In the days since war broke out between Israel and Hamas on October 7, thousands of people have been killed and more than 1 million people have fled their homes in the Palestinian territory’s Gaza Strip, making this already one of the deadliest wars in Gaza’s history.
As travelers near and far watch in horror and sadness as violence rages on, many people with upcoming plans to travel internationally are left waiting, watching, and wondering whether it is still safe to do so.
Global insecurity surrounding the conflict has intensified to the degree that the U.S. State Department last week issued a worldwide travel advisory, citing “the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests” throughout the world. Consequently, the State Department is advising U.S. citizens traveling abroad to exercise increased caution.
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.
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 Israel-Hamas 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,” adds 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 antisemitism and voicing support for Israel.
In the wake of all these events, here’s what travelers should know.
What is the current situation in Israel and the Middle East?
On October 7, Hamas militants launched a deadly surprise attack in southern Israel, killing hundreds of civilians and capturing more than 200 hostages who are being held in the Gaza Strip, the Associated Press has reported. As war broke out in retaliation for the militant attack, at least 1,400 Israelis have been killed thus far, with more than 5,400 people wounded in Israel due to the resulting clashes. More than 6,500 Palestinians are thought to have been killed and more than 18,000 injured, as of press time. Israeli authorities cut off power, water, and fuel to Gaza, with two aid convoys finally having arrived in Gaza over the weekend (plus a third on Monday) bringing in food, water, and medical supplies.
As devastating as the crisis has already been thus far, “Things are about to get a hell of a lot worse,” predicts Zev Faintuch, a senior intelligence analyst for international security firm Global Guardian and a former Israel Defense Forces member. “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, via Lebanese Hezbollah, 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 Türkiye. For us it’s more the question of when, not if, at least with regards to unrest. Across the region the big question is does Hezbollah enter the conflict and if it does, we’re going to have a major regional conflagration.”
As of press time, concerns about a widening war in the region were growing, the Associated Press reported.
“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.
Still, Moro remains hopeful that the hostilities will not spill over into other countries within the broader region. “Regional states will seek to avoid direct involvement in the conflict unless their national security comes under direct threat,” says Moro.
Nevertheless, he adds, one small miscalculation by either side—for example, due to human or technological error—could lead to a rapid escalation and expansion of conflict.
Is it safe to travel to the Middle East?
In the wake of the upheaval, numerous flights to and from Israel have been suspended, including flights operated by United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and other major carriers.
While Ben Gurion International Airport currently remains open, the State Department is advising U.S. citizens that the availability of commercial flights to and from Israel has become extremely limited, and the U.S. government is facilitating charter flights for U.S. citizens, including on October 26 and October 29, seeking to leave Israel.
In its latest Israel travel advisory, the State Department warns that “terrorist groups, lone-actor terrorists and other violent extremists continue plotting possible attacks in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. Terrorists and violent extremists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities. Violence can occur in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza without warning.”
Security and risk management firm Crisis24 advises travelers to reconsider any nonessential trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories “until the situation stabilizes, particularly to central and southern Israel.”
“Fighting will almost certainly continue in Israel and over the Israel-Gaza border between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants,” Crisis24 states.
Tour operators with land journeys in the region and cruise lines with port calls in Israel have canceled or altered those departures. Global tour operator Intrepid issued a travel advisory that all tours in Israel and the Palestinian territories have been canceled, and G Adventures has canceled all of its Israel tours.
Athens, Greece–based cruise line Celestyal said that it is monitoring the situation and is temporarily canceling all port calls into Israel.
The State Department is also recommending that U.S. citizens in Lebanon make arrangements to leave the country “while commercial [air travel] options currently remain available,” adding that “we recommend that U.S. citizens who choose not to depart prepare contingency plans for emergency situations.”
Faintuch’s recommendation for Lebanon: “Get out now. If Hezbollah does get involved in the conflict, all transportation options [in Lebanon] go out the window instantly,” he says.
As for Iraq, “Definitely get out if you’re an American citizen,” says Faintuch.
The State Department notes that U.S. citizens in Iraq should monitor media reports and avoid protests and large gatherings. “U.S. citizens should be aware of the potential for demonstrations and protests related to the ongoing events in Gaza to spread rapidly throughout Iraq,” reports the State Department.
Security experts caution that Jordan, with its large Palestinian population, could experience an increase in protests condemning Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip.
“However, the nation is expected to refrain from direct involvement in the Israeli conflict, prioritizing national security concerns. Those planning to travel to Jordan should proceed with security precautions by avoiding any areas where protests are taking place and being aware of their location and surroundings at all times,” notes Moro of International SOS.
Moro advises that “traveling to Egypt right now should be relatively safe but it’s important to be vigilant and aware of surroundings when traveling.”
Right now, safety and security in Egypt “is a little bit better than in Jordan,” says Global Guardian’s Faintuch. That said, he warns about anti-Western sentiment, including in Egypt.
What about elsewhere in the Middle East, including nearby Gulf countries and Türkiye?
When it comes to the wider Middle East beyond the border regions with Israel, Moro advises Israeli nationals in countries across the Middle East and North Africa to “exercise caution and maintain a low profile in the coming days amid heightened tensions.”
As for U.S. travelers, “Currently, it is OK to maintain travel with standard security precautions in place to Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Türkiye, and the United Arab Emirates,” says Moro.
Philip Ballard, chief communications officer at group travel specialist HotelPlanner and a former anti-terrorism and force protection officer in the U.S. Navy, reminds travelers that when it comes to the Middle East, the region is very widespread.
“The Middle East is huge,” says Ballard, adding that “Dubai is 1,000 miles from Israel, and they have nothing to do with each other. Dubai is safe.”
Adds Faintuch, “We’re a lot less concerned about anti-Western sentiment in the Gulf. The societies there are a lot more integrated with our markets, our companies. But, the problem there is, just like anywhere else, if this conflict goes regional, if there’s any U.S. involvement, those countries could get hit by Iran.”
Is it safe to travel to Europe?
Beyond the Middle East, tensions have also increased globally, including in Europe where demonstrations and attacks have broken out in response to the Israel-Hamas clashes.
“Travelers should remain vigilant and anticipate heightened security in urban areas, tourist attractions, key government areas and public transport locations in the coming weeks,” notes International SOS.
In addition to concerns about backlash toward U.S. travelers in the context of anti-Western sentiment, security experts also advise Jewish and Muslim travelers to exercise vigilance amid possible further extremist attacks in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
On October 13, the French government elevated its security alert system to the highest level, “Emergency Attack” (Urgence Attentat), following a terror attack in the city of Arras in northern France during which a French teacher was killed, as reported by French news agency Le Monde.
“As a result, residents and visitors throughout France may see heightened security in public areas, including airports, public transport, places of worship, tourist sites, schools, major sports venues, and large commercial centers,” the U.S. Embassy in France reminds U.S. citizens.
The embassy is encouraging U.S. citizens in France to avoid demonstrations and areas with significant police activity, exercise caution around large gatherings or protests, monitor local media coverage for updates, keep a low profile, and notify friends and family of their whereabouts.
The Belgian authorities have “increased the threat level to four [which is the highest on a four-tier scale, indicating a ‘very serious’ threat] following an attack in Brussels. The general country’s threat level increased to three, indicating a ‘serious’ threat,” notes International SOS.
The U.S. Embassy in Belgium issued an alert about a large-scale demonstration in Brussels over the weekend, and reported that smaller demonstrations “are being reported with significant frequency.”
As with unrest in France, the embassy in Belgium is advising that U.S. citizens steer clear of any area where demonstrations are being held. The embassy also suggested keeping a cellphone handy and programmed with local emergency numbers (for Europe-wide emergencies, dial 112; the Belgian police can be reached at 101), while remaining alert and vigilant including in popular tourist locations.
What is the current global security outlook?
According to Global Guardian’s Faintuch, “It’s been a long time since the world has been the way it is right now.”
He observes that since the fall of the Soviet Union, the world has been mostly devoid of interstate conflict up until last year when Russia invaded Ukraine. Says Faintuch, “We now live in a very different world—Ukraine yesterday, now Israel and the Middle East, but this could also be China and Taiwan tomorrow. When it comes to big events like this, they have a tendency to cascade. The global security order is fraying. The world is fundamentally different than it was pre-COVID.”