By M A Hossain
On October 7, 2023, Israel suffered its most devastating attack in decades, orchestrated by the Iran-backed Palestinian militant organization, Hamas. Notably, Hamas’s startling well-planned land-sea-air surprise assault from Gaza on Southern Israeli communities claimed the lives of hundreds and took approximately 150 persons hostage, both military and civilian personnel. Israel’s most cataclysmic ordeal has remarkably coincided with the 50th commemoration of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
To fathom the strategic rationale behind Hamas’s daring gambit, it is imperative to delve into the intricate landscape of Arab politics, coupled with the burgeoning tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank. After a comprehensive analysis of the root causes, it becomes apparent that Hamas has no alternative but to launch a fully-fledged offensive against Israel with the backing of Iran, which aspires to establish Shia dominance in the Middle East.
Iran’s political motivation lies in destabilising illegally occupied Jewish settlers, Israel to garner sympathy within the Arab Muslim nations. This endeavour is ostensibly manifested through Iran’s advocacy for the liberation of Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in the Islamic world. Nevertheless, beneath the facade of this noble cause, Iran’s ultimate motive is to emerge as a Shia-dominated nation in the Middle East. An examination of the current demography of the region further underscores this transformation, which stands in stark contrast to the landscape of decades past.
Beginning with Iraq, once a Sunni-dominated nation, has undergone a demographic shift with Shia constituents now comprising 60% of the population, alongside 20% Sunni and 20% Kurdish. The Shia militia commander in Iraq has openly declared his intention to sweep away the Sunni population. Lebanon, on the other hand, finds itself under the sway of the Shia militia Hezbollah. It transformed from the formerly known Harkatul Amali in 1985. Harkatul Amali had previously been involved in repelling Palestinian refuses from the Lebanese border and had been associated with reported atrocities. However, following the year 1987, their strategy shifted towards courting sympathy from Palestinians. Syria is ruled by the Shia government. A significant portion of Yemen, including its capital Sana, is controlled by the Shia militia known as Houthi.
The region mentioned above has all experienced gruesome Shia-Sunni conflicts, an enduring conundrum that traces its lineage through centuries. Notably, in this convoluted equation, Hamas, a Sunni militant group, is intriguingly backed by Shia Iran. So, it is just a political gambit to earn the sympathy of oppressed Arab nations and to claim the mantle of leadership in the Islamic world. Now the billion-dollar question is why Hamas or Iran has engaged in an uneven war with Israel. Obviously, several factors shed light on this matter, and it becomes evident that Iran is pushed on the brink of power dynamics in the region.
The recent geopolitical development centring on the Middle East has stoked the flare of conflict in the Palestine-Israel relationship. The increasing tendency of Arab nations to establish peace agreements with Israel is exemplified by the 2020 Abraham Accords, involving the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. There has recently been strong speculation that Saudi Arabia may follow suit in forging an accord with Israel.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has made his stance unequivocal through public declarations that he prioritizes peace with Arab States over eventual peace with Palestinians. This paradigm shift in the priorities of Arab States has raised great concerns among all Palestinians about relinquishing their support for the Palestinian cause. Furthermore, it diminishes the pressure on Israel to reach a settlement with the Palestinian people.
Hamas adopted a strategy to surpass its rivals, including the Fatah faction currently in charge of the West Bank. It hinges on harnessing the pent-up Palestinian frustration stemming from their plight. This approach put Hamas as the authentic voice of resistance against Israel and the ongoing occupation. The angrier Palestinians are at Israel, the greater Hamas’s political incentives in garnering sympathy from the broader Arab nations. Hamas’s military operation will likely cause Saudi Arabia to hold back from normalizing relations with Israel, at least for the time being.
There are some internal issues that have provoked Hamas to launch “Operation Al Aqsa Storm” against Israel. The Israeli government, formed by PM Benjamin Netanyahu in December, represents the most right-wing administration in Israeli history. This government has made no secret of its desire to annex the West Bank and has permitted substantial expansion of Jewish settlements in the territory, which are illegal under international law. Furthermore, the longstanding blockade of the Gaza Strip enforced by Israel and Egypt since 2007 has inflicted severe impediments on Gaza’s economic growth and precipitated deteriorating living conditions for its residents.
Ignoring the peace treaty, the visits to the Temple Mount by Israeli minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and other Israeli tourists have been perceived as desecration of the Al Aqsa site. These visits were considered a provocation for all Palestinians. In response to this provocation, the aggrieved young generation in the West Bank formed a loose grouping known as the “Lions’ Den”. These developments and frustration among ordinary Palestinians put tremendous pressure on Hamas to go for retaliation against the suppressive Israeli government.
There is also ideological pressure from the Middle East-based Sunni militant offshoot of Al-Qaeda. Because the non-operative posture of Hamas may create a void among the aggrieved and oppressed Palestinians which could potentially be filled by al-Qaida. In addition, Netanyahu’s prime focus was on the West Bank, where the majority of the defence forces were deployed. Meanwhile, leaving a skeletal presence of forces along the Gaza border has presented Hamas with a strategic window to launch their offensive.
The potential for Saudi Arabia to recognize Israeli sovereignty after 75 years of statehood would have diminished Iran’s influence in the Islamic world, while concurrently uniting two of Iran’s staunch adversaries. Iran has always been the single largest sponsor for Hamas of $100 million per year, including military training and humanitarian assistance. It is more likely that Iran has backed and bid for the Hamas offensive. However, it is essential to recognize that Iran has been facing domestic challenges since the Killing of Masha Amini last year. The nation has witnessed a gradual erosion of legitimacy in the eyes of its people, owing to domestic unrest, economic woes, and international isolation. Therefore, Iran found itself in dire need of this conflict when its survival depended to a large degree on symbiotic relationships with these extremist groups.
Russia’s longstanding engagement in Middle East conflicts is a well-documented facet of its foreign policy. The country maintains close ties with Iran, in addition to Hamas. Recently, Russia has hosted top Hamas political leadership in Moscow. So, it would be surprising that Russia was not well aware of Hamas’s invasion. Russia stands to benefit if the Israel-Palestine conflict continues to persist, potentially as a means to redirect the focus of the United States and the international community away from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Both Russia and China seek to drag the USA into a new campaign in the ME. If the USA opens a new front beside Ukraine, that could trigger a domestic political upheaval in the USA. No doubt, this could be the last nail to put in the coffin of the USA’s supremacy. US taxpayers are bitterly experienced with the past military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and recently Ukraine. (IPA Service)
By arrangement with the Arabian Post