Setting off a chain reaction: How Israel's choices lit the fuse for Hamas' response

Yasser Seddiq , Tuesday 10 Oct 2023

On 7 October, Hamas’ suprise attack on Israel introduced a game-changing twist to the long-standing conflict.

Palestinians celebrate by a burning Israeli tank at the border fence of the Gaza Strip on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. The militant Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip carried out an unprecedented, multi-front attack on Israel at daybreak Saturday, firing thousands of rockets as dozens of Hamas fighters infiltrated the heavily fortified border in several locations by air, land, and sea and catching the country off-guard on a major holiday. AP

The domino effect

At the crack of dawn that day, Israel was jolted awake by an earth-shattering cacophony of explosions punctuated by reports of killings, captures, bombings, and incursions.

The abrupt tempest set in motion by the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' formidable military arm based out of the besieged Gaza Strip, ignited what promises to be an all-encompassing showdown.

This offensive, named "Operation Al-Aqsa Flood," was no ordinary skirmish; it was a mammoth military manoeuvre previously unmatched in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hamas unleashed a relentless barrage of thousands of rockets and its militants infiltrated deep into southern Israel.

Their mission was to halt Israeli trespasses, according to Mohammed Al-Deif, the chief commander of the Al-Qassam Brigades.

Unfortunately, this maelstrom engulfed not just combatants but also the 2.3 million innocent inhabitants imprisoned in the densely packed coastal enclave.

A staggering 80 percent of Gaza's residents rely on humanitarian aid and experience rampant poverty, soaring unemployment, and an array of afflictions stemming primarily from the enduring blockade, according to UN agencies.

Awakening the Storm

The operation was preceded by a continuation of Israel’s arbitrary and punitive policies toward Palestinians across the occupied territories. These included killings, forced displacement, home demolitions, arrests, and imprisonments.

In Jerusalem, Israeli forces raided residential areas, inflicting civilian casualties.

Simultaneously, they continued to desecrate holy grounds, particularly the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and expand settlements while destroying Palestinian homes and infrastructure in Jerusalem in an attempt to Judaize the city.

At the same time, Israeli settlers, emboldened by state backing, kept up their own assaults on non-Jewish residents of Jerusalem, including a shocking attack on a church in February in the Old City.

These systematic practices unambiguously illustrate Israeli authorities' unrelenting collective punishment against Palestinians, flagrantly disregarding the principles of justice and the rule of law.

These actions constitute grave violations of Palestinian rights: the right to life, freedom of movement, access to healthcare, suitable housing, and an acceptable standard of living.

Viewed as integral to the overarching policy aimed at upholding Jewish-Israeli dominance over Palestinians, these practices constitute crimes against humanity in the form of apartheid and persecution.

Under Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government, Israel intensified its repressive measures against Palestinians, who desperately sought a political solution to alleviate their suffering.

Israel argued that its Gaza blockade was necessary for its security. However, genuine security hinges on pursuing peace, restoring rights, and an unwavering commitment to international agreements and treaties.

These agreements include UN Security Council Resolution No. 242 (1967), the Camp David Accords, the outcomes of the 1991 Madrid Conference, the 1993 Oslo Accords, and Camp David 2000.

They ultimately led to the Arab Peace Initiative of March 2002, a Saudi-proposed solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, emphasizing Israel's withdrawal to its 1967 borders, the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and a just resolution to the refugee issue. In return, Arab nations would acknowledge Israel's right to exist.

Defying expectations

Hamas consistently warned Israel that there would be repercussions for desecrating holy sites and perpetuating violence and arrests against Palestinian civilians.

However, no one anticipated that Hamas would dare to mount such a bold assault on Israel.

Given its touted Iron Dome defence system and advanced surveillance capabilities, Israel had long argued that such a large-scale offensive was impossible.

In December 2021, Israel proudly unveiled a 65-kilometre-long barrier along the Gaza Strip, three and a half years in the making.

This barrier boasted an underground-sensor-equipped wall, a six-metre-high intelligent fence, radar, cameras, and a maritime surveillance network, all ostensibly aimed at mitigating just such a threat.

Former Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz boasted that the barrier would afford Israeli citizens an enhanced sense of security.

Yet, all these defences proved futile as the Al-Qassam Brigades caught the Israeli state off guard with a meticulously executed operation.

Israeli media lamented this glaring intelligence failure as the operation exacted a heavy toll, leaving upwards of 1,000 dead and countless more traumatized within Israeli-occupied territories.

The Israeli military launched Operation Iron Swords against the Gaza Strip in response to the Palestinian operation.

Despite the magnitude of Israel's retaliatory measures, the vivid images of destruction and the capture of Israeli soldiers will be seared into Israeli memory indefinitely.

Whatever the consequences, 7 October will be a watershed moment in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The days ahead promise to reveal the trajectory of events and the profound implications that may redefine the entire equation, both on the ground and within the political arena.

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