Authors: Kevin T Sabu and Donn George Varghese*
The Israel-Hamas war coincides at a time of historic juncture with 50th Yom Kippur War Anniversary, Simchat Torah and Unprecedented severe internal crisis and national emergency that has been crippling Israel for the last several months, which saw nationwide protests over the Netanyahu Administration’s judicial reforms plans. Over 10,000 reservists including 400 reservist fighter pilots of Israeli Military as a mark of protest has already suspended their volunteer service. Israeli military plays a crucial role as a unifying social leveller of a divided Israeli society, the ongoing domestic crisis over judicial reformation had already downplayed the morale of the military personnel. Israel Defence Force Chief-of-Staff Lt-Gen. Herzi Halevi earlier this year had warned the Prime Minister Netanyahu that the current judicial overhaul controversy is dangerously harming the army’s unity and it is threatening Israel’s national security. Such predicaments within the Israeli Military risked the threat of the military’s cohesion, battlefield readiness and military’s ability to stabilise, this is clearly visible in the current standoff with Hamas.
Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades – the military wing of Hamas launched the attack based on 3-phased modus operandi. The first phase of 5000+ rocket strikes from Gaza was a distraction for the infiltration of Hamas into Israeli territories.
So, in the second phase, offensive front units of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades carried out land route infiltration in the backdrop of rocket strikes. They used explosives and bulldozers to break through the border fence and crossed the border with motorcycles and pickup trucks. Once infiltrated, the Hamas fighters started slaughtering the civilians and the IDF soldiers alike. They also kidnapped and took over civilians as hostages and transported them into Gaza. Many IDF soldiers and senior officers, both women and men were raped, tortured, captured, murdered, or taken as hostages in unknown locations deep inside Gaza. Abu Obeida, spokesman for Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades said dozens of soldiers, including some officers, were captured. He said the captives were being held in safe places and tunnels. Hamas Deputy Chairman, Saleh Al-Arouri in a statement confirmed that many Israeli prisoners including senior officers are kept as hostages and they will be used in a prisoner exchange to free Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails.
In the third phase, Hamas troops crossed the border in speed boats and motorised paragliders for the first time. In 2014, Shin Bet had arrested Khan Yunis a Hamas cell commander, Shin Bet then reported that, during interrogation, it was found that Hamas received training in Malaysia to carry out a cross-border attack using a powered parachute and in kidnapping soldiers. This modus-operandi were not used before by Hamas until now.
What drove Hamas to this attack?
The immediate catalyst was not driven by settler violence or desecration of Al Aqsa Mosque nor because of Gaza Blockade as Hamas claims but rather the immediate catalyst came out of the desperation of Hamas to derail the Israel-Saudi normalisation and geopolitics.
After the successful Abraham Accords during the Trump administration, the Biden administration kept its key focus to normalise conflicts and issues in the Middle East. This led to the three-way negotiations led by the United States for Israel and Saudi Arabia. The normalisation talks completed its primary state which has now developed towards the points for the neutralisation. This included the US support for the Saudi nuclear programmes and two state solutions in the Palestine issues. It must be noted that Saudi Arabia was even willing to raise oil output to secure a deal with Israel. Boosting oil production by Saudi Arabia was also a move against the consensus made between all oil producing countries including Russia (OPEC and OPEC+). On the other side the need for consensus of Palestine from the side of Netanyahu was kept on weight due to his far-right coalition members in cabinet.
Just like how second intifada was launched to de-rail the Oslo Accords, through this attack Hamas was aiming for Israel’s reactionary attacks on Palestine, which in turn would de-rail the Israel-Saudi normalisation process. This position is assumed from the initial responses from the side of Riyad after the attacks in Israel. This critical juncture seems to be in favour of Iranian interests, which considers any form of normalisation with Jewish state reactionary and regressive.
There will be numerous geopolitical questions that will surface as the result of present aggression and counter operations, most important among those will be that of Riyad – Jerusalem negotiations and possibility of the biggest breakthrough in the Middle East after the Abrahamic accord. At this moment it seems challenging due to mass destruction on the side of Israel and Gaza. This will be also challenging for the Biden’s 2024 presidential campaign, which was set to promote his role as successful mediator between Israel-Saudi.
Through this attack, Hamas was also aiming to stalemate the possible breakthrough in the reinstatement of the nuclear deal with Israel (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). It must be noted that after Israel declared war, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran was seen to blame Israel for the Hamas’s attacks as an aftermath of Israeli occupation, which prompts at highly likely stalemate in the Israel-Saudi normalisation efforts. This also questions the recently announced India – Middle East – Europe corridor that seems challenging the Chinese flagship project of Belt and Road Initiative. The core feature that was propagated around the new corridor initiative was that of security and peace in the regions where it passes through, but this seems now a challenging one. This can be also seen from the angle of possibility of Chinese intervention that may have been instrumentalized as a tool of offensive. On the other side this situation may further help towards the Chinese brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In addition, the arms, rockets, UAVs used by the Hamas were recognised as sourced from Turkey, Iran or North Korea which clearly opens the geopolitical composition behind Hamas.
*Kevin T Sabu of University of Leeds and Donn George Varghese of O P Jindal Global University.