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What did Hamas hope to achieve from its attack?

Image Credit: Agencia EFE
What did Hamas hope to achieve from its attack?

Hamas’s key objective has remained the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Earlier this year, Hamas called on the Palestinians in the West Bank and other areas to rise and join the fight against oppression. That specific call to arms might have been an attempt to reclaim the Palestinian narrative. Besides, the lack of faith among the general population in the Palestinian Authority’s leadership under President Mahmoud Abbas may have prompted the call to action. Also, Hamas and other Palestinian liberation groups with militant or armed wings engage in recurring conflicts with the Israeli military to bolster support in the Palestinian territories. More importantly, they aim to remind the Arab world of the group’s relevance while reinvigorating the global significance of the Palestine issue. Experts like Khaled Elgindy, who is a Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute, believe that another reason for the attack on October 7 could be to bring the Palestinian issue back to the international stage, post Abraham Accords. Hamas has indeed redirected the attention of the global media towards the Palestine issue.

Another aspect to note is the timing of the attack. It was undertaken at a time when there was further expansion of relations between Israel and the Arab world, specifically between Saudi Arabia and Israel. At the end of September, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the Prime Minister of Israel stated they were making headway on a deal to normalise relations between the two Middle Eastern states. Due to Israel’s disproportionate reaction to the October 7 attack, public response in the Middle Eastern states is at an all-time high against it, making the normalisation complicated. However, that seems difficult now, with public response in the Middle Eastern states at an all-time high against Israel because of its disproportionate reaction following the attack of October 7. Hamas’s primary goal is an independent Palestinian state. However, the West Bank is still occupied, and Gaza has been under blockade since 2007. The current far-right government in Israel is pursuing policies that encourage violence and permit settlers to desecrate places of worship. The increasing incidence of settler violence has worsened the desperation of the Palestinians.

The October 7 attack has changed the political landscape of the Middle East and the regions surrounding it as more and more people around the world are calling for a ceasefire and protesting the disproportionate response doled out to the Palestinians by Israel.

Hamas may have wanted to shift the current status quo in their favour with the recent attack, hoping to gain some traction for the formation of a Palestinian state. The situation became graver when Israeli forces started ground operations inside the Gaza Strip on October 28, with the UN warning of it becoming a humanitarian disaster. The Israeli blockade of Gaza morphed into a complete siege which stopped food, medicine, and clean drinking water.

On the other hand, the outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas has also caused the foreign policy of the United States (US) in the Middle East to be upended, as it has shown the failure of the Abraham Accords. The accords were the cornerstone of the current and previous administrations’ Middle East policy as they used a lot of political capital and resources for the accords. It was one of the policies of the Trump Administration, spearheaded by his son-in-law and National Security Advisor (NSA) Jared Kushner, which the Biden Administration carried over. However, there can be no Middle Eastern peace deal without first resolving the Palestinian issue. Just ignoring the Palestinian cause like the two recent American Administrations did, with the assumption that Palestinians would eventually give up and accept their suffering without putting up a fight, clearly did not work. The US was operating on that same assumption, with the current NSA, Jake Sullivan, stating on September 29 that “The Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades.” According to Yousef Munayyera, a non-resident senior fellow at the Arab Center Washington, the Middle Eastern governments had been cautioning the US to pay attention to the Palestinian issue. Still, the current US Administration chose to ignore the dire situation.

Daniel Levy, the former Israeli peace negotiator and the President of the US/Middle East project, believes that the Abraham Accords were planned and implemented in such a way as to keep the status quo between Israel and Palestine in place. This continues to have a negative effect on the security of all states in the region. It has also “inflated the hubris of the Israelis and nurtured the failings of the Israeli system,” which we saw during the Palestinian attack.

One thing is now sure: Arab states are facing backlash from their populace for not acting in support of Gaza, and the countries which had recently established ties or have had relations with Israel had to stop protesters from marching to Israel’s Embassies after the attack on the al-Ahli hospital. The Israeli ground incursion and unrelenting and indiscriminate bombing from the air have galvanised the Arab street against Israel. At this time, no Arab leader, no matter how popular, would be so imprudent as to talk of normalisation or establishing ties with Israel. These events have put an indefinite pause, if not outrightly tanked, any hope of Saudi Arabia and Israel establishing diplomatic relations.

Hamas has also been successful in busting the myth of the Israeli Defence Force’s (IDF) invincibility. IDF, which is arguably the most sophisticated and hi-tech military in the Middle Eastern region, was bested and held at bay for at least two days by a militia. All of Israel’s surveillance technology and capabilities were unable to detect the low-tech approach Hamas took, using tunnels, paragliders, bulldozers and explosives to breach the border wall and fence. It was a massive failure of intelligence on Israel’s side. Gaza is a small strip of land. It is bordered on one side by the Mediterranean Sea, Israel on two sides, and Egypt on the other. There is only one crossing into Egypt; all others are with Israel, which monitors all sea traffic. As mentioned before, Gaza has been under a blockade since 2007 and is constantly monitored via drones and other means. While outposts of the IDF line the border and all the resources mentioned above are at their disposal, Israel was unable to detect the forthcoming attack. At some point in time, before the attack, Hamas must have tested the paragliders they used on October 7. It sounds incomprehensible that Israel was unable to pick up on the developments despite all the technology it has deployed to monitor the Strip.

Another pertinent question is regarding the initial stages of the attack; when Hamas came through the wall, it is unclear where the IDF was. How was Hamas able to attack the outposts, the bases along the border with Gaza, and the settlements? A former senior military official said it was a complete operational failure. It took the IDF approximately two days to recapture most of the territory that the Hamas fighters had seized. Fighting continued in some settlements even after that.

With Israel’s indiscriminate bombing and its ground invasion into the north of Gaza are underway, and the death toll of those in Gaza has risen above 15,000, with the majority being women and children. A humanitarian truce or ceasefire, brokered by Qatar, took effect on November 24 and has now entered its seventh day, being renewed minutes before its deadline. Prisoners have been exchanged. The cease-fire has also given some relief to the residents of Gaza, but they have been stopped from returning to Northern Gaza. Israel has also stepped up raids and arrests in the Occupied West Bank and has arrested almost as many Palestinians as it has released in the seven days of the ceasefire. Without a doubt, the October 7 attack has changed the political landscape of the Middle East and the regions surrounding it as more and more people around the world are calling for a ceasefire and protesting the disproportionate response doled out to the Palestinians by Israel.

Syed Zulfiqar Ali

Syed Zulfiqar Ali has completed his Masters in Defence & Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University, and is currently serving as a Research Associate at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.

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