This weekend, Hamas launched an all-out assault on Israel, hitting the country with rockets, drones, and commando strikes. The death toll on the Israeli side is already approaching four digits and when the fog of war lifts that death toll is likely to increase. Hamas terrorists murdered Israelis indiscriminately, turning a music festival into a killing ground.
The Israelis have responded with their own assault on Gaza, which includes shutting off the power to the Gaza Strip. The loss of civilian lives among the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza is likely to devastating as well. Hamas is engaging of its usual tactics of placing military assets in protected locations like mosques and hospitals, daring the Israelis to attack.
This war represents a massive intelligence failure for the Israelis. The IDF thought that they had contained Hamas, and up to 19,000 Palestinians were commuting from Gaza to Israel to work. Former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk has a detailed analysis of what happened and why in Foreign Affairs that provides some much needed context. Indyk’s thoughts on why Hamas decided to strike are important here:
The Arab world is coming to terms with Israel. Saudi Arabia is talking about normalizing relations with Israel. As part of that potential deal, the United States is pressing Israel to make concessions to the Palestinian Authority—Hamas’s enemy. So this was an opportunity for Hamas and its Iranian backers to disrupt the whole process, which I think in retrospect was deeply threatening to both of them. I don’t think that Hamas follows dictation from Iran, but I do think they act in coordination, and they had a common interest in disrupting the progress that was underway and that was gaining a lot of support among Arab populations. The idea was to embarrass those Arab leaders who have made peace with Israel, or who might do so, and to prove that Hamas and Iran are the ones who are able to inflict military defeat on Israel.
The reality is that the Palestinians have long been used as pawns for a proxy war against Israel. But the Middle East is changing—the Iranians have become the primary adversary for Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE. And Israel is a buffer against the Iranians. This attack is likely directed by the Iranians to try to drive a wedge between Israel and the Sunni states. Whether or not that works depends both on how indiscriminate Israel’s actions become and how the rest of the Middle East reacts. But ultimately the economic, security, and political interests of countries like Saudi Arabia remain better aligned with rich and industrial Israel than the Palestinians that have been treated alternately like pariahs and useful tools since Israel’s founding. Iran is threatened by an Israel-Saudi alliance, and this attack may have been directed in large part by Tehran.
This war will not leave either Israel or Hamas in a better position. The Israelis have already declared open war on Hamas, and Israel has the military might to level the Gaza Strip several times over. Israel does not particularly want to re-occupy the Strip and try to govern over a population nearly a third of its own while facing Hizb’allah in the north and the restive West Bank in the east. No matter what happens, Hamas has forced a complex humanitarian catastrophe on its own people that will take years to resolve, and may leave Gaza permanently poorer. Israel has already taken heavy losses and has shown that its intelligence into Gaza was deeply flawed. The Israeli government has said that this will be a long and difficult war, and that prediction is quite likely to be accurate.
It is quite possible that the already unpopular Netanyahu government falls after all is said and done. Netanyahu’s appeal was primarily predicated on his ability to keep Israel safe from terrorism. It is now beyond question that the Netanyahu government and the IDF failed that mission, and failed dramatically. While Israel will likely not move towards elections during wartime, Netanyahu’s days are numbered now.
This war is a tragedy for the region. It is a tragedy for the innocent civilians in Gaza that were placed into harms way be the terrorists of Hamas. It is a tragedy for the State of Israel that has lost hundreds if not thousands of lives and has been shaken to the core. It is a tragedy for the Middle East that was for the first time in decades trending more towards peace. It is a tragedy for the world that the free world now faces another conflict in an era of relative peace.
Hamas bears the blame for this. Hamas has turned the entire Gaza Strip into a suicide bomb, using it to strike at Israel no matter what the costs to the people of Gaza. Hamas must be destroyed if there is to be peace, but the costs to both Israel and Gaza will sadly be severe.