By Debabrata Biswas from Boston, USA
The Hamas attack, unprecedented in scale and scope, is the deadliest offensive that Israel has faced in 50 years. In the surreptitious attack what Hamas called Operation Al Aqsa Storm / Flood, Hamas more than 900 Israelis have been killed since now and at least 1500 Palestinians are killed in retaliatory Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip and on Israeli territory. Israel ministry compared the attack by Hamas with Pearl Harbour attack during World War ll.
More than 100 Israeli civilians ,soldiers including some high ranking military officials and foreigners have been taken hostage by Hamas, prompting Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu declare that his country is at war. Hamas occupied some areas outside Gaza after sudden attacks which Israel claims of regaining after some 48 hours of fighting. The Israel defence forces said it struck more than 1000 enemy targets in air strikes on Gaza.
Hamas as a whole or in some cases its military wing is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the USA, EU, UK and some other powers.
The word Hamas is an acronym for “Harakat Al Muqawama Al- Islammiya “- Arabic for Islamic Resistance Movement. Hamas is backed mainly by Iran which provides it with fund and weapons. It has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007. Gaza Strip is a 41 km long and 10 km wide territory between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea .It is home of more than 2 million Palestinians and is one of the most densely populated territories on earth. It has been kept under an Israeli land, air and sea blockade since 2007. This Palestinian territory on the West Bank where a minority Israelis had been settled forcibly by Israeli govt. is the center of this conflict. The state of Israel itself was established by the UN (read western powers) after the end of the World War ll, in a land which Jewish people consider their ancestral homeland while the Arabs regard it as historically belonging to the Palestinians.
The coordinated attack by Hamas on Saturday caught Israel by surprise. It is considered as a huge failure of its intelligence. It comes after months of worsening tensions over violence at Al Aqsa Mosque – a sacred Muslim site in the heart of Jerusalem located on the same spot of the Temple Mount , revered by the Jews- as well as the punishing blockade and occupation of Palestinians by Israel. Fighting between the two sides has surged in the past two years. The violence has been driven by frequent Israeli military raids in Palestinian cities and towns, which Israel said are a necessary response to a rising number of attacks by Palestinian militants on Israel.
The immediate reasons may be the present Israeli coalition government formed by prime minister Netanyahu last December, which is the most right wing in Israel’s political history. Netanyahu govt. has made no secret of its desire to annex the whole West Bank under its territory and has permitted significant expansion of Jewish settlements in the territory, which are illegal under international law. That has led to conflict between settlers and young Palestinians, who in the past have formed a loose grouping known as the ‘Lions Den’. This grouping comprising militants, with apparently no central control, has scant regard for the Palestinian authority which govern the West Bank and is led by octogenarian Mahmoud Abbas. The Lions’ Den also vies with Gaza militant groups for influence among Palestinian youths of both Gaza and West Bank.
Added to this, a minister in Netanyahu’s coalition, Hamar Ben- Gvir, has visited the Temple Mount, the site of Al Aqsa Mosque. This is considered a provocation by all Palestinians – both in the West Bank and Gaza. Further angering the Palestinians, Israeli tourists also travelled to the site over the recent Sukkot holiday. A similar visit to Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon in the year 2000, the then opposition leader of Israel gave the spark that ignited the second Intifida from 2000 – 2005.
Under an agreement predating Israel’s foundation, Jordan has custodianship of the Al Aqsa religious complex. Israel accepted Jordan’s role when it signed Israeli- Jordanian peace treaty in 1994. Hamas argued that Israel violated that treaty by government and private visits of Israelis at Al Aqsa which led to the desecration of Al Aqsa site .Significantly , Hamas has named its action ‘. Operation Al Aqsa Storm/ Flood’.
However, an additional motivating factor was likely the increasing tendency of the Arabs to make peace agreements with Israel, as evidenced by 2020 Abraham Accords, involving Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan. There has been recently a speculation that Saudi Arabia is about to make its own agreement with Israel, under stealthy supervision of the US A. This is great concern to all Palestinians.
Another aspect of timing of Hamas attack is that it coincides almost precisely with the 50th anniversary of the start of the Yom Kippur or Ramadan war of October 1973, when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel together. The significance of a Palestinian entity being able to surprise Israel in the same way would not be lost on Hamas. So there are several factors for Hamas to launch an attack at this time and possibly a combination of them.
On the other hand, this sudden attack from Hamas might come to Netanyahu as blessing in disguise. He leads a not so strong coalition government, there are severe unrest brewing in Israel over corruption charges against him and his effort to curb the powers of Supreme Court. Even there is discontent and unrest among the ‘Reservists ‘ soldiers. The Hamas attack take away the pressure of those discontents from him and his government and his plea to capture the whole Gaza Strip might come true, as editorial in Wall Street Journal suggested.
Where the whole conflict is heading is still unclear. The Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon has already fired on positions in Israel’s north. But to which extent it will become seriously involved depends on its sponsor Iran.
There is also question whether Lions’ Den militants in the West Bank will launch its own attacks, effectively creating a third front against Israel. And a possible fourth front could come from attacks on Jewish Israelis by Arab Israelis living inside Israel.
US President Biden has already vowed support for Israel as also most States of EU and U.K and India. Biden decries ‘evil’ Hamas attack, says Americans are being held hostages. US demands condemnation of Hamas at U N meeting, but Security Council takes no action so far. Iran, Pakistan, some Arab and African countries lend their support to Palestinians. Russia and China so far did not issue support for either of them. While Democrats in America support Joe Biden generally on this issue, the Republicans are covertly divided on that issue. Senator Bernie Sanders and representative Alexandrea Cortez issued a cautious statement supporting Israel but hoping for a early and peaceful settlement of the issue.
Israel has promised strongest military retaliation. The military expanded the mobilization of reservists to 360000, according to Israeli media. It remains to be seen whether that offensive will include a ground assault. The last such assault was in 2014. But if the latest has become too brutal, it could turn Western opinion against it. The U.N said Tuesday that more than 187000 of Gazas 2.3 million people have left their home. How much the war will escalate is hard to assume at this moment, but the real significance of Hamas operation is that the Palestine militant outfit is determined to bring the Palestine issue to the attention of the big powers once again. They are looking for a permanent solution of Palestine issue but the costs are going to be too heavy for both the Gaza strip residents as also the Israeli citizens. (IPA Service)