Palestine issue

Hamas’ Offensive: Disrupting Middle East’s Regional Order

Gaza-based group Hamas has launched a massive terrorist attack against Israel, using land, air, and sea raids, killing hundreds of Israeli citizens and fracturing the state’s “aura of invincibility.” The Israeli security establishment was caught off guard by the surprise attack by Hamas, reminiscent of the Yom Kippur War 50 years ago, where a coalition of Arab states attacked Israel.

The attack was of unprecedented scale, with over 5,000 rockets fired within minutes, possibly overwhelming anti-missile systems. This comes at a time when Israel’s domestic politics are in flux, with the Abraham Accords from 2020 initiating normalization between the Arab world and Israel, a US-led push towards Saudi Arabia’s recognition of Israel in play, and a Saudi-Iran détente brokered by China. Hamas’ attack has catapulted the crisis to the top of the headlines both regionally and internationally, with one of its core aims: to puncture the narratives of a “new” Middle East (West Asia).

The Hamas, formed in 1987, differed significantly from Fatah, a rival group, by adopting a more democratic approach and implementing internal stability by controlling other Salafist groups. This marked the beginning of the new Hamas era, which aimed to use Palestine as a platform for their own agendas.

Gaza and the resistance against Hamas, a Sunni movement, have become a geopolitical tool for Israel’s neighbouring countries. Hamas, a Sunni movement, has found regional patrons in groups like Hezbollah, a Shia militia supported by Iran. These groups have used the Palestinian issue to achieve their strategic aims in the region and against Israel’s military supremacy backed by the West, particularly the US. Hamas’ 2017 document states that resisting the occupation with all means and methods is a legitimate right guaranteed by divine laws and international norms.

The scale and coordination of the attack put Hamas beyond the ambit of just a terrorist group, but a “quasi-military” force. The planning displayed is reminiscent of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or the LTTE in Sri Lanka, which had developed the contemporary blueprint of modern guerrilla warfare.

Regional powers, including Iran and Qatar, have offered support to the Palestinians, blaming the attack on Israeli actions over the recent past. Israel has attempted to open channels with both states to address this, but Saudi Arabia and the UAE have made more ‘ safe’ statements, calling for de-escalation and resumption of mechanisms towards Arab-Israeli peace. The escalation of the conflict between Israel and Palestine has been viewed by various regional powers, including Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Abu Dhabi.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) stated in September that resolving the Palestinian issue is crucial for normalizing relations with Israel. However, media leaks from the regional press and the US over a Saudi-Israel détente have highlighted more geostrategic demands such as the call for a US security treaty and delivery of a civil nuclear program. The Israeli response to Hamas’ terror strikes will be a decisive affair, potentially reshaping the trajectory of regional geopolitics in the near future.

Hamas’ calculations may not have been directly designed to break a potential Saudi-Israel thaw, but achieving that is one of the main aims of the patrons backing the organization. Much of the realpolitik in the region has been conducted in a ‘top down’ approach, with governments and monarchies rearranging friendships and rivalries according to their national interests.

The Arab Opinion Index survey of 2022 showed that 76% of respondents said that the Palestine issue concerned all Arabs, and 84% disapproved of their state’s normalizing relations with Israel. Interestingly, while many people in the region also disapproved of the Abraham Accords, they also approved of the ideation of strategic autonomy’, which diluted any major public condemnation or movements against the deals.

The impact of these developments will be multi-layered, with Israel being emboldened by expansive support against terrorism from most quarters, while the issue of Palestine could get a new lease of life, specifically in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia, UAE, Israel, and others must ensure that newer geopolitical and geoeconomic initiatives do not suffer a setback.