The unprecedented attack by Hamas on southern Israel 50 years after the Yom Kippur war when Egypt and Syria mounted a similar surprise attack on the Zionist state has left the Middle East in turmoil at a time when a peace plan involving Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States of America was in the works. The ferocious air, land and sea assault by the Palestinian militant group, the worst in decades, must have been meticulously planned. The dawn attack saw Hamas fighters firing thousands of rockets and invading Israeli towns, taking several people hostage. What is surprising is how the highly trained Israeli intelligence failed to detect even a whiff of the Hamas offensive and was caught completely unaware. Israel has lost hundreds of lives and many of its civilians and military personnel have been taken hostage by the Hamas militants. The retaliatory strikes by Israel on the Gaza Strip have claimed an equal number of lives on the Palestinian side. The death toll in this bloody conflict has already crossed 1000. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared an all-out war on the Hamas and vowed revenge for every Israeli casualty. The reaction in the Middle East has been mixed with Syria and Iran backing the Hamas’ legitimate cause, while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have called for restraint. Some are calling it the Third Intifada (uprising) against what they term the illegal occupation of the Palestinians’ homeland by the Israelis. The Hamas leadership has justified the brutal attack saying the increasing atrocities on the Palestinian people had to be countered. With hostilities entering a third day, there seems to be no resolution in sight. Both the Hamas and the Israeli establishment are in no mood to yield. In the process innocent civilians on both sides are caught in a bloody battle that they want no part of.
The region has been a hotbed of politics and hostility for nearly 70 years but the Hamas group’s unprecedented attack was no doubt prompted by the Arab world’s moves towards normalising ties with Israel. The Saudi-US- Israel peace deal may have also seen Tel Aviv making some concessions to the Palestinian Authority, the mortal enemy of the Hamas. The militant group backed by Iran was intent on disrupting the peace process and demonstrating to the Arab world that they were the only ones capable of taking on Israel. The peace deal would have seen a further isolation of Hamas. Now with Israel hell-bent on teaching its attackers a lesson, its vicious air and land assault will see hundreds of civilian casualties and countries in the Middle East would be loath to back any peace deal. With both sides in a fight to the finish, this crisis is likely to fester. A politically beleaguered Netanyahu has got a reprieve of sorts as his fierce opponents have decided to call a truce at this time of national crisis and proposed a unity government.
India has decided to toe the western line and back Israel while severely condemning the terrorist attacks against the country. The Narendra Modi government has grown increasingly closer to Israel with which it enjoys a strategic military relationship. Israel is also key to the proposed India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor. Given its interests in the region and its close ties with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, India has to do a balancing act. Modi’s personal rapport with Netanyahu has seen a decided pro-Israel tilt by India but diplomacy has many challenges, and self-interest has to be the primary mover.
The world must now brace for a humanitarian crisis of great magnitude where Palestinians will bear the brunt. The residents of the Gaza Strip are already subject to inhuman conditions with their territory under the strictest control of the Israeli authorities. Access to even basic amenities in this virtual open-air prison is controlled by the Israeli government. The Palestinians are a stateless people who have been deprived of their homeland through a cruel twist of history. Many of them are in refugee camps spread over the Middle East. They are impatient for independence, and pacifist outfits like Fatah are unlikely to deliver that to them. The Israelis are paying a devastating price for their complacency and their false belief that they did not need to pay heed to the legitimate aspirations of a beleaguered people. West Asia now faces months of turmoil after a relative lull.