By Abdalhadi Alijla
On the 22nd of November the State of Qatar announced that a deal for a ‘humanitarian pause’ has been reached between the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and Israel; a deal that was supported and brokered by the United States and Egypt. The humanitarian pause includes a cessation of attacks, an exchange of prisoners and an increase in humanitarian and medical aid to enter the Gaza Strip, including to the Northern areas of Gaza. The deal was a breakthrough after forty-seven days of violence that started after the Hamas attacks of October 7th, a military operation it called "Al-Aqsa Floods.” As of day 47, more than 14,800 Palestinian were killed, mostly children and women (73%), and an estimated one million are internally displaced.
Israelis, as well as the majority of Palestinians and the world at large, were caught off guard by the Hamas attacks, which resulted in the death or capture of over 1400 Israelis. For many observers, the brutality of the attacks was shocking, however the response by leaders in the Western world was significant: rather than solely condemning Hamas, there was broader criticism and dehumanization of the Palestinian population. Sentiments expressed across the official political spectrum in Europe and North America signaled complete and unwavering support for Israel to retaliate under the guise of "self-defense." The response has been massively destructive as Israel launched endless attacks on Gaza by land, air, and sea. Most international human rights organizations and legal scholars have repeatedly stated that the Israeli response constitutes gross violations of international humanitarian law and potential crimes against humanity. The US significantly increased its military aid to Israel, and vetoed a previous UNSC resolution that had condemned Hamas while also calling for a ceasefire. In that sense the US has been directly implicated in the prolonging of Palestinian suffering and rise in Palestinian casualties.
The immense brutality of the attacks, coupled with the complete impunity under which Israel seemed to be operating, have triggered massive demonstrations worldwide in support of a ceasefire. The sentiment on the streets was echoed on social media, through official statements, and expressions of solidarity from around the world. Israel’s attacks were increasingly labeled as genocidal. Public opinion was continuously inflamed with each bombing of civilian areas, killing of children, and shockingly destructive attacks on universities and medical centers, such as Al Shifa, the largest hospital and medical center in the Gaza Strip.
Between Hamas’s Stated Objectives and Unanticipated Outcomes
Hamas stated that its military operations were conducted in response to Israel’s violations of the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque and as a means to free Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. However, various commentators have argued that there are other undeclared objectives, primarily to disrupt the status quo and break the siege on the Gaza Strip, assert itself as the primary Palestinian political actor and crucially, to impede the normalization process between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which includes normalizing the relationship between Saudi Arabia without solving the Palestinian question. Hamas’s operation was meticulously planned, well-coordinated, and utilized a variety of weapons from the sea, ground, and air.
At the same time, it is clear that Hamas did not anticipate its own operation to be as ‘successful’ as it was and was equally unprepared for the Israeli army's rapid collapse in the Gaza envelope.
If disrupting the status quo was a key objective, then Hamas has certainly achieved their goal. There is widespread recognition that the events of the past months have been the most pivotal since the 1967 war. Most political actors have declared that there is no chance of returning to the status quo ante, but what this shift means for various political interests is widely different. The attacks and ensuing war have certainly halted or at least significantly reshaped the substance of what ‘normalization’ between Saudi Arabia and Israeli might entail. Within the first week of the Israeli attacks, Saudi Arabia suspended discussions related to these normalization efforts. However, the diplomatic impact of the attacks might be more extensive. While its not likely that the Abrahamic Accords signatories fully break off relations, Jordan’s public statements have been among the most critical in the Arab region and Jordanian officials have already recalled its ambassador for consultations. Other countries have severed diplomatic relations or significantly downgraded their ties with Israel, such as Bolivia, Colombia, South Africa, Jordan, Turkey, Chad, Honduras and Chile.
An unanticipated outcome of Hamas’s operation was that the image of an omnipotent Israeli military and security establishment has been shattered. The severity of the Israeli response can be in part explained by its attempt to regain this damaged reputation of a fortress protected by advanced technology.
Israel is widely recognized for its advanced security technologies, including state-of-the-art surveillance, border protection measures, and unmanned robots. Israel has traditionally marketed its army as one of the most adept and experienced in confronting insurgencies, terrorist organizations, and non-state groups. However, the duration it took for Israeli forces to regain control over Israeli areas taken by Hamas has adversely affected the reputation of its army.
And yet, after almost two months of massive bombings, and more than 12,000 tons of explosives, Hamas continues to possess the capability to launch rockets towards central Israel from Gaza.
What happens next?
The ‘humanitarian pause’ has momentarily delayed the potential for an even wider escalation of the conflict, which would have been an even lengthier and more deadly regional conflict including state and non-state actors in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, and Syria. From Yemen, the Houthis have launched drone and missile attacks on Eilat, some of which were intercepted over Egypt and the Red Sea, and captured a cargo ship in the Red Sea. Hezbullah’s reactions have been widely viewed as restrained, despite the fact that Israel has pre-emptively relocated tens of thousands of its citizens from its Northern borders. Therefore, Hezbullah, stressing what has been known as “Unity of the Axes,” has been actively involved along the southern Lebanese border, in daily clashes with Israeli forces. The more the conflict prolongs, the higher the escalation and the deeper into Northern Israel Hezballah will attack. In recent weeks, for the first time Hezbullah has used drone attacks and Burkan missiles.
So far Hamas has emerged weakened but not entirely defeated. Even if Hamas was to somehow be completely defeated or dismantled militarily, an Islamic militant resistance to the decades long brutal occupation has emanated as one deeply embedded component in Palestinian society and uprooting it from that society is impossible. On the other hand, if Hamas was to remain a key actor, the war will have bolstered their strategic position.
The wider dynamics of the conflict are more difficult to predict both regionally and globally. At the regional level, most neighboring Arab countries are unable or unwilling to provide more than humanitarian and financial support, and their actions are constrained by the West. However, anger at the popular level is real and long-lasting. Globally, the glaring hypocrisy of the West’s unconditional support for the Israeli state will have consequences beyond the region in particular and will deepen the global North-South and East-West divides.