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[ANALYSIS] Hamas’s attacks: A seismic shift for the Middle East?


This aerial photo show heavily damaged buildings following Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on October 10, 2023. Israel pounded Hamas targets in Gaza on October 10 and said the bodies of 1,500 Islamist militants were found in southern towns recaptured by the army in grueling battles near the Palestinian enclave. (Photo by BELAL AL SABBAGH / AFP)

Fatih Yurtsever*

On Saturday, Hamas fighters launched a surprise attack on Israel, firing thousands of rockets from the Palestinian enclave of Gaza and crossing the border with hundreds of militants. Unlike previous Hamas attacks, this one was carried out simultaneously from land, sea, and air, using new tactics to circumvent Israel’s border surveillance. The planning and execution of such a large-scale operation indicate the development of Hamas’s military capabilities, while the fact that the signs of a major attack of this scale were not forewarned by Israeli intelligence from the planning stage and the belated intervention of the Israeli army, and even the capture of some senior Israeli officers by Hamas, exposed Israel’s security weaknesses. In terms of its own security, Israel’s ability to deter its neighbors depends on maintaining its image of military invincibility and intelligence omniscience. For this reason, the Israeli state structure and bureaucracy are security-oriented. However, the recent Hamas attack has severely tarnished this image. Israel’s primary goal now is to do everything possible to restore this image. However, the steps that Israel will take in this regard could lead to major changes in the Middle East. It is, therefore, necessary to analyze the developments carefully.

Israeli society is a patchwork of different cultures and political views, held together by the perception of external threats. However, as these threats diminish, Israeli society becomes more divided on political issues. Without this external threat, the Israeli political system is now more likely to erupt in conflict. The proposed judicial reform by Israel’s most right-wing coalition government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been criticized as an attempt to diminish the Supreme Court’s independence. Many view this as a move by the government to consolidate its power, further deepening polarization within Israeli society and bureaucracy. The controversial law passed by the government on July 24, 2023, has caused a deep polarization in Israeli society, with hundreds of thousands of people protesting the law. The protests, which began on July 15, have been joined by military reservists, including air force pilots crucial to Israel’s defense, who have threatened to refuse to report for service if the reforms go ahead. This has raised concerns about the potential impact of the reforms on Israel’s military capabilities.

The dissatisfaction of senior officers, pilots and intelligence personnel who perceived that the proposed judicial reform would make Israel more ultra-Orthodox may have been one of the main reasons for the security and intelligence lapse in the Hamas attack. Conversely, the security trauma caused by the Hamas attack brought Israeli society together against an external security threat. It showed that the problems between Arab and Israeli society have deep roots that are not easy to overcome.

The recent Hamas attack has reminded us of the complex reality of the Middle East. With a power struggle taking place among the great powers such as the US and China, it will be difficult to establish trade corridors and regional integration projects in the region, especially as the sphere of influence of regional powers is expanding. The Arab-Israeli normalization process involving the countries of the region will face significant obstacles due to these geopolitical conditions. The future of the IMEC project to link India, the Middle East and Europe, announced at the G-20 summit, has been jeopardized by the Hamas attack on Israel and subsequent developments. Saudi Arabia has suspended the Saudi-Israeli normalization in the region desired by the US. In this respect, the Hamas attack has torpedoed the geostrategic goals of the US in the Middle East.

The Hamas terrorist attacks have also overshadowed the Russian-Ukrainian war. Time will tell as to what extent it will be possible for the US to provide arms to Ukraine and Israel simultaneously. However, the fact that Ukraine’s offensive against Russia has not yet succeeded, despite all the military aid provided, has led public opinion in these countries to question the military aid provided to Ukraine by the EU and the US. In this respect, we can say that the Hamas attack was a birthday present for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who celebrated his birthday on Oct. 7.

An Israeli ground operation against Gaza and the civilian casualties that will follow may cause the conflict to spread to Lebanon, Syria and Iran through Hezbollah. In particular, the emergence of concrete evidence of Iranian and Hezbollah support for the Hamas attack may lead the US, which has sent the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Israel, to carry out airstrikes against Hezbollah and pro-Iranian groups in Syria and Lebanon. Iran’s retaliation by blocking the passage of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf could lead to an increase in oil prices and an oil crisis in the world.

The spillover of the Hamas-Israel conflict into Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Iraq via Shia groups may create a new influx of refugees in the region. It will create new social problems and security threats for Turkey and the EU. The strengthening of anti-immigrant, right-wing parties, especially in EU countries, may complicate the lives and living conditions of refugees traveling to EU countries. It is obvious that China and Russia will be the happiest with these developments.

Hamas’s attack on Israel, particularly the massacre of civilians during this attack, will increase the anger against political Islam in the world and strengthen the idea of Islamophobia. The activities of organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which claim to fight their political battles in the name of Islam, are most damaging to their own societies and to the religion of Islam. For this reason, Muslims should reconsider their relationship with political Islam and these organizations and not allow them to have a say in their future. This is particularly important for the future of Turkey. Turkey does not recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization. The Turkish government, and in particular President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has close relations with the Hamas leadership, and Hamas can continue its activities in Turkey without any obstacles. However, the bloody actions of Hamas and the subsequent international reaction will force the Erdoğan government to distance itself from these organizations.

As a result, Hamas’s bloody attacks and Israel’s intensive air bombardment of Gaza, followed by a possible ground operation, could spill over into Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran. These developments could lead to political, military and economic changes in the region, and a new wave of migration affecting the EU and Turkey could completely change the political atmosphere in the Middle East.

* Fatih Yurtsever is a former naval officer in the Turkish Armed Forces. He is using a pseudonym out of security concerns.

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