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Israel in front of its Pearl Harbor

October 11, 2023

Published in

Diario de Navarra

Salvador Sánchez Tapia

Professor of International Office of the University of Navarra

Just when we thought we had seen everything in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Hamas surprises us with an episode of barbarism of an unknown magnitude. The references made in Israel to episodes such as the Yom Kippur War - which, by the way, took place on these same dates in 1973 -, to September 11 or even to Pearl Harbor, are not gratuitous. They all evoke the idea of an infamous and unprecedented attack. issue And it is, not only because of the novelty of the terrorists' modus operandi, but also because of the high number of deaths -most of them civilians- caused in a reduced deadline period of time, and because of the perfidy with which it was carried out.

A massive attack of between four and five thousand rockets launched from Gaza that has saturated the Israeli air defense system, combined with the ground and air invasion of the territory near the Strip by a large issue of Hamas terrorists, has surprised Israel in what appears to be a major intelligence failure, and has result in an unprecedented trail of terror and death - the balance provisional exceeds the figure of seven hundred Israelis from all walks of life dead, and more than two thousand wounded - that Israel is still trying to assimilate, and to which must be added the more than one hundred and fifty Hebrew citizens violently abducted and taken by force to Gaza where, it is assumed, they remain kidnapped to be used as a means of extortion, as human shields or, simply, as an object of revenge.

Israel has reacted by declaring a state of war, mobilizing a portion of its reservists, and bombing multiple Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip as it prepares to take the next step in what may be a long war. The scope and form of a response that, according to Prime Minister Netanyahu's statements, "will change the Middle East" and make the terrorists pay "an unprecedented price" is not yet known. It cannot be otherwise; neither because of the magnitude of the affront; nor because of what is at stake, which is the survival of Israel; nor because a "soft" response would end up adding the current coalition government to the list of victims of the attack.

It is also unclear what Hamas intends to do with such an attack. According to statements made by the terrorist group , it is intended to send a message of protest to Israel for its blasphemous intrusion into the Esplanade of the Mosques. Such a response, however, seems disproportionate, and it seems more reasonable to understand it in core topic politics. Thus, Hamas could seek to claim itself as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, as opposed to the inoperative and corrupt gerontocracy of the PNA led by Mahmoud Abbas, ending, in the process, the slim chances that remained of revitalizing a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem. At the international level, the attack was intended to drive a wedge between Israel and the Arab states with which it has signed the Abraham Accords and to provoke an escalation that would eliminate any possibility of Israel ever reaching a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia agreement .

If so, it would not be strange to find Iran behind the attack. The Tehran regime, an inveterate enemy of Saudi Arabia, is apprehensive about the possibility of Israel forming a bloc with Sunni-majority states that would upset the balance of power in the region, seriously damaging Iran's efforts to become the dominant regional power. The fact that Hezbollah has contributed to the aggression would point in the same direction.

The attack has also altered the strategic balance in the region in another way, triggering the displacement to the Eastern Mediterranean of a US naval combat group , reviving, at least temporarily, US interest in a region from which it was on the way out. Depending on how status evolves, the confrontation between Russia and America could again find a theater in the Middle East.

Israel does not make concessions when its security is at stake, and everything calls for a forceful military response that includes the entrance and long-term occupation of the Gaza Strip, since the aim is to put an end to Hamas as we know it today. In its strategic calculation, Israel will have to consider aspects such as the presence in Israel of an undetermined issue of terrorists from Gaza who will try to spread terror in the country; the existence of more than 150 Israeli hostages in Palestinian hands; the complicated balance maintained by the current Netanyahu coalition government; or the possibility that its response to the problem may put an end to the efforts made to normalize its relations with the Sunni states, so important to counter Iran. Will affinity with the Palestinians weigh more heavily for the Saudis than the strategic benefits of a peace with Israel? The world is tensely awaiting Israel's response.