When the extremist group Hamas launched its unprecedented attack on Israel, it also targeted efforts to forge new regional security partnerships that could threaten Palestinian aspirations for a state of their own and the ambitions of Iran, the group’s main backer. .
Saturday’s attack, the biggest incursion into Israel in decades, coincides with U.S.-backed moves to push Saudi Arabia toward normalizing relations with Israel in exchange for a defense deal between Washington and Riyadh, a move that would to curb the Saudi kingdom’s rapprochement with Tehran.
Palestinian officials and a regional source said the gunmen who attacked Israeli cities were also sending a message that if Israel wanted security, it could not ignore the Palestinians and that any deal with Saudi Arabia would prevent its softening of relations with Iran.
“All the normalization agreements you (Arab states) signed with (Israel) will not end this conflict,” Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, which controls Gaza, told Al Jazeera television.
A regional source with knowledge of developments related to Iran and the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah added: “This is a message to Saudi Arabia, which is taking steps towards rapprochement with Israel, and to the Americans who are supporting normalization and support Israel. There is no security at all in the entire region as long as the Palestinians remain out of the equation.” “What happened is beyond all expectations,” the source said. “Today is a turning point in the conflict.”
The Hamas attack comes after months of escalating violence in the West Bank, with escalating Israeli raids and Palestinian street attacks. Living conditions for Palestinians have worsened under the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The peace process has been stalled for years.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Israel have given signs that they are getting closer to a normalization agreement.
Laura Blumenfeld, a Middle East analyst at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, said Hamas may have launched the attack after anticipating that it could lose influence in the face of possible improvement in Israeli-Arab relations.
“Seeing that the Israelis and the Saudis were getting closer to an agreement, Hamas decided: If we don’t have a seat at the negotiating table, we will sabotage the agreement,” she says.
DETERMINATION OF THE MOMENT OF THE ATTACK
Osama Hamdan, leader of Hamas in Lebanon, told Reuters that Saturday’s operation should make Arab states realize that accepting Israeli security demands would not bring peace.
“For those who want stability and peace in the region, the starting point must be the end of the Israeli occupation,” he said. “Some (Arab states) unfortunately began to think that Israel could pave the way for America to protect their security.”
Mr Netanyahu vowed “revenge for this black day” after launching Saturday’s attack, which came exactly 50 years after the start of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when Israel was attacked by Egyptian and Syrian forces and fought for the survival of his.
Recalling the 1973 war, Hamas official Ali Baraka said of Saturday’s attack: “It was necessary for the resistance leadership to make a decision at the right time, when the enemy was distracted.” He said the attack by air, land and sea was “a shock to the enemy and proved that Israeli intelligence agencies failed to prevent this operation” as Israel was caught by surprise.
In the decades since 1973, Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, and several other Arab states have also normalized ties, including several Gulf Arab states near Saudi Arabia. But the Palestinians have not come close to aspiring to secure a state, a prospect that seems more remote than ever.
“While it is unlikely that this was the primary motivation for the attacks, the actions of Hamas are a stark reminder to the Saudis that the Palestinian issue should not be treated as secondary to normalization negotiations,” said Richard LeBaron, a former diplomat. Middle East American, currently with the Atlantic Council.
THE INFLUENCE OF IRAN
A senior administration official of United States President Joe Biden told reporters that it is “premature to speculate” on the effect the conflict between Israel and Hamas may have on efforts toward Saudi-Israeli normalization.
“I can say with certainty that terrorist groups like Hamas will not prevent such an outcome. But this is a long process,” added the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has previously said that Palestinians should not be allowed to veto a potential peace deal between Israel and Arab states.
A regional source with knowledge of the negotiations between Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States on normalization and a possible deal to protect Riyadh said Israel was wrong to refuse to make concessions to the Palestinians.
After Saturday’s attacks, Saudi Arabia called for an “immediate cessation of violence” between the two sides.
Iran, meanwhile, has not hidden its support, financing and arming of Hamas and another Palestinian militant organization, Islamic Jihad. Tehran called Saturday’s attack an act of self-defense by the Palestinians.
Yahya Rahim Safavi, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Tehran would stand by Palestinian fighters “until the liberation of Palestine and Jerusalem”.
A Palestinian official close to Islamist militant groups said after Hamas launched a massive barrage of rockets fired from Gaza: “Iran has a hand in every rocket that is fired at Israel.”
“This does not mean that they ordered (Saturday’s) attack, but it is no secret that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have improved their arsenal, thanks to Iran,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Iran’s support for Palestinian groups is part of a wider network of militant groups and armed groups that Tehran supports across the Middle East, enabling a strong presence in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. , as well as in Gaza.