The Attack on Israel Is It the End of Netanyahu’s Political Career CNN News 18 11 Oct 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


The Attack on Israel: Is It the End of Netanyahu’s Political Career CNN News 18 11 Oct 2023

          On Saturday, Hamas from the Gaza strip fired thousands of rockets into Israel while sizeable numbers (some claim hundreds) of their fighters infiltrated into Southern Israel killing at random, while taking soldiers and civilians hostage. They termed it as ‘Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.’ Infiltration was done by multiple means including paragliders and boats as also breaking the border fence indicating that this operation had been in the works for some time. Hamas also captured a few Israeli military bases as part of its initial assault.

          The numbers killed in Israel are in hundreds with thousands injured in the combination of rocket fires and house to house attacks of the fedayeen. Prisoners, including men, women and children, both soldiers and civilians, were taken by Hamas to Gaza amidst loud cheers. There were videos emerging of brutality as also disrespect to those killed. These captives would be used as a bargaining chip for release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, those attackers who were caught alive and maybe even as a shield against Israeli ground attacks. 

The fact that the Israeli’s were surprised, despite Mossad’s infiltration into the Hamas leadership and their ability to monitor communications emanating from Gaza, indicates that the operation was kept under wraps on a strictly need to know basis. There would have been minimum communication on open channels. Mossad may also have shifted its focus on Israel’s internal politics as Netanyahu faced protests over his attempts to overhaul the judicial process. 

Even the US failed to detect anything abnormal. Jake Sullivan had stated just a week ago, ‘The Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades.’ Jake Sullivan failed to notice the calm before the storm. Neither the US nor Israel had ever imagined such an event unfolding.

Rifles in the hands of the terrorists appear to be US made M4, which could only have come from Afghanistan and Ukraine, the two nation’s the US has supplied these in large quantities. The employment of paragliders indicates external support. These facilities do not exist in Gaza.

Both Hamas and the Hezbollah are backed by Iran. Just recently the US released USD 6 Billion of frozen Iranian funds to Tehran in return for Iranian-American prisoners. It is possible that Iran delayed the Hamas action till the funds were received. Some of it may have been transferred to fund the operation. There is a possibility that an Iranian element may have also been involved in planning this attack.

The assault coming on Shemini Atzeret, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar brings back memories of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, when Israel was attacked by Arab nations simultaneously, just a day prior to this incident, fifty years ago. The surprise of 1973 has been repeated.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu declared war on Hamas and launched ‘Operation Iron Swords.’ The Israeli leadership advised Gaza citizens to leave as it retaliates. The first set of Israeli airstrikes were aimed at Hamas bases, which would have been vacated. Casualties were largely civilians. Simultaneously, Israel worked to regain control of regions which were infiltrated by the Hamas Fedayeen. This would be a slow grind as they would need to clear house by house, especially as Hamas holds civilian hostages.   

The Hezbollah has opened the northern front by firing rockets into Israel from Lebanon. Militant groups including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and others have threatened to join the battle in case Israel enters Gaza, which Tel Aviv will have to. In Northern Israel, Palestinian settlers responding to a call by the Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, began violent protests aimed at dividing the reaction of Israeli forces. In all probability attacks may also be launched on Israel from the West Bank. Israel would be facing terrorist strikes from multiple directions necessitating coordinated response.

The attack by Hamas and subsequent Israel retaliation displayed a global divide. Nations like Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Qatar, amongst others, displayed solidarity with the Palestinians and blamed Israel for the incident. They also warned Israel against employment of disproportionate force. The Iranian parliament witnessed calls for ‘death to Israel, death to the US.’

Others, including western nations and India stood by Israel and criticized the terrorist attacks. Some including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan advocated de-escalation and talks. Any calls for ceasefire by the UN would be ineffective as Hamas is a militant outfit and would ignore any such message. Israel’s response has always been hard and would be similar this time too, despite calls for restraint.

          PM Modi tweeted his support for Israel. He stated, ‘Deeply shocked by the news of terrorist attacks in Israel. Our thoughts and prayers are with the innocent victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with Israel at this difficult hour.’ India, which has faced terrorist attacks on its soil, including 26/11, will always stand against actions of terrorists, despite New Delhi having cordial ties with the Palestinian Authority.

          The incident was not unexpected. A hint was provided to Tel Aviv by Egypt. Tensions have been simmering between the Israelis and Palestinians since the Israeli police raid on the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Rockets fired by Hamas have been responded to by airstrikes resulting in casualties. Netanyahu’s strong response to any incident from Gaza had enhanced Palestinian anger against Israel.

Gaza remains an open prison with its residents blockaded from almost all sides adding to frustration within. At some stage the lid would have to blow and it did, catching Israel napping. Mohammed Deif, a senior Hamas military commander stated, ‘We’ve decided to say enough is enough. This is the day of the greatest battle to end the last occupation on Earth.’ 

The support Israel is receiving currently would wane as Palestinian civilian casualties’ mount. Nations which are supporting Israel today would demand a pull back. For Hamas, civilian casualties are an essential collateral as it would be unacceptable to most nations of the western and Arab world. While the US may protect Israel in the UNSC, however global pressure, including from Arab states would mount.

Israel would demand release of its prisoners; an act Hamas would be unwilling to accept, as it would signify surrender. Arab nations with embassies in Tel Aviv will have to consider recalling their ambassadors to display some form of Arab unity.

The first major break would be an end to Israel-Saudi talks, brokered by the US for restoration of ties. In case Riyadh-Tel Aviv talks succeed; Gaza would be ignored with almost no financial support. Israel would gain. The two-nation theory, proposing an independent state for Palestine, would be just talk with no end.  

Riyadh is aware that in case it stays neutral and continues talks for recognition of Israel, its leadership of the Arab world is under threat. The conflict would also possibly signal the end or at least delay the much touted and recently launched IMEE EC (India, Middle East, Europe Economic Corridor) which was to transit Saudi Arabia and move across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe from the Israeli port of Haifa. No Arab nation could be seen as trading with Israel at this stage.

The two-nation theory, which has been just talk has suddenly been given a new lifeline. It will become a matter of discussion for some time. Nations will insist that the UN seriously consider this. How far would it be implemented would depend on pressure which the US would apply on Israel.

The war would also shift world focus from the Russo-Ukraine conflict, which is heading into winters and a stalemate. The US, which is the main provider of funds to Ukraine may have to reconsider its commitments as Israel would need to be stocked. President Biden in his comments on the Hamas strike stated that the US has offered Israel ‘all appropriate means of support.’

Hence, while Russia talks of a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, it would prefer operations continuing drawing in other militant groups pulling in US involvement. The ongoing conflict in Syria would also come on the backburner. The Indo-Canadian spat now has no consequence as world attention shifts towards Israel. This suits both India and Canada as it would provide the much-needed space for normalization of ties.

Benjamin Netanyahu would be compelled to accept the lapses which resulted in the infiltration as also Hamas accumulating sufficient rockets and weapons. Even if Israel destroys a large part of the Hamas network, the incident and loss of Israeli lives will mean the end of Netanyahu’s political career. 

  At the end of the day, the conflict which has just commenced is unlikely to conclude early. It will drag on for sometime and the only sufferers would be civilians on both sides, largely in Gaza. Neither will Israel accept Hamas terms for return of prisoners nor would Hamas be destroyed. Israel would face criticism for civilian casualties. The damage to Israel-Arab ties would take time to mend. Rebuilding Gaza would take time and money, a slow process.  

Ultimately Gaza would face stricter blockade and its residents would have lesser employment opportunities in Israel. Control over the Al Asqa Mosque would increase. The trust between Arabs and Jews, residing in Israel would take decades to be rebuilt. Insecurity in the region will remain.