Almost to the day of the 50th anniversary of the traumatic Yom Kippur war, when Israel was caught by surprise on two fronts, its military establishment was once again taken completely off guard by a Hamas-coordinated land, sea and air attack.
Hamas launched thousands of rockets at Israel and infiltrated Israeli towns, villages and kibbutzes, massacring hundreds of civilians and soldiers and taking scores hostage, on what was supposed to be a joyous Jewish holiday.
This represents a massive security and intelligence failure which has led to one of the darkest days in the country’s history.
For years residents of the area bordering Gaza alerted Israel’s government of their security vulnerability, but to no avail. Today, it is not only those who live facing Gaza feeling vulnerable, but the entire Israeli population. While the physical damage is visible and hard to comprehend, the psychological impact will remain for a long time.
For months, the perception in Israel was that Hamas’ interest in breaking the impasse in Gaza had been reduced, due to the recent improvement in economic conditions – Israel has granted tens of thousands of work permits for Gazan people to work in Israel and allowed more commodities to enter the Gaza Strip.
Instead, Hamas struck Israel while it is deeply divided, following months of protests over Prime Minister Netanyahu’s attempts to weaken the judiciary and generally the democratic system, harming its military preparedness.
While the massacre and hostage-taking of innocent civilians has to be condemned in no uncertain terms and can never be justified, the attack reflects frustration with the Palestinian political system, and the fact that their cause has fallen so far down the agenda of countries in the region and the international community more broadly.
Palestinians have watched the UAE normalize relations with Israel in 2020 through the Abraham Accords and are worried that further normalization with other countries might further sideline their interests.
Hamas will view the attacks as a great success psychologically as much as militarily. At the same time, it hopes to provoke a massive Israeli response, derail or delay plans for Israel– Saudi normalization and bring the blockade of Gaza back onto the international agenda.
But this will most probably prove to be pyrrhic victory. It is highly unlikely that Palestinians will profit from the attacks. Israel’s policy of blockade will probably be tightened. And if the intention is to prevent Israel normalizing relations with its neighbours the attacks and hostage-taking could even backfire, convincing regional leaders that there is no credible partner for negotiations on the Palestinian side.
What the attacks do show is that efforts to normalize Israel’s relations with its neighbours cannot take place in isolation from the Palestinian issue, which will remain a serious destabilizing factor. It is also a bitter lesson for Israel that without just peace with the Palestinians its security cannot be guaranteed.