A few days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a boastful speech at the United Nations, announcing the establishment of a new Middle East centred around Israel and its new Arab partners, the Palestinians, whom he totally omitted from his fantasy regional map, dealt him and Israel a fatal blow, politically and strategically.
The Palestinian resistance movement Hamas launched a meticulously planned, well-executed lightning incursion from Gaza into Israel, by air, sea and land. In tandem with thousands of missiles fired towards Israeli targets, hundreds of Palestinian fighters attacked Israeli military and civilian areas in the southern part of the country, which led to the killing of at least 100 Israelis and the capture of dozens of Israeli soldiers and civilians as hostages.
Hamas’s objectives in the operation are no secret: First, retaliate and punish Israel for its occupation, oppression, illegal settlement, and desecration of Palestinian religious symbols, especially Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem; second, take aim at Arab normalisation with Israel that embraces its apartheid regime in the region; and lastly, secure another prisoner exchange in order to get as many Palestinian political prisoners released from Israeli jails as possible.
It is worth recalling that Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya al-Sinwar, who spent more than two decades in Israeli prison, was released in a prisoner exchange. Mohammed Deif, the head of Hamas military arm, like many other Palestinians, lost loved ones to Israeli violence – an infant son, a three-year-old daughter and his wife. Therefore, there is also a clearly a punitive and vengeful aspect to the operation.
In that sense, the attack may have been incredibly shocking, but it was hardly surprising.
Hubris has finally caught up with Israel and its arrogant leaders, who long thought themselves invincible and repeatedly underestimated their enemies. Since the “surprise” Arab attack of October 1973, successive Israeli leaders have been shocked and awed, again and again, by what the people they oppressed have been capable of.
They were caught unprepared by the Lebanese resistance after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, by the Palestinian Intifadas in the 1980s and the 2000s, and by the Palestinian resistance after more than five decades of Israeli occupation and four successive wars on Gaza.
Clearly, the Israeli military and civilian leadership also did not expect Hamas’s massive operation, its success representing a major Israeli intelligence and military failure. Despite Israel’s sophisticated network of spies, drones, and surveillance technology, it could not detect and preempt the attack.
But the damage done to Israel goes beyond the intelligence and military flop; it is also a political and psychological catastrophe. The invincible state has shown itself vulnerable, weak, and terribly impotent, which will not go down well for its plans to be a regional leader of a new Middle East.
Images of Israelis fleeing their homes and towns in fear will be ingrained in their collective memory for many years to come. Today was probably the worst day in Israel’s history. An utter humiliation.
Netanyahu, the spin doctor, will not be able to change that regardless of how he spins it. Israel will not get a chance to undo what the world saw on Saturday morning: a frantic country lost to its own fantastical delusions.
Israel’s military establishment will no doubt try to recover the strategic and military initiative from Hamas by immediately dealing it a major military blow. As it has done in the past, it will undertake severe bombardment and assassination campaigns, leading to great suffering and countless casualties among the Palestinians. And as it has happened in the past again and again, this will not destroy the Palestinian resistance.
That is why, Israel may consider redeploying its military to Palestinian cities, towns and refugee camps across the Gaza Strip and the West Bank under the pretext of finishing off Hamas and other Palestinian factions.
Such a full takeover is the historic wish of the more fanatic members of Israel’s ruling coalition, who want to destroy the Palestinian Authority, take direct control of the entirety of historical Palestine or what they call “The Greater Land of Israel”, and carry out ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.
That would be a big mistake. It would lead to a full-fledged asymmetrical war, and in the process, isolate Israel like never before. Even Western leaders, which have thus far supported Netanyahu, expressing more of the same transparently hypocritical solidarity with Israeli apartheid, may begin to distance themselves from the Israeli government.
Already, Israel’s scandalous humiliation is undermining its strategic and political standing in the region. Arab regimes that normalised relations with Israel and are partnering with the Netanyahu government appear more foolish with every passing hour.
Desperate to reverse his personal failure and maintain his fragile coalition, Netanyahu is sure to overreact, and in the process will alienate more of his new and potential regional partners.
Whichever way this goes, Netanyahu’s legacy will be marred by failure. He may well take his Palestinian counterpart, the octogenarian Mahmoud Abbas, along with him down the drain of history.
Abbas, too, is failing politically, trying to toe the line between condemning the Israeli occupation and coordinating security with it. Such a balancing act is no longer tenable.
But the change that is coming is about more than personalities; it is about the two peoples as a whole, and whether they want to live in peace or die fighting. The time and space for anything in between have passed.
The Palestinians have made it clear today that they would rather fight on their feet for justice and freedom than die on their knees in humiliation. It is high time the Israelis heed the lessons of history.