Edited by TJVNews.com
The conflict in the Middle East that erupted on October 7th has left a trail of destruction and death in its wake, making it one of the deadliest wars in the history of the region. For travelers with international plans, this ongoing violence raises questions about the safety of traveling in the region. The situation has become so critical that the U.S. State Department issued a worldwide travel advisory, emphasizing the potential for terrorist attacks and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests around the world. In this article, we will delve into the current situation in the Middle East and its impact on travel.
The conflict that erupted in early October saw Iranian backed Hamas terrorists launching a deadly attack in southern Israel, resulting in a significant loss of life. More than 1,400 civilians have been killed, and close to 230 hostages are being held in the Gaza Strip. The situation has escalated to the point where the U.S. State Department has expressed growing concerns about the potential for a widening war in the region.
According to Zev Faintuch, a senior intelligence analyst for Global Guardian and a former Israel Defense Forces member, the situation may deteriorate further. If Israel enters Gaza and provokes a response from Lebanon, it could lead to a regional conflict that could involve several countries, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, and possibly even Gulf states, according to the Afar.com web site. AFAR is the award-winning travel media brand that makes a positive impact on the world through high-quality storytelling that inspires, empowers, and enriches travelers who care.
Faintuch also told Afar.com that, “At least that’s our expectation. Because Israel is going to go into Gaza at some point and if that elicits a response from Lebanon, then we have ourselves a regional conflict that would likely draw the United States in, could involve fighting in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, possibly even the Gulf states as well. And then mass rioting in Jordan and potentially Egypt, as well as Turkey. For us it’s more the question of when, not if, at least with regards to unrest. Across the region the big question is do Iranian backed terrorists enter the conflict and if they do, we’re going to have a major regional conflagration.”
“Israel’s ground offensive in the Gaza Strip would put pressure on Iran and its allied armed groups to respond. Lebanon and Syria will be most vulnerable to spillover of the conflict as pro-Iranian groups based in these countries would seek to retaliate against Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip,” Julian Moro, senior vice president and regional security director of global travel risk and security company International SOS, tells AFAR.
The State Department is also recommending that international travelers sign up for its Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), so that they can receive information and alerts should they find themselves in an emergency situation while overseas, as was reported by the Afar.com web site.
Afar.com also reported that Dan Richards, CEO of security and travel risk management company Global Rescue and a member of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board for the Commerce Department, says that given the State Department’s worldwide alert, the Middle East war, and possible terror threats, his company is seeing “an increase in traveler concern worldwide,” which is “most pronounced in the Middle East.”
“Terrorism and war in a country drives down traveler confidence in the entire region as travelers grapple with a dramatically different risk environment,” added Richards in a statement provided to AFAR.
In addition to the violent clashes taking place in Israel and Gaza, pro-Palestinian protests have broken out in cities across Europe, including in London, Paris, Berlin, and Rome, alongside vigils denouncing anti-Semitism and voicing support for Israel, the AFAR web site reported.
In the wake of all these events, here’s what travelers should know.
In response to the upheaval, many airlines, including United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, have suspended flights to and from Israel. While Ben Gurion International Airport remains open, the State Department warns that commercial flight availability to and from Israel is extremely limited, as was reported by Afar.com. It is facilitating charter flights for U.S. citizens seeking to leave the country, emphasizing the risks associated with travel in the region.
The State Department’s Israel travel advisory cautions that terrorist groups and violent extremists continue to pose a threat to tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets, and government facilities. The Afar.com report indicated that violence can occur without warning, and travelers are urged to exercise caution and reconsider nonessential trips to the region, particularly central and southern Israel.
Several tour operators and cruise lines have canceled or altered trips to the area, reflecting the safety concerns. Land journeys in Israel and the territories have been canceled, and port calls into Israel have been temporarily suspended by cruise lines, as was noted in the Afar.com report.
Lebanon: The State Department recommends that U.S. citizens in Lebanon make arrangements to leave the country while commercial travel options are still available. It’s important to prepare for emergency situations.
Iraq: Travelers are advised to leave Iraq if they are U.S. citizens. Protests and large gatherings should be avoided, and travelers should be aware of the potential for demonstrations related to the ongoing events in Gaza.
Jordan: Jordan could witness an increase in protests condemning Israel’s actions, given its large Palestinian population. Travelers are advised to exercise security precautions and avoid areas with ongoing protests.
Egypt: While travel to Egypt is considered relatively safe, travelers should be vigilant and aware of their surroundings. Anti-Western sentiment, albeit limited, is present.
Moro recommends that Israeli nationals in countries across the Middle East and North Africa exercise caution and maintain a low profile during these heightened tensions, the Afar.com report said. As for U.S. travelers, the situation varies from country to country.
According to Moro, travelers can currently maintain their plans with standard security precautions in place in several countries in the Middle East. The Afar.com report indicated that these countries include Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.
Dubai, situated approximately 1,000 miles from Israel, is often cited as an example of a safe destination within the region. Afar.com also reported that Philip Ballard, Chief Communications Officer at HotelPlanner and a former anti-terrorism and force protection officer in the U.S. Navy, emphasizes that Dubai is separate from the immediate conflict area and remains a secure travel destination.
Faintuch highlights that there is less concern about anti-Western sentiment in the Gulf countries. These societies have strong economic ties with Western markets and companies. However, the risk exists that these countries could be affected if the conflict escalates into a regional crisis, particularly with potential Iranian involvement, according to the Afar.com web site.
In the ever-evolving landscape of the Middle East, maintaining situational awareness is crucial for travelers. Situational awareness involves staying informed about the local conditions, being aware of your surroundings, and following relevant government travel advisories. When traveling in the Middle East or any area with potential security concerns, staying updated with the latest information is essential.
The safety of travel in the wider Middle East during the ongoing conflict depends on your destination and the specific circumstances. While some countries in the region are considered safe for travel with standard security precautions, the situation is dynamic and can change rapidly. Travelers are advised to stay informed, exercise caution, and be prepared for potential disruptions in their plans. Travel safety is paramount, and making informed decisions based on the latest information and government advisories is essential when exploring the broader Middle East during these turbulent times.