Hamas, branded as terrorists by Israel and the West, and hailed as freedom fighters by a diminishing group of supporters of the Palestinian cause, launched a multifaceted attack on Israel by land, air, and sea last weekend. The Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, and its American counterpart, CIA, were caught napping. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that he alone can ensure the nation’s security has been severely undermined, albeit at a tremendous human cost.
At the time of writing, the death toll has crossed a grim total of 3,600, most of whom are civilians. Hamas has taken hostages, including children, women, and the elderly, comprising not only Israelis but also nationals from the US, France, the UK, and other countries.
The key question to ask in any conflict is how to explain and account for its origins. As always, there are immediate and long-term factors. Hamas initiated the latest outbreak of hostilities, and Israel felt compelled to respond. The immediate cause, as stated by the Hamas leadership, was the violation of the sanctity of the Al Aqsa Mosque by Jewish extremists who believe Muslims should be expelled from Israel, and ultimately realize the Greater Israel dream by removing Muslims from Gaza and the West Bank. Jewish extremist activities escalated significantly following Netanyahu’s return as prime minister with the support of the far-right parties last December.
The long-term cause of the conflict can be traced back to Israel’s consistent refusal to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state, as stipulated in UN General Assembly Resolution 181(II) of 1947. This resolution proposed the creation of two states, one for Jews known as Israel and the other for non-Jewish communities, primarily Muslims, with Jerusalem designated as an international city. The Arabs rejected this resolution, and Israel, through military force, acquired a significant portion of the territory allocated to the Arabs. In 1967, the Arab nations launched an invasion of Israel, and in the ensuing war, Israel captured additional territories, including Gaza and the West Bank.
The Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967 called for Israel to withdraw from the territories it occupied in the war. However, Israel did not comply, leading to the 1973 October War initiated by the Arab nations — Egypt. Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan — which began on 6 October 1973. With the intervention of the US and then USSR, a ceasefire was eventually achieved. Subsequently, Security Council Resolution 338 called for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, eventually resulting in the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995, which envisaged a Palestinian state. This is commonly referred to as the “two-states” solution. The snag lies in the fact that, currently, only one state, Israel, exists, and it is reluctant to see the establishment of a second.
Israel has been able to violate Security Council resolutions and even agreements it formally accepted, such as the Oslo Accords, mainly because of the rock-solid support it gets from Washington. The long-term cause of the ongoing and previous wars between Israel and Hamas is seldom addressed in the media.
Led by Washington, the West has extended full support to Israel without even demanding compliance with the Geneva Conventions in its bombing of Gaza. The Pentagon has begun supplying Israel with arms and intelligence, even without an explicit request.
While the US suspects Iran’s involvement in aiding Hamas, there is no concrete evidence yet. President Joe Biden has also faced criticism for releasing $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds held by South Korea as part of an exchange for the release of Americans detained in Iran.
China has called on the belligerents to end hostilities and emphasized the need for the establishment of an independent State of Palestine. Russia has also urged a ceasefire and negotiations toward the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. President Vladimir Putin directly blamed the US, saying that Washington’s policy in the region has been a failure.
Saudi Arabia has made it clear that it wants to see a Palestinian state established. The rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, encouraged by Washington, will have to wait.
Qatar has historically supported Hamas and is now trying to mediate talks between the militant group and Israel while Kuwait has witnessed pro-Palestinian demonstrations.
India has expressed “solidarity” with Israel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, shortly after Hamas’s attack, tweeted that he was “deeply shocked by the news of terrorist attacks” and conveyed his “solidarity” with Israel.
India’s stance marks a significant departure from its previous positions. The ministry of external affairs has not issued a statement yet. In 2014, during a previous conflict between Israel and Hamas, India attributed blame to both parties while urging Israel to cease using “disproportionate force.” Notably, the strengthening and broadening relations, as well as the good chemistry between Modi and Netanyahu, may have influenced this change in India’s stance.
Netanyahu had been facing considerable political turmoil at home before the war due to his attempts to limit judicial independence, resulting in widespread protests over several months. He invited the Opposition to join a government of national unity, although the latter has not yet agreed. Nevertheless, the entire nation is standing behind him during the war. However, once the conflict concludes, the protests may resume as many blame Netanyahu for the security breach. An article in The Times of Israel said General Abbas Kamel of the Egyptian intelligence had phoned Netanyahu, warning of an imminent attack 10 days in advance.
A few critical questions remain:
– Will other groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Gaza-based Islamic Jihad, or others join the conflict? There have been sporadic exchanges of fire between Hamas elements in Lebanon and Israel, but a clear answer is unavailable.
– How will the hostages be secured? Qatar, which has financially supported Hamas, has initiated negotiations. Hamas considers the hostages as bargaining chips in post-ceasefire negotiations.
– Sooner or later, Israeli firepower will compel Hamas to call for a ceasefire. But the question remains whether Israel will initiate a ground invasion of Gaza before the ceasefire.
– When will Netanyahu agree to a ceasefire? He may wait until Israel has destroyed Hamas’s military capability and eliminated as many of their leaders as possible.
– Will Israel succeed in eradicating Hamas for good? It seems improbable.
In the meantime, India may need to evacuate its nationals in Israel, as a certain number have already requested it. The embassy currently has records of 18,000 Indians, but there may be more unregistered citizens. India, with its experience of evacuating over 176,000 individuals by air in 1991-92, is well-equipped to handle this task if necessary.
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