In the wake of Hamas’s well-planned, multi-pronged attack on Israel, it’s essential to examine the underlying factors that led to this latest eruption of violence. The conflict between Israel and Hamas has been an ongoing and deeply rooted issue, with recurring cycles of aggression and retaliation. To understand why Hamas launched this attack, one must consider various key factors that have been brewing for years.
A History of Escalation
Since Israel’s withdrawal of military posts and forced removal of Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005, there have been four wars and numerous flare-ups of violence between Israel and Hamas militants. Each time Hamas has fired rockets into Israel or engaged in provocations, it has faced fierce Israeli retaliation in the form of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. This cycle of violence, though costly, has become a grim reality for both sides.
Hamas’s propensity for violence can be attributed, in part, to its internal dynamics. It constantly grapples with smaller, more extremist groups like Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which challenge its authority in Gaza. These groups occasionally launch their own attacks on Israel, resulting in broader Israeli retaliation that affects all of Gaza.
A Right-Wing Israeli Government
The formation of a right-wing Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in December has further strained the situation. This government has openly expressed its desire to annex the West Bank and has allowed the expansion of Jewish settlements in the territory, despite international condemnation. This expansion has led to confrontations between settlers and young West Bank Palestinians, forming a loosely organized group known as the “Lions’ Den.”
The “Lions’ Den” represents independent militants who have little regard for the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank under Mahmoud Abbas’s leadership but wields limited authority. This group competes with Gaza militant factions for influence among Palestinian youth on both sides.
Provocative Actions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque
Another flashpoint contributing to the timing of Hamas’s attack was provocative actions related to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. A visit to the Temple Mount by Israeli Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, along with Israeli tourists during the Sukkot holiday, was seen as a provocation by Palestinians. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is one of the holiest sites in Islam and is under Jordan’s custodianship. Palestinians view these visits as disrespectful and a violation of agreements respecting Jordan’s role.
Hamas has capitalized on these visits, claiming that they led to the desecration of the Al-Aqsa site, seeking support from Muslims worldwide.
Changing Dynamics in the Arab World
Furthermore, changing dynamics in the Arab world have added urgency to Hamas’s actions. The 2020 Abraham Accords, which involved the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco making peace agreements with Israel, have raised concerns among Palestinians. Speculation that Saudi Arabia might also forge a deal with Israel intensifies those concerns.
These developments diminish the pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s government has prioritized peace with Arab states over peace with the Palestinians, a stance that Hamas vehemently opposes.
The Significance of Timing
Hamas named its operation “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood,” underscoring its primary motivation: denouncing Israeli actions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Additionally, the attack coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when Egypt and Syria jointly attacked Israel. This historical resonance is not lost on Hamas, emphasizing the importance of Palestinians surprising Israel.
As the situation unfolds, the conflict’s trajectory remains uncertain. Hezbollah in Lebanon has already fired on Israeli positions, but its level of involvement hinges on Iran’s decisions. Iran has typically kept Hezbollah’s substantial rocket and missile capabilities in reserve in case of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
The actions of the “Lions’ Den” in the West Bank, potential attacks by Arab Israelis, and the reactions of Western governments will further shape the course of this conflict.
The recent escalation between Hamas and Israel underscores the urgent need for a comprehensive and sustainable approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The status quo, where hardline militants are contained in Gaza while tensions simmer in the West Bank and Israel, is no longer viable. As the conflict intensifies, it becomes increasingly evident that a new policy framework is required to address the complex and deeply rooted issues at the heart of this ongoing conflict.