A 9/11 For Israel: What Epic Mistakes Will Be Triggered This Time?
The Oct. 7 Hamas attacks are as devastating on Israel as the Sep. 11 were on the U.S. But like it did 20 years ago, such an attack also has the power to reshape politics inside Israel and around the region in a way that risks making everything worse.
ISTANBUL — Oct. 7, 2023 is a date that will be set in stone in the collective memory of the Israeli people.
Until now, Israelis had assumed that they were living under a protective barrier, but are now entering an era similar to the age of fear in the U.S. following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
It’s a given that this development will greatly affect the policies of all of the countries in the region, not just the Palestinians.
The people of Israel, who believed they were protected from missiles from Gaza or another country by the Iron Dome defense system, woke up to a nightmare on Saturday morning.
Hamas militants, who sneaked into Israel right after the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, started a ground operation at the same time as missile attacks, which resulted in a heavy toll of civilian deaths.
The Israeli military was caught unaware, just as they were half a century ago, and were unable to stop the attack. Moreover, hiding the terrible visuals of terror is no longer possible thanks to social media.
Images of the dead, the wounded and those who run in fear to save their lives must have caused panic among the Israeli people. The terror was much more visible than it was 50 years ago. However, these humane reactions are also the harbinger of a serious political fracture.
The inadequacy of the Israeli security forces in the face of the attacks led to a series of conspiracy theories. Some people got suspicious of such a technologically advanced military not being able to deal with the means of the poor people of Gaza.
Similar questions have been asked about the 9/11 attacks for about two decades. While these questions may be legitimate on some occasions, I believe they are also a dead-end, because we will never be able to have enough data from open sources to come to a clear answer.
Still, it’s possible to discuss where things can go from here by using the information at hand.
After effects, Bush mistakes
Comparing the effects of 9/11 on the U.S. and on a global scale may point us to a path of what may happen. The al-Qaeda attacks fundamentally changed many American citizens' perspectives on politics. The delicate balance between security and freedoms have considerably shifted towards the former and society has quickly adopted the extraordinary measures as they believed they were under threat.
Americans supported Bush, but the consensus broke when the same momentum was used to invade Iraq.
Actions that go as far as the extralegal practices at Guantanamo were measures to which the Americans happily turned a blind eye, for the sake of their security. In Turkey, we are very familiar with the concept of how democratic rights and freedoms can be constricted over the threat of terrorism.
The effects of 9/11 were greater in the arena of international politics than they were domestically. The Americans, who were hit at home where they believed they were the strongest, adopted much aggressive foreign policies.
Americans largely supported President George W. Bush when he declared that the U.S. would launch preemptive wars instead of waiting for the next terrorist attack.
Thus the 20-years-long U.S. invasion of Afghanistan began. The idea was to hit and eliminate Osama bin Laden and his organization. This first step was not just approved by the American people but by most of the international community, too.
However, this consensus broke when the same momentum was used to invade Iraq. The alleged ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq were weak. Then the weapons of mass destruction card was played, which sold the idea to the Americans, who were unable to leave behind the climate of fear. U.S. allies were harder to convince.
At the end of the day, 9/11 is more relevant today by its effects on U.S. foreign policy rather than what has happened on the day. It is important as a milestone for the U.S., which was apt to turn inwards in the wake of the Cold War, being dragged to a highly aggressive position within a decade.
Cartoonist Corinne Rey, a.k.a. Coco, compares the weekend’s attacks on Israel to 9/11, pivoting the Israelian flag to turn its two blue stripes into the World Trade Center towers.
This may give us an idea for how things will be for Israel and the Middle East. Let’s begin with the inner dynamics of Israel, which may be the less important part.
The public reaction won’t be anything like what it was towards the intifada.
Since the country was already leaning increasingly to the right and toward authoritarianism, it’s inevitable that this trend will gain more momentum. It’s highly likely that we’ll observe the signs for this at the local elections to be held within the month.
The more important part is how Israel will act towards Palestine and, more broadly, the Middle East. Some claim that the Palestinians, who have been thoroughly isolated by the Abraham Accords, made the world hear about their cause.
After all, the first intifada was also a reaction to a similar process of being ignored and was successful to bring the world’s attention to the subject. However, the reactions to children throwing stones at Israeli soldiers are different than the reactions to the recent massive loss of civilian life.
The attack may have reminded the world of the increasingly forgotten Palestine issue, but the public reaction won’t be anything like what it was towards the intifada. The overall reaction to the attack has been negative, as far as I have seen.
This situation may serve to legitimize Israel's harsh retaliation and the hardened measures to come; let alone revitalizing the Palestine cause. We may expect Israel to increase the pressure in both Gaza and the West Bank over the attack in the short term, rather than adding the injustices suffered by the Palestinians to the agenda.
One other effect of the attack concerns the diplomatic advances of Israel within the Middle East. The Abraham Accords was providing an acceptance for Tel Aviv in the region where it was shunned since being founded. Most recently, Israel was in talks with Saudi Arabia, aiming to normalize relations.
Some expect that this process may be interrupted due to the violence to be used against the people of Palestine in case the ruling administration Benjamin Netanyahu retaliates harshly.
This is a serious dilemma for the government, but even if the talks would be interrupted, I wouldn’t expect it to last. Israel normalizing its relations within the region is based on some some term factors. It’s not easy to have the injustices suffered by the Palestinians to be on the agenda of either Riyadh or in other capitals of the Middle East.
International politics is a game that is played according to the actors’ interests; the sense of justice is never a deciding factor.
New world of risks
Let’s talk about the most important part. This attack may be the starting point of a more aggressive foreign policy towards the Middle East for Israel, just as 9/11 was on a global scale for the U. S., which did not limit its retaliation to al-Qaeda but picked targets according to its own foreign policy priorities.
A complicated set of gears is turning in this geography, from Lebanon to Syria, from Iraq to the Caucasus
Israel, too, may want to employ the increased security worries among its own people and the international sympathy due to the attack as a gate of opportunity. Tel Aviv’s policy priorities would decide on which way this energy would be channelized.
Recently, Israel has been uneasy with Iran, Syria, Lebanon and their extensions gaining power. If Israel would consider a more comprehensive operation, a series of developments that would overshadow the Palestine issue may be triggered.
A complicated set of gears is turning in this geography, from Lebanon to Syria, from Iraq to the Caucasus — each gear being a different potential crisis. We may have stepped into a new world of risks in which these gears would be interacting in an even more complicated way.
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