The war on Gaza rages on. Yet, already important consequences are clear – not only for the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, but also for the strategic scene in the Middle East as a whole.
Seven consequences merit particular attention.
One – Hamas was the party that determined the timing of the war. Of course, the events in Jerusalem put political and emotional pressure on Hamas to act. But by using its rockets against targets in Israel, Hamas was fully aware that the Israeli response would be massive. Yet, Hamas took the decision. This is the first time in several decades that a Palestinian group has decided on the timing of a war with Israel.
Two – Hamas has powerfully demonstrated its success over the past few years in building a rocket arsenal that is able to reach into the depths of Israel, result in Israeli losses, and significantly disrupt life in the largest urban centres. This is a key change in the power-dynamics of the struggle between the two sides.
This change in power-dynamics is not merely between Israel and Hamas, but instead is between Israel and the alliance comprising Iran, Hizbullah, Syria and Hamas. It has been conspicuous to some observers for some time. I wrote an essay about it in the US magazine Foreign Affairs exactly a year ago, for example. I mention this not to boast of foresight, but instead to emphasise that this change is one of the most consequential in the Middle East strategic scene over the past two decades.
Three – This change means losses and disruptions that Israel has not endured since the mid-1970s. That is, the entire current generation of Israeli leaders is now seeing a type of threat – and tension and apprehension inside Israel – that they have never known in their active lives before. This will impact on the Israeli collective psyche.
Four – This will have consequences on Israeli politics. Some observers focus on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s urgent need for something he can market as a victory over Hamas. What is more lasting will be the impact on the Israeli armed forces, which are, after all, the most important institution in the state of Israel.
This also has further implications, because a crucial aspect of the narrative of Israeli success – from global positioning to international trade, including in the lucrative industry of arms sales and in the commercial side of the intelligence and security world – is anchored on the image of the Israel army and its apparatus. The consequences of a notable success for Hamas will thus go far and wide.
Five – There are imminent changes in Palestinian politics. The Palestinian elections have now been postponed, a decision by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank that has antagonised wide sections of the Palestinian community. Hamas was always expected to perform well in the elections. Its success in this war will give it political momentum, not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank. This will be a turning point in Palestinian politics, particularly in the period after current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Six – Hamas’s success has major implications for Middle Eastern geo-politics. If the smallest component in the Iran, Hizbullah, Syria and Hamas alliance has managed to score a notable success in a war with Israel, then it is conceivable that the alliance as a whole could achieve victory over Israel in a coming confrontation.
Seven – This will inevitably lead to reassessments in the Israeli strategic calculus, something that indeed must take place. It will also lead to new assessments by international actors with major interests in and influence on the region, mainly the US and Russia.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly