Last Wednesday, President Biden called for a “pause” to the war in Gaza. That is unlikely to happen. Forecasters at INFER currently give just a 3% chance of a ceasefire of 24 hours or more over the next month.
The ceasefire question is one of several forecasts related to the Israel-Hamas war that INFER forecasters are currently tackling. They are forecasting the likelihood of Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel, of Iran and Israel going to war, and more.
INFER forecasters’ pessimism about a ceasefire stems from the fact that they don’t expect Israel to achieve its military goals within the next month as well as from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s dismissal of a ceasefire so far.
What might make a ceasefire more likely? Pressure from the international community, for one thing.
“It would take tremendous international pressure (political and economical) to make Israel go for a ceasefire with Hamas [within the next month],” wrote INFER Pro Michal Dubrawski.1 The worse the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the more likely this scenario becomes, according to several forecasters.
Could a ceasefire be part of a negotiated hostage release? “[Israel] claims the main goal is releasing hostages faster so perhaps if that occurs a ceasefire is possible,” wrote INFER Pro Fionack.
However, some experts doubt whether either side in the conflict believes it would benefit from a ceasefire.
“I don't think Israel will accept a ceasefire until Hamas is eradicated. It can't,” said Jason Brodsky, the policy director of United Against Nuclear Iran, an advocacy group. “A humanitarian pause for a few hours would be most likely, but that's all,” he told INFER.
Experts have also questioned whether Hamas would agree to a ceasefire.
“In Hamas’s strategy, the more civilian Palestinians who are implicated in Hamas’s attack and suffer while the world is watching Israel’s response, the closer the group is to achieving these goals,” wrote Kirsten Fontenrose, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council. “Why would Hamas agree now to a ceasefire that would make Israel look reasonable—even benevolent? That would fall far short of its goals.” (Disclosure: I am a part-time editor at the Atlantic Council.)
How the Israel-Hamas conflict could affect the region
INFER forecasters believe that the conflict substantially lowers the chance of Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel. However, they still predict a meaningful chance that it will happen.
As of this writing, forecasters give a 9% chance that Israel and Saudi Arabia publicly acknowledge that they are resuming the normalization process over the next six months. They give an 8% chance that Saudi Arabia recognizes Israel’s statehood by the end of 2024—down from 15% in early October before Hamas’ attack.
“If the Hamas/Israel war is ended, somehow peacefully, within the next few months, then there is time for the Saudi/Israeli agreement to proceed,” wrote sepeskoe, an INFER Pro. “Otherwise, the Arab nation can't politically have direct talks with Israel. Saudis have to think that the Palestinians and Gazans in particular are on an acceptable path to peace.”
Brodsky, of United Against Nuclear Iran, told INFER that the conflict “may delay the normalization, but it won't derail it.”
As for Iran’s involvement in the conflict, INFER forecasters currently give a 2% chance of Iran launching missiles or an air strike against Israel in the next six months.
“The chances have increased given the risk of Iran overplaying its hand,” said Brodsky.
How might such a conflict begin? “If Israel appears to be winning the war with Hamas, and they effectively deter Hezbollah from launching incursions on another front, Iran may feel it's necessary to enter the fray to support their proxies in the Middle East,” wrote sepeskoe. (INFER Pro forecaster Scott Eastman explained in his forecast rationale why missiles are considerably more likely than an airstrike.)
Nonetheless, the prospect of a direct attack from Iran remains remote because it would invite major retaliation and because Iran is typically content to work through proxies like Hezbollah.
“Unless Iran is directly attacked I don’t see why they wouldn’t just continue using proxies (as others have noted, it wouldn’t make much sense to attack the west directly and incite a larger conflict),” wrote INFER Pro Fionack.
The most likely scenario, then, is continued fighting with little prospect of a ceasefire. The most escalated version of a regional conflict involving Iran remains extremely improbable, but according to forecasters, more likely than it was just a month ago.
1. INFER Pros are participants in our Pro Forecaster Program, who were selected based on their accuracy track record of at least 1 year on INFER or other similar forecasting sites or programs.