The October 7 Hamas attack, unprecedented in scale and scope, is the deadliest offensive that Israel has experienced in 50 years. The Hamas group has been in power in the Gaza Strip since 2007. Its attack came half a century after the outbreak of the 1973 conflict called the Yom Kippur War in Israel, sparking bitter recriminations for an enormous intelligence failure.
The latest death toll stands at 510 Palestinians in Gaza and more than eight hundred Israelis. The total number of deaths has surpassed 1,200, including foreign nationals. Eighteen Palestinians were also killed in the occupied West Bank. More than 5,000 were injured on both sides of the conflict.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israel on Sunday to prepare for a “long and difficult” conflict a day after Hamas launched a surprise assault from Gaza, firing a barrage of rockets and sending a wave of fighters who gunned down civilians and took at least one hundred hostages. Israel is drafting a record 300,000 reservists in its response to the multi-front Hamas attack from Gaza, a military spokesperson said as an estimated 100,000 soldiers are amassing near the fence with Gaza amid fears of a possible ground operation.
By October 9, 2023, more than 120,000 people in Gaza had been confirmed displaced amid a barrage of retaliatory Israeli strikes. The UN appealed for the creation of humanitarian corridors to bring food into Gaza and said at least 70,000 Palestinians in Gaza are seeking shelter in schools it runs. On October 9, 2023, Israel announced implementation in the Gaza Strip. Defence Minister Yoav Gallant stated that all supplies of electricity, water, food, fuel, and other goods would be stopped as Israeli troops battled to clear out Hamas fighters from southern settlements.
The Israeli military said it had retaken control of Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip. Hamas militants claimed October 8, 2023, to be holding more than 100 hostages in Gaza, including high-ranking Israeli army officers. Videos on social media showed militants capturing multiple civilians, including children, as Israeli families across the nation made anxious pleas for the safe return of their loved ones.
Gaza, the small strip of land that is home to over two million Palestinians within 140 square miles, is one of the most densely populated territories on Earth and has been kept under an Israeli land, air, and sea blockade since 2007. The United Nations classifies Israel as an occupier state over the Palestinian territories, whose occupations and annexations following the 1967 Six-Day War violate international law.
Netanyahu has vowed to turn Hamas hideouts “to rubble” and urged Palestinians there to flee. “We are embarking on a long and difficult war that was forced on us by a murderous Hamas attack,” Netanyahu wrote on X (formerly Twitter). Israeli attacks have reduced several Gaza residential towers to rubble and destroyed a mosque in Gaza´s Khan Yunis as well as the central bank.
Meanwhile, Hamas has called on resistance fighters in the West Bank and Arab and Islamic nations to join the battle.
US President Joe Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the second straight day on Sunday, saying in a post on the social media platform X that he expressed “full support for the people of Israel in the face of an unprecedented and appalling assault by Hamas terrorists.” The United States led Western denunciations of Hamas’ attack, with Biden issuing a warning to Iran and others that this was “not a moment for any party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks.”
As expected, the US promised to hike military aid to Israel. It will also send multiple military ships and the world’s largest aircraft, the USS Gerald Ford, closer to Israel as a “deliberate show of force”. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the US will provide security assistance to Israel imminently. Western capitals have condemned the attack by Hamas, which Washington and Brussels consider a terrorist group.
Israel´s foes, however, have praised the assault, including Iran whose President Ebrahim Raisi voiced support when he spoke with the leaders of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group. Pro-Palestinian protests took place in the United States, Iraq, Pakistan, and other countries, while Germany and France were among nations stepping up security around Jewish temples and schools. In the Egyptian city of Alexandria, a police officer opened fire “at random” on Israeli tourists Sunday, killing two of them and their Egyptian guide before he was arrested.
Meanwhile, an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting on October 8, 2023, failed to unanimously take a position against Hamas, a setback to the US and Israel, as Russia and China urge the members to take a broader view of the situation to resolve the decades-long crisis after Palestinian resistance group struck heavily on Tel Aviv Saturday.
Several members of the UN Security Council maintained their stance in favor of Israel as it suffered a massive assault, but the US regretted that there was no general agreement on the issue, which indicates the delicacy of the situation. Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian ambassador to the UN said, “My message was to stop the fighting immediately and to go to a ceasefire and to meaningful negotiations, which was told for decades.”
“This is partly the result of unresolved issues,” he said.
Meanwhile, Russia says there is a “high risk” of a third party entering the ongoing fighting after an announcement from the Pentagon it was moving warships and aircraft carriers closer to Israel. Russian government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Moscow is worried about the situation in Israel and Gaza, calling it a “great danger for the region.” The Kremlin said on October 9, 2023, it feared a foreign player could enter the conflict after the US moved warships closer to its ally Israel. “The risk of third forces becoming involved in this conflict is high,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency. “It is very important to find ways as soon as possible to move towards some kind of negotiation process to reduce this escalation and move away from a military solution,” he said.
Iran is an ally of Hamas and it congratulated Hamas on the attack. Notwithstanding some claims, Iran has rejected allegations it had a role in the assault on Israel by Hamas. “We have not yet seen evidence that Iran directed or was behind this particular attack, but there is certainly a long relationship,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on October 8, 2023.
Israel regards Iran as its biggest threat and has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets in the region. Previously, in February 2023, Iran blamed Israel for a drone attack on a military factory near Isfahan. Much earlier, in 2021, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif vowed revenge against Israel for an attack on Iran’s main nuclear facilities at Natanz. Iran has called for an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation over the recent hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. It emphasized that the Palestinian issue is still the first issue of the Islamic world.
Most probably, Israelis will mount a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip very soon. The invasion will be very bloody and costly. After Israel has achieved its strategic objectives, as it defines itself, there will be a cease-fire and an exchange of Israeli POWs and Palestinian prisoners. Qatar, Egypt, and Türkiye will facilitate this exchange.
Having redeemed their honor, Hamas will make peace with Israel. This will happen from weakness and sheer exhaustion more than anything else. However, the conflict will erupt again after some time.
Effects of the War on Regional Politics
Fighting between the two sides has surged in the past two years. The violence was driven by frequent Israeli military raids in Palestinian towns and cities, which Israel has said are a necessary response to a rising number of attacks by Palestinian militants on Israelis. Concerns about the possibility of the conflict spilling out into the region were raised on October 8, 2023, when the Lebanese group Hezbollah claimed responsibility for targeting three Israeli sites in an area known as Shebaa Farms, using missiles and artillery. Lebanon considers the area as Israeli-occupied.
The long-running conflict is now heading into uncharted and dangerous territory. Questions remain over how the Israeli military and intelligence apparatus appeared to fail miserably in one of the country’s worst security failures. Appeals for restraint came from around the world, though Western nations stood by Israel.
The war will have an impact on the entire region. Hamas has the support of Iran, Pakistan Türkiye, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Qatar. Russia and China also support Hamas. Many Arab governments do not support Hamas, but their people do. It is not only the Arab people but also those of the larger Islamic world that support Hamas. The reason for that support is the humiliation and anger felt by Hamas from Israeli atrocities, especially the late desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and the exceptionally long occupation of Palestine in general. The Western media, being biased, does not show these sentiments of the people of the region.
What can be expected from the ongoing conflict is the following:
- The US may provide direct military assistance to Israel in the shape of targeting the Hamas leadership and in any rescue attempts of the Israeli POWs.
- When the situation in the Gaza Strip deteriorates significantly, Hezbollah may step into the war in southern Lebanon.
- The Israel-Saudi normalization of relations has now been complicated by conflict. It will be relegated to the back burner for now.
- A new push for the establishment of the Palestinian state. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on October 9, 2023, that creating a Palestinian state was the most dependable solution for peace in Israel and that fighting terrorism alone would not ensure security. “The Palestinian problem should not be delayed further.” Lavrov earlier said that Russia and the Arab League would work to “stop the bloodshed” in Israel and Gaza.
The only solution to the conflict is the implementation of the universally agreed UNSC resolution 242 and UNSC resolution 338. A two-state solution can bring peace to the region. Nothing else will work.
- ‘Total’ blockade of Gaza ordered as over 700 Israelis killed in Hamas attacks, AFP, October 09, 2023 https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/1117517-100000-israeli-troops-gather-near-gaza-amid-fears-of-ground-invasion
- Israel imposes ‘total blockade’ on Gaza as aircraft continue to pound enclave, Reuters October 09, 2023, https://tribune.com.pk/story/2440101/israel-imposes-total-blockade-on-gaza-as-aircraft-continue-to-pound-enclave
- Hadas Gold, Eyad Kourdi, Jonny Hallam, Ibrahim Dahman and Helen Regan, “Israeli defense minister orders ‘complete siege’ of Gaza, as conflict with Hamas enters third day”, CNN, October 9, 2023, https://edition.cnn.com/2023/10/09/middleeast/israel-gaza-hamas-fighting-monday-intl-hnk/index.html
- CNN’s Mostafa Salem, Amir Tal, Shirin Zia Faqiri, Paul P. Murphy, Lauren Iszo, Gianluca, CNN, October 9, 2023, https://edition.cnn.com/2023/10/09/middleeast/israel-gaza-hamas-fighting-monday-intl-hnk/index.html
- Russia says creating Palestinian state ‘most reliable’ solution to Israel conflict, AFP. October 9, 2023, https://english.alarabiya.net/News/middle-east/2023/10/09/Russia-says-creating-Palestinian-state-most-reliable-solution-to-Israel-conflict
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About the author
Sohail Mahmood is an independent global affairs analyst and the author of several books, monographs, and research articles on the Middle East and South Asian politics, governance, and development issues. He has taught for about 30 years in various universities of Pakistan and the US and has worked as a consultant for the World Bank, CIDA, SDC, IUCN, and UNDP. Sohail lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States.