an exchange of fire along Lebanon's border with Syria's Israeli-occupied Golan Heights between Hezbollah fighters and Israeli troops. (AP)

The continuing dispute over the farms has been used as a reason for more attacks by Hezbollah, which has become a formidable and well-equipped adversary of Israel thanks to Iranian and Syrian backing. A 2006 raid sparked a retaliatory Israeli invasion and bombing campaign, and there have been periodic cross-border clashes in the years since. Following the surprise October 7, 2023, attack by Hamas on Israel’s southern border with the Gaza Strip, Hezbollah has launched rockets across the Blue Line and engaged in exchanges of fire with the IDF. Although Iran officially denies involvement, some reports indicate that the Hamas attack may have been coordinated with both Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Tension rises

With multiple unresolved territorial claims and heavily militarized zones, the borders of Israel and the Palestinian territories were already sites of tension before the recent violence. As the United States increases its military presence in the region, the concern is to prevent the conflict from escalating into a broader regional war.