The Butterfly Effect

The conflict in Gaza and the wider security implications


Clients have, not unsurprisingly, been asking us about the conflict in Gaza and the implications for their operations and travellers in the Middle East and beyond. It’s not an easy question to answer however, some of the wider security implications are becoming apparent.

Clearly there are some immediate implications in the region, the potential for the conflict to extend beyond Gaza itself. The response of Hezbollah, somewhat muted so far, and the resulting implications for the Lebanon, instability in the West Bank and Jerusalem. These are direct and linear effects emanating from the conflict; the so called ‘ripple effect’.

More widely however, the implications are less predictable, events in Gaza sometimes triggering a complex chain of events with non-linear impacts; the so called ‘butterfly effect’, or chaos theory.

By way of example the conflict triggered a series of pro-Palestinian demonstrations in London which then triggered a counter protest over the Remembrance weekend. This led to a debate over the rights of protestors, the dignity of Remembrance and role of the police, resulting in the eventual sacking of the British Home Secretary, an ultimate outcome of events in Gaza which no one could have predicted at the start.

So, what other wider implications and effects are worth noting?

Firstly, there is of course the increase in threats to and harassment of Jewish communities and synagogues in the UK and elsewhere and the targeting of Israeli and US embassies by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. The recent arrests in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands of suspected terrorists with links to Hamas bear witness to this. The groups were reportedly tasked with planning attacks against Jewish Synagogues in Europe.

Secondly, there is the more worrying increase in the threat from lone actors and independent groups planning and conducting attacks across Europe. A lone actor attack in Paris resulted in the death of a German tourist and injuries to three others including a British national. While in Germany, two separate planned attacks have been disrupted targeting traditional Christmas markets in Hanover and Leverkusen.

As a result, the EU commissioner for Home Affairs has issued a wider warning citing ‘a huge risk of terrorist attacks in the European Union’ over the Christmas period  and beyond, including major sporting events such as the Paris Olympics and Euro 2024, which is due to take place in June.

Evidence has also emerged of Iranian attempts to exploit the conflict including the targeting of Jewish and Israeli interests, and use of private investigators and criminal groups to conduct reconnaissance and planning activities in Europe. According to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy over fifty such operations have been detected across the globe with a quarter of these in the UK. The Iranians have also been accused of attempting to inspire radical lone actors into conducting independent attacks too.

Other regional players are also being drawn in, with the Iranians reportedly  promoting action along the so called ‘Axis of Resistance’ which runs from Iran through Syria, and Palestine and includes the Shia groups in Iraq and the Houthis in the Yemen. The latter have recently mounted rocket and drone attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea and US and French Naval vessels have responded to these attacks escalating the conflict in the Yemen.

So, what does this mean in terms of overseas travel and project risk? Well, based on recent events we can identify four specific threat dimensions:

  • The direct effect of the conflict on countries bordering Israel and Gaza
  • Civil disorder, demonstrations and protests in major cities across the globe
  • The targeting of Jewish communities and Israeli interests particularly in Europe
  • The increased potential for lone actor attacks such as the one in Paris and the two planned in Germany but potentially against westerners around the world

So, what should you do?

Firstly, keep abreast of the situation and any wider effects either internally or through a risk management company and adjust your security planning in response to any significant developments.

Secondly, consider the four threat dimensions above and the implications for your organisation in terms of your international footprint; your travellers and projects in the immediate area, particularly Israel and Lebanon, being given special attention.

Thirdly, adjust your wider travel security guidance to reflect the current situation. Perhaps advising business travellers to Germany to avoid visiting the major Christmas markets for instance, or advising staff to avoid staying in hotels close to a US or Israeli Embassy and to avoid being caught up in any planned demonstrations that could lead to disruption or public disorder.

Fourthly, in terms of their personal security, make sure staff understand the evolving threat picture and the potential implications on specific travel plans, and recognise the importance of maintaining good situational awareness when in public spaces, bearing in mind the increased lone actor threat.

The lone actor threat is universal and by its nature hard to detect and disrupt. Due to events in Ukraine many western intelligence services have also been required to focus more of their resources on the Russian threat rather than counter terrorism which means their coverage of such groups and individuals has perhaps been reduced.

Hence we emphasise the importance of ensuring that your staff are well briefed, receive appropriate personal security training and are suitably supported when overseas, particularly if traveling to the Middle East.

For more information and advice, you can contact us at


David Curran MA CSyP FSyl, Chartered FCIPD