How Hamas Stunted Israel?
By Qamar Bashir
In the early days of October 2023, an unprecedented escalation of conflict between Hamas and Israel occurred, marked by a large-scale invasion and offensive launched by Palestinian militant groups from the Gaza Strip against Israel’s Southern Borders. This significant attack, named “Operation al-Aqsa Storm,” was a historic event as it marked the first direct conflict within Israel’s boundaries since the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.
What made this offensive particularly stunning was not only its surprise factor but also the fact that it caught not only Israelis, known for their world-class, well-equipped, and highly efficient surveillance and intelligence systems, off guard but also the entire world. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is closely monitored due to its potential to disrupt peace in the Middle East, a region crucial for global oil supply. The fear of oil supply disruption and its potential to drive up oil prices, thus impacting economies worldwide, especially vulnerable ones like Pakistan, added an extra layer of concern to this already volatile situation.
The audacious and deadly maneuver executed by Hamas has also raised questions about the effectiveness of Mossad, Israel’s renowned intelligence agency, which is traditionally considered one of the world’s most formidable agencies, specializing in counterterrorism, covert operations, and intelligence collection. Often compared to counterparts like the CIA (United States), MI6 (United Kingdom), and FSB (Russia), Mossad’s inability to anticipate and prevent the surprise attack by Hamas was a notable surprise not only for Israel but also for other global intelligence agencies with a significant presence in the conflict-prone Middle East.
This unprecedented military maneuver involved a clever transformation of civilian machinery such as bulldozers, hang gliders, and motorbikes, effectively challenging the Middle East’s most potent army. It marked a significant breach in Israel’s defenses, the most serious since the Arab-Israeli conflicts of 1973. Hamas achieved this through two years of strategic subterfuge, concealing its military plans and convincing Israel that it had no intention of engaging in a major confrontation.
While Israel believed it was pacifying a war-weary Hamas through economic incentives for Gazan workers, the group was covertly and effectively preparing its fighters. This preparation took place in plain sight but under the guise of not being ready for a conflict. Hamas employed unconventional and untraceable intelligence tactics, leading Israel to underestimate its strength and resilience. The result was a shocking and sudden assault that caught Israel off guard, resulting in 700 Israeli casualties and dozens of abductions. Major Nir Dinar, spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces, described this surprise move as “Israeli 9/11,” admitting that they had been caught completely unaware.
In the lead-up to this audacious maneuver, Hamas constructed a mock Israeli settlement in Gaza for training purposes. Even many Hamas leaders were kept in the dark about the exact plans, and the 1,000 fighters involved had no clear understanding of the exercises’ true purpose. The operation was divided into four parts: an initial barrage of 3,000 rockets fired from Gaza, simultaneous incursions by fighters using hang gliders and motorized paragliders, the securing of terrain by ground troops, and the breach of fortified barriers using explosives and motorbikes. Bulldozers were employed to widen gaps, and commando units attacked key Israeli military installations, disrupting communications.
The final phase involved moving hostages to Gaza, a task largely achieved early in the attack. One such high-profile hostage-taking incident occurred during a raid on party-goers near Gaza, with social media footage capturing the chaos as people fled the scene amid gunshots.
Hamas’ remarkable ability to maintain the secrecy of its unconventional warfare capabilities until it unveiled them in a decisive manner and the biggest below to the invincibility of Israel. The speed, precision, and serenity with which Hamas militants breached the Gaza-Israel barrier, penetrated the Gaza border crossings into Israeli settlements and military installations, and launched over 5,000 rockets into Israel within just 20 minutes were indeed remarkable.
The Hamas’ “Operation Al-Aqsa Storm,” can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, it highlights Hamas’ perception of Israeli actions as desecration of the holy Islamic site, the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Additionally, the increasing trend of Arab states normalizing relations with Israel, as exemplified by the 2020 Abraham Accords involving the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. This trend is a cause for concern among Palestinians, as it reduces pressure on Israel to reach a settlement with them and signals a prioritization of peace with Arab states over peace with the Palestinians.
Hamas, while not recognizing Israel, has indicated it would observe a truce if Israel withdrew to its 1967 borders, but skepticism remains about Israel’s willingness to do so, especially if Saudi Arabia were to conclude its own deal with Israel. Furthermore, the timing of the attack is significant as it coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur or Ramadan War in 1973, potentially symbolizing the aspiration of surprising Israel, as Egypt and Syria did back then.
The trajectory of the conflict remains uncertain. There are concerns about Hezbollah’s involvement in Lebanon, depending on Iran’s stance, and the potential for Palestinian militants in the West Bank to launch their own attacks, creating a third front against Israel. Moreover, there is the possibility of attacks on Jewish Israelis by Arab Israelis living in Israel, leading to a fourth front.
The Israeli response to this unprecedented attack on Israeli Soil is surely going to be robust, devastating and exemplary. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israelis to brace themselves for a long and difficult war on Sunday (8th October). It responded with huge strikes on cities in the blockaded Gaza Strip, destroying dozens of buildings. The Israeli military said it had called up an unprecedented 300,000 reservists and was imposing a total blockade of the Gaza Strip, signs it could be planning a ground assault there to defeat Hamas after it launched a humiliating attack. In a further signal of Israel’s rapid shift on to a war footing, a cabinet member from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party said it could set up a national unity government joined by opposition leaders within hours.
The recent assault has led to a significant and devastating impact on both sides, with no clear resolution in sight. President Joe Biden has pledged support for Israel, indicating that Israel is likely to face these challenges with strong backing. However, Israeli actions in Gaza may be constrained by the fact that some Israeli citizens have been kidnapped by Hamas militants and taken to Gaza.
The conflict has the potential to impact global markets and economies in several ways. One significant concern is the potential for disruptions in oil prices and supply chains, which can have far-reaching consequences. The Middle East is a critical region for oil production, and any instability in the area can lead to increased oil prices, affecting not only energy costs but also the global economy.
Moreover, the conflict’s disruption of supply chains and movement of essential commodities can exacerbate global supply shortages and inflationary pressures. As transportation routes are affected and infrastructure damaged, the flow of goods can be impeded, leading to delays and increased costs for essential products. This, in turn, can lead to rising commodity prices, making basic necessities more expensive for consumers around the world.
Weak economies, like Pakistan and others in the region, may face additional challenges as they grapple with the impact of higher oil prices and disruptions in the supply chain. These countries may experience increased costs for imports, which can strain their already fragile economic situations and potentially lead to balance of payments issues and inflation.
This conflict once started is not going to go down any time soon. For Israel, going full scale against Hamas will be an uphill task as indiscriminate Israeli bombing would put the lives of the Palestinian mostly civilians at greater risk creating worldwide reaction against civilian killings. Balancing a robust response with concerns about international opinion remains a challenge for Israel, though Western governments have largely expressed support for Israel in the current conflict. Ultimately, this situation underscores the need for Israel to develop a comprehensive policy to manage the possible opening of war fronts with Hamas, Alfatah, Hezbollah and its own citizens of Arab origin.
While Hamas justifies its attacks by citing the 16-year blockade of Gaza and Israeli crackdowns in the West Bank, Israel and Western countries have condemned the mass killing of civilians. The situation has jeopardized efforts to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which could have had implications for Palestinian aspirations and Iran’s influence in the region. As the conflict continues, there are growing questions about Israel’s intelligence failures and the fate of Israeli hostages, further complicating the path to a resolution.
By Qamar Bashir
Former Press Secretary to the President
Former MD, SRBC,
Former Minister Press, Embassy of Pakistan to France
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