A year ago, while I resided in Israel, I witnessed first-hand the dire consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the 11-day war of May 2021 and the subsequent wave of terror attacks in Israel in 2022. It was not unusual; things went back to normal fairly quickly. A tragedy of this magnitude, however, could not have been anticipated. Israel has faced an unprecedented level of terrorism and violence perpetrated by Hamas and its affiliates, making it the most extensive assault on Israel since the Yom Kippur War in 1973, precisely 50 years ago.
On October 7, Hamas unleashed over 3,000 rockets upon Israel whilst a significant number of Hamas terrorists entered several Israeli towns, proceeding to kidnap and murder Israelis indiscriminately.
Shortly after noon of that same day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of war and initiated an IDF operation codenamed ‘Swords of Iron.’ It is reported that more than 900 Israelis have lost their lives, with thousands sustaining injuries, including hundreds in critical condition. Furthermore, hundreds of individuals have been kidnapped and taken as hostages in Gaza. In response, Israel has deployed heavy artillery, the heaviest as of yet, resulting in the deaths of around 700 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
Hamas’ strategic motivations are as of yet unclear. However, they most likely lie in wanting to put Israel’s weak points on display.
Firstly, Hamas may have believed that Israel’s recently fragmented political situation would have made its response weaker. The commander of Hamas terrorist operations, Muhammad Deif, described this attack as a “great revolution,” signalling that it was the beginning of a broader and more intricate plan that Israel could not prepare for. Indeed the planning of the attack, unprecedented in scale, was able to go unnoticed by Israeli intelligence.
Secondly, attacking Israel in such a violent manner may allow Hamas to show the Palestinian people that the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is weak in comparison. Ramallah’s inability to prevent the normalisation of Arab-Israeli diplomatic ties has led to deep frustration among Palestinians both in Gaza and in the West Bank, allowing Hamas to find fertile ground for support. Dissatisfied with Israel’s apparent acceptance by various Arab nations, many Palestinians seek a radical response, and Hamas offers that with its primary objective: destroying Israel and replacing it with an Islamic Caliphate, as stated in their Charter. A two-state solution is not even contemplated. Widespread support for Hamas has translated into the radicalisation of a large part of the Palestinian cause–Hamas’ atrocities bring to mind the barbaric acts committed by terrorist groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda.
A third strategic motivation may be to create such chaos that other radical groups may be tempted to enter the conflict, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon. This could lead to a dangerous scenario where Iranian proxies may feel they have a green light to attack Israel from all fronts. If that were to happen, Israel will undoubtedly respond the way it has done in Gaza due to its goal of deterring future attacks. This scenario could lead to the direct involvement of the United States.
Finally, and most importantly, while it may be challenging to think of the geopolitical implications at such times, it is essential to recognise that if the objective of Hamas was to impede the Arab-Israeli diplomatic normalisation process, it has likely succeeded. This war will undoubtedly damage diplomatic relations with Arab countries, as Arab nations have probably recognised that neglecting the Palestinian cause could allow Iran to monopolise the movement and radicalise it even further. Even if Arab governments and regimes were to stay as neutral as they possibly could, Arabs and Muslims across the world may demand action from their governments against Israel. In a volatile region, political dissatisfaction could translate to political loss-some leaders may not be able to withstand pressure.
Iranian influence and control
The magnitude of the attack suggests that Hamas did not act alone. Hamas possesses only a rudimentary arsenal of rockets and conventional weaponry that pales in comparison to Israel’s military capabilities. The meticulous orchestration of this attack, characterised by its element of surprise, strongly suggests Iran’s logistical support and involvement in the planning of this violence. Tehran’s ultimate goal is that of destroying Israel, or at least severely weakening it, which is why Iran could give Hezbollah the green light too.
Hamas and the Palestinian cause serve as pawns in a larger Iranian strategy. Iran aims to demonstrate the extent of its influence over Hamas and other terrorist groups, regardless if they are Sunni or Shiite, to Israel and its Western allies. As aforementioned, the Palestinian cause, now mostly championed by Iran following the distancing of Arab countries, serves as a focal point in this geopolitical manoeuvring.
What could happen next?
Israel is currently devising and implementing a response aimed at neutralising Hamas’ capabilities and curtailing Iran’s support after the surprise attack. It will undoubtedly be an extensive and prolonged response—disproving Hamas’ and their allies’ thought that they could take advantage of the apparent political disunity of the country. Furthermore, Western countries’ reactions this time have deviated from the norm, with Western leaders explicitly endorsing Israel’s right to self-defence and categorising Hamas’ actions as blatant terrorism. Although the Palestinian cause has frequently found support in the West, recent terrorist acts by Hamas and Iran’s involvement may have seriously damaged the credibility of the Palestinian movement.
The IDF will continue to regain control of Israeli towns and cities while simultaneously targeting Hamas’ military posts in Gaza. Israel has already issued warnings to Gazans to evacuate towns and cities. However, such evacuations are unlikely due to Hamas’ practice of demanding its people stay put and act as shields against Israeli attacks.
Despite Hamas’ focus on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, their ideological stance aligns with that of ISIS and other Islamist terror groups. Such groups may now seek to exploit the ongoing crisis by targeting Jewish and Israeli people abroad or carrying out indiscriminate attacks in the West, due to Western governments’ support for Israel. This is a dangerous aspect that could lead to the return of lone-wolf attacks in Europe.
It is expected that Israel will attempt to eradicate Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the coming weeks. If this were to happen, what will replace them remains uncertain, but it is evident that without genuine Arab leadership, characterised by pragmatism and a commitment to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, radical factions similar to Hamas, supported by Iran, may fill the void. What is clear, however, is that Israel can never accept a neighbour who explicitly calls for its destruction and any attempts to do so will be squashed.
Limiting Iran’s influence, eliminating Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and deterring from carrying out attacks on its soil, are all essential steps Israel must take in preventing Gaza from remaining under the grip of radicalism and fanaticism which cannot, and will not, bring peace to anyone in the region in the foreseeable future.