A sophisticated shock attack by Hamas on Israel has triggered an all-out war—and threatens to shatter warming ties between Tel Aviv and the Arab world. This seemingly suicidal attack has to be understood in the context of the ‘new Middle East’—which has no interest in Palestine—either the cause or its people.
Editor’s note: ICYMI, in part one, we laid out the details of the attack and immediate fallout–including questions about Israeli intelligence.
First, the latest update
The casualty count: More than 900 people have been killed in Israel—and more than 2,600 have been wounded. In Gaza, at least 687 Palestinians were killed and at least 3,726 injured.
Hostage count: 150. The Israel government confirmed that Hamas is holding 150 civilians and soldiers. Hamas is now threatening to “execute a civilian hostage every time an airstrike hit Gazans ‘in their homes without warning.’” CNN has more on the hostages.
The airstrikes: Israel escalated its retaliation—conducting 500 airstrikes overnight. The targets included hospitals, mosques and an open air market in a refugee camp—where Gazans had rushed to stock up for a long battle. At least 60 people were killed in that single strike. You can see the devastation below:
This is what the rest of Gaza looks like:
And this is what the Israeli Air Force tweeted out:
The blockade: The Israeli government also declared a “complete siege” of Gaza. The exact quote from Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant:
I ordered a complete siege on Gaza. We are fighting human animals, and we act accordingly. As of now, no electricity, no food, no fuel for Gaza.
You can see the clip of that statement below:
What this means: Gaza has already been living under an Israeli blockade for 17 years—but it will now become even more severe. Both Tel Aviv and Cairo have long blocked essential supplies—even construction material to allow rebuilding after airstrikes. The only power plant providing electricity to Gaza could run out of fuel in a few days. This time, everyone expects it to be unimaginably worse:
In the process, the already thrashed Gaza may look like some of the most acute humanitarian crises in war zones from recent memory, like Aleppo amid Syria’s civil war or Mariupol after the Russian assault on Ukraine.
As Vox points out, this is an asymmetrical conflict:
This weekend, Hamas ruptured Israeli society with wanton violence and mass killing. But it is the Israeli state that retains the capacity to perpetuate an all-out war on the Gaza Strip. Israel has often responded disproportionately to suicide bombings and rocket attacks from Hamas, partially as a deterrent strategy. The result, however, is an intensity of violence in an occupied territory where residents have nowhere to run, where civilians are regularly killed in Israel’s assaults on Hamas targets.
Reminder: Israel controls Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters—and two of the three border crossing points. The third is controlled by Egypt. There is truly nowhere to run if you’re trapped on this tiny 365 sq km strip. Also: Hamas was not elected by Gazans.
The US role: Washington has been falling over itself to offer unconditional support to Tel Aviv. There have been no calls for restraint—and no mention of international law (unlike its statements on Ukraine). This is how bad it is:
In this heated moment, even calling for a ceasefire appears to be beyond the pale. Blinken spoke with his Turkish counterpart and shared on social media a brief summary of the call, saying he had “encouraged Turkey’s advocacy for a cease-fire and the release of all hostages by Hamas immediately.” And then he deleted that post, according to Ha’aretz. Instead, Blinken then posted, “Israel has the right to defend itself, rescue any hostages, and protect its citizens.”
As for India: New Delhi too has made no mention of the Palestinians. In fact, there has been no official statement—other than PM Modi’s tweet—which said:
Deeply shocked by the news of terrorist attacks in Israel. Our thoughts and prayers are with the innocent victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with Israel at this difficult hour.
India never used the word “terrorist” in connection with Palestine before. And the Israeli ambassador was quick to underline it—saying India’s stand came from “the position of a country which knows terrorism, a point of knowledge and not of ignorance.” FYI: Congress seems to have swung to the other extreme—and didn’t even mention the Hamas attack in its party resolution—which reiterated “long-standing support for the rights of the Palestinian people.”
The worst case scenario: If other nations to do not step in to restrain Israel, we may well see extraordinary devastation:
“For a long time, I’ve believed that the only thing standing in the way of Israel wiping out Gaza entirely or pushing Gazans into the Sinai has been the ‘international community,’” [says Palestinian analyst] Tariq Kenney-ShawaKenney… Shawa fears a catastrophe on the spectrum of the Nakba, the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 when the state of Israel was established, which resulted in 15,000 Palestinians killed, more than 500 villages destroyed, and about 750,000 Palestinians displaced. “I think Palestinians are at risk of another Nakba,” he told me.
Of course, no one knows how the rest of the Middle East will react to a second Nakba—including Israel or the US.
The big Q: What was Hamas thinking?
That Israel will respond with ferocity and without restraint was a given. So what has Hamas achieved—except possibly ensure its own extinction? This seemingly suicidal attack has to be understood in the context of the ‘new Middle East’—which has no interest in Palestine—either the cause or its people.
The new Middle East: It all started in 2020 when the UAE became the first Gulf Arab country to establish diplomatic ties with Israel. It was sealed even though Netanyahu announced a bold plan to annex parts of the West Bank. The reason: Arab states are far more afraid of Iran—than invested in the cause of Palestine. An alliance with Israel keeps Tehran in check—and the US firmly by their side.
To add insult to injury, the UAE framed the agreement as "a very bold step" to stop the "ticking time bomb" of Israel's annexation of the West Bank. The Palestinians called it “a black day in the history of Palestine” and “a total departure from the Arab consensus.” Translation: the UAE sold us out. But it did little to stop Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan from following UAE’s footsteps.
An emboldened Israel: has been running amok ever since. In 2021, Israeli police stormed the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem—the third holiest shrine for Muslims. Hamas retaliated by firing rockets into Israel—and a nasty battle ensued. In the end, 12 Israelis died compared to 230 Palestinians. At the time, Arab nations made a lot of noise, but did very little except broker a ceasefire. At the time, analysts said:
The diplomatic recognitions were “supposed to give them leverage, and one of their arguments was that Israel won’t want to disrupt these new relations with the Arab world and so will hold back on things like settlements and Gaza,’’ said Mr. Elgindy of the Middle East Institute. In fact, he said, “I believe the opposite — the Israelis now have more cover.’’
That prediction proved to be increasingly right—as Netanyahu allied himself with far-right groups to stay in power:
- In March, settlers went on a rampage in the West Bank—in response to two shooting deaths. It was so bad that an Israeli general called it a “pogrom”—while the finance minister responded to the settler violence, saying: “I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the state of Israel should do it.”
- In July, Israeli troops—backed by armoured bulldozers and snipers on rooftops—also launched a ground offensive on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank—the biggest military operation on Palestinian territory in 20 years.
- Israeli troops or settlers killed 227 Palestinians this year—with most of those deaths—189—occurring in the West Bank. The number of Israelis killed before the Hamas attack: 29.
Enter the Saudis: Right before the Hamas attack, Saudi Arabia was readying to make history, as well. Riyadh was going to sign a deal normalising ties with Israel—and was even ready to raise its oil output to make it happen. The agreement was going to make all parties involved happy:
Talks on a deal have centred on Saudi recognition of Israel—a move that could revamp the geopolitics of the Middle East—in return for U.S. weapons sales, security guarantees and help building a civilian nuclear program. An agreement would be a diplomatic coup for President Biden as he faces a tough re-election battle.
Vanishing Palestine: Netanyahu was so complacent about removing the last bit of Arab resistance, he gloated over the irrelevance of the Palestinians—in his address to the UN General Assembly:
I also believe that we must not give the Palestinians a veto over new peace treaties with Arab states… See, the Palestinians are only 2% of the Arab world. As long as they believe that the other 98% will remain in a war-like state with Israel, that larger mass, that larger Arab world could eventually choke, dissolve, destroy the Jewish state. So when the Palestinians see that most of the Arab world has reconciled itself to the Jewish state, they too will be more likely to abandon the fantasy of destroying Israel and finally embrace a path of genuine peace with it.
In the course of his speech, he waved around a map that had all the nations in the region—except Palestine—which had been entirely erased from this “new Middle East”:
The grand Hamas plan: is not much of a plan. The attack was meant to send a message—not to Tel Aviv but to the Arab world:
This is a message to Saudi Arabia, which is crawling towards Israel, and to the Americans who are supporting normalisation and supporting Israel. There is no security in the whole region as long as Palestinians are left outside of the equation.
The inevitable suffering of the two million residents of Gaza—most of whom are innocent civilians—is also part of that message. Whether the governments care or not, Palestine matters deeply to their citizens. FYI: Only 2% of Saudis back establishing ties with Israel. That’s why the first reaction from Riyadh reset the rhetoric:
Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry returned to familiar language Saturday, saying in a statement that the kingdom had been warning of an "explosive situation as a result of the continued occupation and deprivation of the Palestinian people's legitimate rights." Aziz Alghashian, a Saudi expert on Saudi-Israeli relations, said the statement was intended to dispel any notion that the kingdom would prioritize normalisation at the expense of supporting the Palestinians. "This kind of situation has made Saudi Arabia go back to its traditional role," he said.
But that’s just rhetoric. The real question: how long will the Arab countries stand on the sidelines while Israel pounds Gaza into the Stone Age? The Hamas offensive is a high stakes game of geopolitical poker—where Palestinian lives are being placed as bets.
As for India: In the same UN speech, Netanyahu also talked up the economic corridor that will connect India to Europe—via the Middle East:
The tentative route, as available in several reports, of the corridor connects India to the UAE through sea link. From the UAE, the plan involves building a rail route which would pass through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel. The corridor will be connected with Europe through a sea link with Israeli ports.
That project—announced just last month—may be as good as dead. Of course, a prolonged conflict in the Middle East will affect oil prices—which spells disaster for an Indian economy battling inflation.
The bottomline: Hawks around the world—be they in India or the US or Israel—view this conflict as a golden opportunity to destroy Hamas. But how many Palestinian lives will that achievement require?
This older New York Times piece lays out the shifting stance of Arab nations toward—and Palestine. Reuters and France24 are very good on the Saudi angle—and fallout for the Arab world. Bloomberg News has more on what it means to Washington. Washington Post recaps Israeli aggression in West Bank and Jerusalem—in the lead up to the attacks. Our Big Stories have more on the Israeli deal with UAE, brutal killing of an Al Jazeera journalist and the storming of Al Aqsa. Outlook has more on the impact on the India-Middle East-Europe corridor.