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Middle East braces for long, violent war

Oct 8, 2023, 11:22am EDT
Israel's anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip
REUTERS/Amir Cohen
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More than 600 are dead and thousands more injured as gun battles rage on between Israeli forces and Hamas fighters a day after the militant group launched a brutal surprise attack targeting civilians across southern Israel, which prompted a declaration of war and retaliatory strikes.

Here’s expert analysis on the conflict and what could happen next.

— J.D. Capelouto contributed to this report.

Analysts agree that Hamas’ attack is unlike anything Israel has faced in decades and marked a major intelligence failure for Israeli forces who were unable to prevent it. Israel was caught ”completely by surprise,” Amos Harel writes in Haaretz. It also doesn’t help that Israel is also dealing with an internal political crisis, largely surrounding the judicial reforms proposed by Netanyahu’s right-wing government, Harel argues. The attack was also a conceptual failure on the part of Israeli authorities who had assumed Hamas would refrain from a wide-scale invasion, The Economist reported.

One of the biggest dilemmas Israel faces is how it weakens the influence of Hamas on the Gaza Strip without taking on more responsibility for the territory. Tel Aviv would also want to prevent large-scale devastation and angering international partners. Daniel Byman and Alexander Palmer from the Center for Strategic and International Studies argue that such a task will be immensely difficult, as Israel lacks a “credible political partner” among Palestinians who can administer the Gaza Strip. Raining down fire on the Palestinian enclave with little response from Hamas would also erode international support and prove “diplomatically disruptive” for Israel, which currently has the backing of the U.S. and is attempting to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has so far blamed Israel for the current violence.

Hamas is convinced that by holding dozens of Israeli hostages, it could inevitably force the government to release Palestinian prisoners, Anshel Pfeffer from Haaretz writes on X. “Sadly Netanyahu’s government is incapable of strategic thought,” Pfeffer notes, adding that the prime minister has tried to ignore Gaza over his many years in office, despite previously paying a high price for the return of Israeli citizens or the remains of soldiers in what the New York Times describes as ”lopsided prisoner exchange deals.” In 2006, Gaza militants held the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for five years before he was exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners — many of whom were convicted terrorists.

The attacks were a reminder to the world that the Israel-Palestine conflict hasn’t been resolved, and that for Palestinians, their situation is getting substantially worse under the right-wing Israeli government,” The Atlantic Council’s Richard LeBaron said. The situation in Gaza has been largely ignored by Washington in recent years, Jonathan Guyer argued in Vox, as Israel has further antagonized Palestinians in the occupied areas. “The dread Israelis are feeling right now, myself included, is a sliver of what Palestinians have been feeling on a daily basis,” Haggai Matar wrote in the left-leaning Israeli publication +972 Magazine.

Intensifying fighting in Israel’s northern border has drawn in attacks from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed proxy said to stand in solidarity with Palestinians. Hezbollah reportedly has thousands of rockets in reserve and fired dozens of shells at three Israeli positions in disputed territory Sunday morning. According to Critical Threats, a project from the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, Iran could potentially exploit Israeli distraction to move advanced military systems into Lebanon and Syria. This could allow Tehran to make significant advances in its nuclear program. David Wood from the Crisis Group told The New Arab that Hezbollah could be waiting to see the severity of Israeli’s response in Gaza before pursuing its next steps. “We haven’t crossed the point of no return,” he said.

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