Why did Hamas attack now, what does it say about Israeli intelligence?
Context- The military conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip-based militant group Hamas began exactly 14 months after the truce that ended the brief confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad on August 7, 2022.
But the ongoing battle is seen as unprecedented since the establishment of Israel in May 1948. This is because of the way Hamas was able to stage a surprise attack by breaching some of the world’s most advanced border fencing mechanisms, and intelligence and surveillance capabilities.
Who are Hamas?
- Hamas or Islamic Resistance Movement, was founded in 1987 as a political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood after the First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
- The group has major influence inside Palestinian territories, particularly in the Gaza Strip. Its armed wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has carried out several rocket attacks against Israel, mostly in the southern part of the country.
- Its actions, including suicide bombings, began in the early 1990s, when its military capabilities were not very sophisticated.
- Following Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and particularly after Hamas took control of the strip by defeating Fatah, its political rival in the 2006 elections, there were frequent outbreaks of violence, which resulted in casualties on both sides.
- Hamas also developed expertise in digging sophisticated military tunnels, which have become important conduits for cross-border infiltration.
What is Hamas’ position on Israel?
- Since its inception, Hamas has considered Israel its sworn enemy (and vice versa). One of its main goals is the destruction of Israel; its Covenant says: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”
- Hamas strongly condemned the Israel-Egypt peace treaty signed in 1979 following the Camp David Accords of the previous year, and continues to disapprove of any kind of normalisation between Israel and other countries in the region, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan, which were parties to the US-mediated Abraham Accords signed in late 2020.
- In what could be considered as defying its own charter, Hamas in 2017 came up with a new document stating its acceptance of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, but this did not lead to a political breakthrough with the Israelis.
Is Hamas a terrorist organisation?
- In October 1997, the US designated Hamas as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation. The European Union (EU) too, has included Hamas in its list of terrorist groups.
- Palestinians also have a similar accusation — they consider Israel’s military operations, now and earlier, which have led to loss of civilian lives, as acts of “terrorism” and war crime, and its policy of encouraging and abetting Jewish settlements in the West Bank a flagrant violation of international law.
What could have triggered Hamas to launch its invasion on October 7?
The answer lies in a mix of internal, political, religious, and geopolitical reasons.
- First, there has been no movement on the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks for several years now. Barring the failed Trump Peace Plan (billed as the “deal of the century”) of January 2020, no serious efforts have been made to resolve the longstanding dispute.
- Also, as moderate Arab countries increasingly move to normalise ties with Israel, the Palestinians have got the impression that the historical Arab-Israeli conflict is now more of an Israel-Palestinian issue.
- Second, Israel’s government, formed in late December 2022, is considered the most hardline in its history. It has talked of allowing the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, and of the possibility of annexing part of the West Bank. This was part of Netanyahu’s deal with the Jewish ultra-nationalists who helped him form the ruling coalition.
- Earlier this year, Israel’s minister for national security Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the Al-Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem and declared that Israel was “in charge” of the disputed site that is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
- Hamas codenamed the current military assault “Al-Aqsa Flood”, suggesting that it was retribution for the desecration of the holy site. It was also a surprise attack like the one that started the Yom Kippur or Ramadan War almost exactly 50 years previously on October 6, 1973.
- Third, there is a growing perception in Palestinian society that Israel’s diplomatic recognition and political acceptance are on the rise in the wider Middle Eastern region. After the normalisations of the Abraham Accords, political-diplomatic signals about the possibility of Israel and Saudi Arabia signing a normalisation agreement have grown louder.
- Striking Israel at this juncture, and provoking the inevitable heavy retaliation which would likely draw regional and international condemnation, could be part of Hamas’ plan to derail the probable Israeli-Saudi agreement.
Do the attacks show a failure of Israel’s intelligence mechanisms?
- The launch of such well-orchestrated strikes when Israel’s “eyes” are supposedly “never far away”, is a considerable blow to the reputation of Israel’s intelligence apparatus, including its cyber capabilities, which are admired by countries around the world.
- Either the Israelis ignored or underestimated red flags or warnings, or Hamas has become experienced in evading Israeli technical surveillance.
Conclusion- This episode will compel Israel to re-look at, and re-strategise its policies pertaining to counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence, surveillance, and collecting both signal intelligence (SIGINT) and human intelligence going forward.
Syllabus- GS-2; International Relations
Source- Indian Express