Date : 09/10/2023
Relevance: GS Paper 2 - International Relations - India & West Asia
Keywords: Yom Kippur War, West Bank and Gaza, India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor
The recent Hamas operation, Toofan Al-Aqsa (Al-Aqsa Flood), has drawn comparisons to the Yom Kippur War from 50 years ago. While the Yom Kippur War led to a significant regional shift with Israel eventually accepting a 'land for peace' formula, the outcome of Toofan Al-Aqsa remains uncertain. We delve into the potential consequences of this conflict on the West Asian geostrategic landscape.
Israel's Military Position:
From a military perspective, Israel does not face an existential threat in this conflict. It is expected to prevail against Hamas, which lacks the resources for a sustained campaign. Israel might launch a ground incursion into Gaza to restore morale and re-impose strategic asymmetry. However, this experience may force Israel to reconsider its strategic doctrines, particularly in the context of intelligence failures and overreliance on hi-tech missile defense and AI.
The Rise of Non-State Arab Militias:
The Hamas blitzkrieg has created lasting social media icons, potentially rejuvenating the 'military option' and boosting the standing of non-state Arab militias like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, al-Houthis, Islamic State, various avatars of al-Qaeda, and Al-Shabaab. Depending on the conflict's endgame, these groups could gain further prominence.
The conflict is likely to remain geographically confined, as Hamas and Islamic Jihad have few allies. The Palestinian Authority is divided between the West Bank (controlled by al-Fatah) and Gaza (administered by Hamas), causing credibility issues for the former. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are expanding their influence in the West Bank, triggering a strong Israeli response.
Regionally, support for Hamas is limited. Egypt, Gaza's only Arab neighbor, has strained relations with Hamas due to their past association with the Muslim Brotherhood. Gulf monarchies, except Qatar, disapprove of Hamas, and Turkey's support is limited due to economic constraints and its efforts to mend relations with Israel and Gulf states. Iran, however, has long supported Hamas and may continue to do so.
Reevaluation of Israeli Strategy
This attack will compel Israel to reassess its military strategy at its core. Hamas, given its meticulous planning, is well aware of what to expect from Israel. As retaliatory strikes commence, Hamas has called upon Palestinians and other Arabs to join the struggle to remove the Israeli occupation. Israel has responded by deploying a substantial number of troops, concerned about the potential for multiple fronts opening up. Engaging in ground operations in Gaza may be necessary to free hostages and eliminate Hamas, but this would entail Israeli forces navigating the challenging terrain of urban warfare, where Hamas fighters can blend in with the civilian population - a situation the Israeli Defense Force has long sought to avoid.
Israel's 'Double or Quits' Option:
This crisis effectively presents Israel’s current 10-month-old ultra-nationalist government with a ‘double or quits’ option. Even before Toofan Al-Aqsa, Jerusalem’s hard-line has led to a surge in violence with over 200 Palestinians and 30 Israelis dead this year. Given the Israeli traditional policy on such matters coupled with the current adrenaline-high ambiance, the line is likely to get harder. The crisis is also likely to corral the national unity.
Implications for Regional Geopolitics:
On a global level, this situation provides valuable insights. Hamas, through its audacious attacks, seeks to position itself not only as the primary mediator in the Israel-Palestine issue but also as a disruptor of the emerging U.S. strategy in the region. The Biden administration had been advocating for reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Israel, potentially involving security guarantees and civilian nuclear technology for Riyadh. This pact, if realized, would have marginalized Iran and Hamas. However, the recent terror assault on Israel has derailed this plan. As Israel responds to Hamas and other terror groups, Saudi Arabia may hesitate to normalize relations, at least in the near term, due to potential public backlash.
Other signatories of the Abraham Accords might prioritize economic gains over regional politics, while Iran could feel emboldened.
Impact on India:
- Although India is not directly affected by Toofan Al-Aqsa, it may experience collateral damage in the form of rising oil prices, impacts on its diaspora, and potential disruptions to economic projects like the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor. Conversely, it could position India as a stable and attractive destination for foreign investments, insulated from regional turmoil.
- This situation imparts important lessons for nations, like India, grappling with terrorism. While the world focuses on major power struggles, the threat from non-state actors, supported by states such as Iran and Pakistan, continues to grow. Technological advancements are leveling the playing field for these non-state actors. Security agencies should refrain from projecting their own biases onto their adversaries and remain open to unconventional thinking to stay ahead of their opponents.
The outcome of Toofan Al-Aqsa remains uncertain, but its implications for West Asian geostrategic dynamics are profound. The conflict could shape the region's politics, affect international relations, and impact India in various ways.
Despite Israel's formidable military and intelligence capabilities, this recent attack reveals the vulnerabilities of a nation persistently in a state of preparedness for conflict. If the ultimate aim of every conflict is to achieve political objectives, it may be time for Israel to not only reconsider its military strategy and reestablish deterrence but also to redefine the political goals it aims to attain through the use of force.
Source - The Hindu/ Sansad TV