Bepi Pezzulli
International counsel & foreign policy adviser

Hamas’ Assault: Shifting Tides in the Middle East

The morning of 7 October 2023 will be etched into the annals of history as a day of infamy. Hamas, in an act of unfathomable evil, launched a heinous assault on 22 Israeli border towns, leaving a devastating toll of over 1,400 innocent lives lost. This abhorrent attack, occurring during Simchat Torah, a pivotal Jewish festival, stands as the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war on Hamas, setting in motion the ‘Swords of Iron’ comprehensive military campaign in Gaza.

The current conflagration is only the latest occurrence in the intricate historical landscape of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It traces back to World War I, a period marked by alliances forged to expel the Ottoman Turks from the Levant. Post-WWI, the Sykes-Picot Agreement carved the region into British and French spheres of influence, setting the stage for the British Mandate over Palestine. The British Mandate, bolstered by the Balfour Declaration, envisioned a ‘national home for the Jewish people’, a notion the Arab world never accepted. The decades following the birth of Israel witnessed a continued web of conflicts, from the 1947-1949 war to the Six Day War in 1967, highlighting the perennial threat to the security and survival of Israel, a threat which still looms over.

Today, the major issue lies in diverse and conflicting Palestinian aspirations. Currently, the Palestinian narrative unfolds across four distinct communities, each with its own unique agenda.

The Palestinian Authority governs Judea and Samaria; however, its control over the populace is nominal at best. The democratic process has been hailed since 2006.

Hamas holds sway over the Gaza Strip and acts as a proxy of the Iranian Republic of Iran in its quest to erase Israel from the geopolitical map. Aided by the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Pasdaran, with the tacit support of Qatar, Syria, and Algeria, Hamas seeks to reshape the landscape of the Middle East.

Arab Israelis, numbering 1.5 million, self-identify as Palestinians and enjoy democratic rights within Israel’s borders. In a watershed moment, the Arab party Ra’am secured four Knesset seats in the 2021 elections, endowing it with considerable political influence. Party leader Mansour Abbas’ historic decision to join the Israeli coalition government underscored the vitality of Israel’s democratic fabric.

Jordan, too, hosts a substantial population of Palestinians, constituting a majority of its citizens. However, Jordan’s history, marred by the traumatic events of Black September in 1970, when the Palestinians attempted to topple King Husayn and seize control of the country, serves as a poignant reminder of the dangers posed by Palestinian aspirations within the Hashemite kingdom’s borders.

Harmonizing these disparate interests is a blocker, one that lies at the heart of the elusive two-state solution.

Evidently, the recent terrorist assault by Hamas bears deeper geopolitical undercurrents, revealing Iran’s vested interest in disrupting the momentum of the Abraham Accords. The potential inclusion of Saudi Arabia therein poses an existential threat to Iran’s regional influence, prompting its tacit support for Hamas. Meanwhile, the Biden Administration’s recalibration of US foreign policy towards China raises apprehensions about its impact on critical Israeli security interests.

Hamas, in the aftermath of its forceful offensive, confronts critical questions about its ultimate objectives. While the terrorists’ primary focus appears to be taking hostages as a deterrent, Israeli resolve remains steadfast. Hamas’ stated objectives include harming the reputation of Israel’s security might, forcing the release of Palestinian detainees, and advancing the ambition of an independent Palestinian state. However, navigating such an intricate terrain, particularly vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, has only made the road towards Palestinian statehood more elusive. Moreover, this terrorist assault sabotages an imminent Israeli-Saudi deal, poised to usher in normalized relations. This, in turn, threatens Saudi Arabia’s ambitious ‘Vision 2030’, a comprehensive plan aimed at diversifying the nation’s economy and reducing its dependence on oil. Riyadh took the hit. The contention with Iran for regional hegemony, thus, escalates.

The implications of this conflict extend far beyond the immediate theater of action. Israel, as a bastion of Western democratic values, becomes the frontline in a broader struggle against evil adversaries in Lebanon, Syria, and notably, Iran. The response of the Western world will invariably shape the course of action for these actors, prompting strategic recalibrations. The conflict between Israel and Hamas transcends borders, shaping the course of global relations. As decisions are made by stakeholders, the future contours of the Middle East and its impact on the world at large hang in the balance. The imperative for a decisive and strategic response against Hamas remains paramount. Then, isolating the Ayatollah regime in Iran will be necessary in the pursuit of enduring stability and security in the region.

About the Author
Giuseppe Levi Pezzulli ("Bepi") is a Solicitor specialised in International financial law and a foreign policy scholar. His research interest is economic statecraft. In 2018, he published "An alternative view of Brexit" (Milano Finanza Books), which investigates the economic and geopolitical implications of Brexit. In 2023, "Brave bucks" (Armando Publishing House), which highlights the role of private capital in the industrial policy mix. Formerly an Editor-in-Chief of La Voce Repubblicana; is a columnist for the Italian daily financial newspaper Milano Finanza; a pundit for the financial TV channel CNBC; and a Middle East analyst for Longitude magazine. He received degrees at Luiss Guido Carli in Rome (LLB), New York University (LLM), and Columbia University (JD).
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