On the 7th of October, 2023, news broke out that (Hamas) Palestinians fired thousands of rockets towards Israel, crossed the border through multiple points, attacked checkpoints and security locations, took military and civilian hostages, destroying/confiscating military vehicles and tanks. In a remake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel is being attacked during its religious holiday Sukkot. Tragic events for civilians in Israel and Palestine were beginning.
The Palestinian Conflict, the Palestinian Question, the Palestinian Problem and all other terms used to characterize or re-brand the illegal, Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories are being propagated aggressively since 1948 in a bid to redefine fundamental understanding of global audience related to, essentially, the occupation and colonization of Palestinian territories. Since the inception of Israel, the paradigm related to Israel shifted from questions on existence as a state due to aggressive stance of its Arab neighbors to negotiations related to a Two-State Solution on the international scene. Furthermore, recent developments suggested even more understanding and concessions from some powerful Arab countries, and Israel appeared to have won concessions difficult to obtain a few decades ago. Bold projections of the future even saw Israel taking over the regional leading role the US used to play, as its economy seemed to boom and its military superiority were uncontested. The new natural gas power house, Israel, is supposed to replace the Russian Federation as major supplier for Europe. In what was considered the last stage of Saudi-Israeli normalization, everything was going very well for Israel and no significant obstacle was standing in its expansion. The unchallenged narrative that was circulated at least in Europe and the US was that Israelis are winning, which they did in numerous instances, and Palestinians were slowly losing their chance for an independent state.
Everything was predictable, with a high degree of confidence until the 7th of October, 2023, when the unimaginable happened. Inhabitants of what has long been considered the largest open space prison in the world, i.e. the Gaza Strip, a small territory under a complete blockade on land, air and sea, overwhelmed one of the most technologically developed and combat-experienced armies in the world with what appears to be a carefully-planned, coordinated attack. At more than 24 hours after the beginning of this armed incursion, Palestinians are still present on Israeli territory, holding positions in what was presented as a perfectly impenetrable territory.
Operation Al-Aqsa Flood vs Operation Swords of Iron
The Palestinian armed incursion into Israel reported on the 7th of October 2023 has been presented by the Palestinian Hamas as the Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, according to Hamas a military retaliation to recent assaults on Al-Aqsa Mosque from Jerusalem, occupation and oppression of Palestinians, and as a bid for freedom. The Gaza Strip is heavily sanctioned and barricades imposed by Israel on land, sea and air should have prevented the introduction of arms and munition into the coastal enclave. Reports claim also that Palestinians managed to jam Israeli communication equipment, a claim that must be analyzed in detail. Overall, Hamas appear to have been able to acquire a couple of thousands of rockets, arms and communication/jamming equipment that allowed it to stun the Israeli army. The rocket attacks targeted cities from Israel and appear to have hit even regions around Ben Gurion International Airport from Tel Aviv. This led to companies like United Airlines, Delta and American Airlines, Lufthansa, Wizz Air and Indian Airlines to cancel flights into Israel. The rockets fell also in residential areas, killing and injuring civilians and destroying infrastructure.
The other major part of the operation entailed the penetration of Israeli territory by Palestinian troops. This resulted into occupation of security buildings (military and/or police), taking Israeli military personnel and civilians’ hostages (latest reports claim that over 100 Israelis have been taken into Gaza), destroyed or apprehended military vehicles and tanks. The security breach was enormous and injuries, loss of lives and infrastructure, equipment were significant.
The Saturday morning announcement of Israeli reservists’ mobilization appeared initially an exaggeration, since many details were still unknown. However, as the news unfolded, it became clear that the escalation was significant. Israel immediately launched Operation Swords of Iron and began to attack targets in the Gaza Strip.
After one and a half days from the initial Palestinian attack, the record of this escalation was already concerning: more than 600 dead and 2000 wounded in Israel, and over 313 dead and nearly 2000 wounded in Palestine (Aljazeera Live Updates, 14:04 CEST). The tragic events are unfolding, as Israel tells the Gazans to leave in what appears to be a bid to reoccupy the Gaza Strip.
The human loss, both military and civilians, is deeply troubling and each side accuses the other of provocation. Immediate indirect consequences of the escalation encompass among other rallies of support for Palestinians in some Arab countries, the fall of stocks on the stock exchanges in Israel and some Arab countries, and the shooting of two Israeli tourists and an Arab person in Alexandria by an Egyptian police officer on Sunday.
Operation Al-Aqsa Flood: the tip of an iceberg
Throughout its history “Gaza has become synonymous with conflict and dispute”, and wherever its name was mentioned, it would “give rise to passions and emotions” (Fileu, 2014).
Although in terms of area it occupies a mere 360 square kilometers, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, Israel, and Egypt. Being located between two deserts (Negev and Sinai) and the sea, Gaza has been the cause of disputes between great empires, such as the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans, as well as the Crusaders (Fileu, 2014). At the end of World War I, the Gaza Strip came under British administration and became part of the British Mandate of Palestine, while in the aftermath of An-Nakba, in 1948, some 200,000 people took refuge into Gaza. Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Egypt began administering the new Gaza Strip, while eighteen years later, Israel captured it in the 1967 Six-Day War. Following the Oslo Accords, signed between 1993 and 1999, Israel transferred to newly established entity called the Palestinian Authority (Fileu, 2014) (PA) the civil and security responsibility for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip as well as in the West Bank, and in 2005 Israel withdrew from Gaza. Shortly afterwards, (in June 2007) following an armed confrontation (some specialists refer to it as civil war) between the two rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas the latter won and established an Islamic administration in Gaza. Fatah was exiled/withdrew to the West Bank.
Over time, due to the typology of the population and the reason they retreated on these territories (An-Nakba), Palestinian nationalism emerged from the pain of forced departure from the ancestral home, the fertile land and metamorphosed over the decades into an ideology that incorporates more than the ideal of having a state of their own, especially, the desire for freedom, a freedom that many outside the Gaza Strip cannot comprehend, as well the revenge of generations of Palestinians who have suffered unjustly and been deprived of the most basic rights of a ordinary human being.
On this background arose the Palestinian fedayeen and then, in 1987, the so-called “stone revolt”, the Intifada, which was the first stage of a process that culminated in Israel’s recognition of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) and the latter’s recognition of the State of Israel (Fileu, 2014).
The last century was very painful for the Palestinians. The 1948 war with Israel was called An-Nakba (the Catastrophe), as Israel was being founded and Palestinians had to flee to the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Then, the Arabs losing the 1967 War led to further territorial expansion of Israel. Millions of Palestinians still live in camps throughout Lebanon and Jordan, as others fled the region for peaceful lives. The attempts of Israel to infiltrate Palestinian politics and to lobby international organizations in order to advance own interests lead to further conflict and weakening of Palestinian unity for achieving independence. The so-called Western peace initiatives did not result in any improvement of Palestinians’ situation whatsoever.
On the other hand, Israel has been seen as an exogenous presence in the region at least until recently. It has been challenged and attacked on more fronts by neighbours, harassed by other Arab governments like Libya under Ghaddafi, and generally had reasons to be concerned for its security in the region. Hence, the Palestinian armed incursion into Israel has a long and complex background and resuming the narrative to one side’s arguments is impossible.
Geopolitical and geostrategic background of Palestinian-Israeli confrontation
In similar situations from the past, the biggest superpower of the world, the US, would have mobilized resources and helped Israel to push back and eventually gain new territories. However, at this point in history, the US hegemony is challenged at multiple levels: its bid to advance in Ukraine appears to be difficult, although cash flow in its military industrial complex is increasing, the apparently excessive sanctions appear to drive large economies away from the dollar, and the number of US officials and businessmen visiting Beijing and ask for understanding in economic relations is increasing by the day in this period.
On the other hand, the indebted Egypt has recently joined BRICS, Syria is receiving more military support from the Russian Federation and Türkiye is warning the US against fueling Kurdish uprisings in the region. OPEC+ group is not following the advice of the US in oil output, contributing thus to increasing global inflation and preventing Europe from easily replacing Russian oil and gas with other supplies.
The only significant positive development for Israel from this perspective in recent weeks appears to be a deal with Saudi Arabia to normalize relations, but it is not clear if this has been signed already or not, and it is not clear if it included the establishment and recognition of a Palestinian State based on the 1967 borders. Despite the Abraham Accords and the apparent agreement with Lebanon related to the maritime borders, hence the rights on the Mediterranean gas, Israel is facing certain difficulties in normalizing its presence in the region. Likewise, the declarations of Ismail Haniyeh, present in Türkiye during Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, are an indirect sign that Türkiye does not care about possible association of Turkish entities with Palestinian actions.
Taking into consideration recent history, the most predictable outcome of this escalation should be Israel taking control of the situation, occupying more Palestinian land, and increasing pressure on Palestinians to leave. On long term, conquering Gaza Strip would give it increased access to the Mediterranean Sea, more rights on the Mediterranean natural gas, more leverage in the relation with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and more options in developing the India-Middle EastEurope Economic Corridor (IMEC).
From another perspective, Egypt is probably not very keen to lose income from the iconic Suez Canal, and will not support developments in this direction. Likewise, Türkiye will try to compete Israel both in terms of trade routes and supplying oil and gas from its own reserves or via pipelines from Central Asia. Iran, another BRICS member that appears to have learnt for itself and for others how to survive sanctions, is also active in the region and supports, besides Palestinian freedom, its interests in this part of the world.
However, the classical reoccupation of Gaza Strip may not be as simple as it used to be. Furthermore, Israel lost its appearance as invincible, impenetrable, and absolute winner in the region. This slowly built image has faded and this will impact relations with neighbors, trust of its business partners and possibly its arms sales that relied on a certain security promise. Even if Israel advances and gains more territory, even if it completely occupied Gaza Strip, the reconstruction of its invincibility might take decades.
As for the Palestinians, the deep desperation and hectic action appeared to have transformed into a more thoughtful planning. The heavy toll that the Gaza Strip will take after this escalation might have been underestimated, but in all cases, the destruction of the invincible Israel myth appeared to have been the priority.
Many countries have taken sides, as they normally used to, while others refrained. Other organizations condemned the escalation and civilian casualties.
This assessment concludes that the failure of the sides to find a peaceful resolution to this pressing problem is doubled by the failure of the so-called international community, particularly major security guarantors that benefit from this position, to deliver what they claimed to deliver.
Before the 7th of October, 2023, a Palestinian attack inside Israeli territory was unpredictable and unimaginable. Today, an Israeli strong retaliation is predictable. However, given other major developments on the international scene, its long-term outcomes are also becoming unpredictable. Should there be peace in the region, the form in which this is instated has become less clear.
Fehren, 08 October 2023
 https://press.un.org/en/2016/sc12657.doc.htm 8.10.2023.