The Hamas-Israel War: What We Already Know Has Changed Forever
There will be a before and after to October 7, 2023, so unprecedented and traumatic have the events of the last 48 hours been for Israel, followed by massive retaliation. We can already draw several lessons from this.
PARIS — This war broke out only 48 hours ago, and the Israeli response has only just begun, while the fate of the Israeli hostages is unknown. The death toll itself remains staggering, with over 700 Israelis dead, and hundreds more on the Palestinian side.
Even if it may seem risky to draw lessons at this early stage, this war is already changing the political equation in the Middle East — and we must try to grasp its impact. The potential for change can be broken down from three angles: on the Israeli side, on the Palestinian side, and the meaning for the entire region.
In Israel, the shock is immense, some local commentators consider it to be the greatest trauma since the independence of the Jewish state in 1948. Never before have soldiers from Arab countries set foot in Israel itself, as the terrorists did on Saturday on an unprecedented scale.
The political price of this security failure will be high, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right allies will ultimately not be able to escape the failure caused by their ideological choices: they have divided Israel and put unprecedented pressure on the Occupied Territories.
Their leadership is bankrupt — and the moment for true accountability will begin as soon as hostilities end.
Violence as politics
On the Palestinian side, by carrying out such a well-planned, murderous and brutal attack, the Islamists of Hamas are sending out a double message: firstly to the millions of Palestinians, to claim leadership, at the expense of the Fatah and the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, Yasser Arafat's successor, but also a message to the countries of the region, in particular Saudi Arabia, which is turning its back on the Palestinians.
Radicalism is a political language.
This violent claim to leadership is a way to discredit the ineffective and corrupt Palestinian Authority — particularly at a time when the Palestinian territories are in such turmoil in the absence of any political perspective for the future.
It may come as a surprise that a terrorist operation targeting civilians is a way of asserting leadership. But in the face of the Palestinians' exasperation with the weight and hopelessness of occupation, radicalism is a political language.
The terror inflicted on the adversary satisfies a desire for revenge, and Hamas knows how to do it.
At a rally Sunday in Berlin in support of Israel
Michael Kuenne/PRESSCOV via ZUMA
Iran v. Saudi Arabia
The third perspective is the region, with two key countries — Iran and Saudi Arabia. As far as Iran is concerned, it holds the key to activate another of Israel's adversaries, Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon, Israel's northern neighbor. There have been some limited exchanges of fire between Hezbollah and Israel, and the Israeli army has asked citizens in the north to evacuate their homes.
If Hezbollah enters the fray, it will be Tehran's decision. That's not yet the case, and it's quite possible that the northern front will remain under control. This question above all determines the scale of the war, which is no minor matter.
Saudi Arabia is now the big player: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was ready to sign a pact with Israel while largely ignoring the fate of the Palestinians. But will he still be able to do so, now that the Palestinian question has suddenly returned to center stage, and Arab opinion once again mobilized?
The entire regional equation therefore needs to be re-examined, even after only 48 hours: the reverberations from Gaza are almost certain to reach far and wide.
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