HomeLatest NewsHamas' Attack on Israel Poses Threat to Middle East Security Shift

Hamas’ Attack on Israel Poses Threat to Middle East Security Shift

Rewritten Article:

By Samia Nakhoul, Nidal al-Mughrabi, Matt Spetalnick, and Laila Bassam

Israel-Hamas Conflict Threatens Regional Security Alignments and Palestinian Aspirations

(Dubai/Gaza/Washington) – In a significant escalation of violence, the Islamist group Hamas launched a major attack against Israel, targeting not only Israeli security but also efforts to establish new regional security alliances. These alliances could potentially undermine Palestinian aspirations for statehood and the ambitions of Iran, Hamas’ main backer.

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The assault, which occurred on Saturday and marked the largest incursion into Israel in decades, coincided with U.S.-backed moves to normalize ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel. This normalization was contingent on a defense deal between Washington and Riyadh, a development that would hinder the recent rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Palestinian officials and a regional source revealed that the gunmen responsible for storming Israeli towns, killing 250 Israelis and taking hostages, aimed to send a message. They wanted to emphasize that the Palestinians could not be ignored if Israel sought security and that any Saudi-Israeli deal would jeopardize the detente with Iran. In response to the attack, over 250 Gazans have been killed in Israel’s retaliation.

“All the agreements of normalization that you (Arab states) signed with Israel will not end this conflict,” declared Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, on Al Jazeera television. A regional source familiar with Iran’s thinking, as well as that of the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, added, “This is a message to Saudi Arabia, which is moving closer to Israel, and to the Americans who support normalization and Israel. There can be no security in the region unless the Palestinians are included.”

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The source continued, “What happened has exceeded all expectations. Today marks a turning point in the conflict.”

The Hamas attack from Gaza follows months of escalating violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with increased Israeli raids, Palestinian street attacks, and assaults by Jewish settlers on Palestinian villages. Under the hard-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, conditions for Palestinians have deteriorated, and the prospects for peacemaking have stalled.

Meanwhile, both Saudi Arabia and Israel have indicated their growing proximity to a normalization deal. However, sources previously reported that Saudi Arabia’s determination to secure a defense pact with the United States meant that it would not delay normalization to obtain significant concessions for the Palestinians.

Laura Blumenfeld, a Middle East analyst at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies in Washington, suggested that Hamas may have launched the attack due to a sense of impending irrelevance as Israeli-Arab relations progressed. “As Hamas observed Israel and Saudi Arabia drawing closer to an agreement, they decided: if there’s no seat at the table, poison the meal,” she explained.

The Timing of the Assault

Osama Hamdan, the leader of Hamas in Lebanon, informed Reuters that Saturday’s operation should make Arab states realize that accepting Israeli security demands would not lead to peace. “For those who desire stability and peace in the region, the starting point must be the end of the Israeli occupation,” he asserted. “Unfortunately, some Arab states have started to believe that Israel could be a gateway for America to defend their security.”

Netanyahu vowed “mighty vengeance for this black day” following the launch of Saturday’s attack. The timing of the assault, occurring almost exactly 50 years after the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel was attacked by Egyptian and Syrian forces, was symbolic. Ali Baraka, a Hamas official, stated, “It was necessary for the resistance leadership to make a decision at the right moment, when the enemy was distracted with its celebrations.” He described the air, land, and sea assault as “a shock to the enemy” and highlighted Israel’s failed military intelligence, as they were caught off guard despite their reputation for infiltrating and monitoring militants.

Since 1973, Egypt has signed a peace treaty with Israel, and several other Arab states have also normalized their ties. However, the Palestinians are no closer to achieving their goal of a state, which appears more elusive than ever.

“While not the primary driver of the attacks, Hamas’s actions serve as a reminder to Saudi Arabia that the Palestinian issue should not be treated as a mere subtopic in normalization negotiations,” wrote Richard LeBaron, a former U.S. Middle East diplomat now at the Atlantic Council thinktank.

Iran’s Influence

A senior official in President Joe Biden’s administration stated that it was premature to speculate on how the Israeli-Hamas conflict could impact efforts towards Saudi-Israeli normalization. The official added that terrorist groups like Hamas would not derail the normalization process but acknowledged that it still had a long way to go.

Netanyahu has previously emphasized that the Palestinians should not have the power to veto any new Israeli peace agreements with Arab states. A regional source familiar with the negotiations between Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States regarding normalization and a defense pact for Saudi Arabia claimed that Israel was making a mistake by refusing to make concessions to the Palestinians.

Following Saturday’s attacks, Saudi Arabia called for an “immediate cessation of violence” between both sides. Iran, on the other hand, openly supports Hamas, providing them with funding and arms, as well as assisting another Palestinian militant organization, Islamic Jihad. Tehran labeled Saturday’s attack as an act of self-defense by the Palestinians.

Yahya Rahim Safavi, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, affirmed that Tehran would stand by the Palestinian fighters “until the liberation of Palestine and Jerusalem.” A Palestinian official, closely associated with Islamist militant groups, stated after the Hamas attack, which began with a massive rocket barrage from Gaza, “Iran has hands, not just one hand, in every rocket fired into Israel.” While the official clarified that Iran did not give direct orders for the attack, it is well-known that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been able to upgrade their arsenal thanks to Iran’s support.

Iran’s backing of Palestinian groups forms part of its broader network of militias and armed groups across the Middle East. This support gives Tehran a significant presence in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Gaza. Analysts suggest that Iran already sent a signal last week when Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi group killed four Bahraini soldiers near the Saudi-Yemeni border. The attack jeopardized peace talks aimed at ending Yemen’s eight-year conflict.

Dennis Ross, a former Middle East negotiator now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, commented, “This is all about preventing the U.S.-Saudi-Israel breakthrough.”

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