In a shocking turn of events, Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, launched an unexpected ground and air assault into Israeli territory on October 7, 2023. The Institute for the Study of War described this incursion as the most significant escalation between the two sides in decades, which has resulted in the loss of numerous lives and injuries among Israeli civilians, sparking fears of a renewed conflict in the region. As the world watches this unfolding crisis, experts are delving into the motivations behind Hamas’ audacious move and the potential ramifications it could have on the wider Middle East.
The Unraveling Conflict
Hamas’ attack, characterized by hundreds of fighters infiltrating Israeli borders from the Gaza Strip, coupled with relentless rocket assaults, has left Israel reeling. The Israeli leadership swiftly labeled the attack as an act of war and indicated their intention to respond decisively, possibly with a ground operation into the Gaza Strip—an action that Hamas leaders likely anticipated despite its apparent imbalance of power.
“Previous Israeli response patterns suggest that Israel would likely conduct a ground operation into the Gaza Strip meant to rout Hamas completely. Hamas leaders almost certainly considered this strong possibility when planning their attack. But they have no reason to believe that they could successfully defend against such an operation, given the relative strength of the Israeli military,” the institute points out.
Theories of Victory: Decoding Hamas’ Strategy
Expanding the Conflict:
One theory posits that Hamas might be expecting a broader conflict involving other Palestinian militias and Iran’s “Axis of Resistance.” This alliance, comprising Hezbollah, the Assad regime, the Houthi movement, and various militias in the region, could join forces against Israel. The timing of the attack, coinciding with the anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, hints at the possibility that Hamas anticipates support from these quarters, echoing the multi-front war dynamics of the past.
Emulating Iranian Strategy:
Another explanation delves into Iranian General Hossein Salami’s strategy, emphasizing ground operations and urban combat to destabilize Israel. Hamas’ brutal tactics, including civilian abuse and online terror dissemination, align with Salami’s vision. By sowing chaos, Hamas aims to weaken Israel internally, potentially echoing Iranian designs for the region.
Disrupting Peace Talks:
Hamas’ assault could also be a bid to disrupt the US-led negotiations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. By refocusing international attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the talks for a peaceful resolution might face complications or delays, undermining the progress made so far.
Iran’s Potential Role: A Broader Geopolitical Concern
While Hamas’ actions have centered attention on the immediate conflict, analysts express concerns about Iran exploiting the situation. The distraction caused by the Gaza crisis might provide an opportunity for Iran to make strategic moves in Lebanon, Syria, or its nuclear program.
“This scenario is less likely than others at the moment, but it warrants consideration because it could set conditions for even more significant escalations or geopolitical changes. Each now carries the potential to grow into a larger phenomenon with ripple effects throughout the Middle East and even beyond,” ISW concludes.
Although this scenario remains less likely at present, the prospect underscores the interconnectedness of regional events and the potential for rapid escalations.
International Vigilance and the Larger Picture
As the crisis unfolds, it is imperative for the United States and its allies to remain vigilant. While the focus is currently on Gaza, there is a need to recognize the larger geopolitical context. Iran’s persistent offensive strategy in the Middle East, aimed at challenging the United States and reshaping the regional landscape, could be a driving force behind the Hamas attack. The international community must broaden its perspective beyond the immediate conflict zone and prepare for possible ripple effects throughout the Middle East and beyond.