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Geopolitical Ripple Effects of the Israel-Hamas War

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Geopolitical Ripple Effects of the Israel-Hamas War

As the latest conflagration to rock the world’s most volatile region, the war that broke out between Hamas and Israel on October 7, 2023, will engender far-reaching security and strategic consequences for the region and beyond.

The overwhelming barrage of rockets that Hamas’s al-Qassam Brigades unleashed against Israel on October 7, combined with the infiltration of militants into Israeli territory and subsequent abduction of scores of civilians, is the opening salvo of a renewed open clash between the two parties. While it is too early to offer clear-eyed predictions of the outcome of this round of warfare, one thing is for certain:

the “state of war” that the Israeli government declared in the wake of the initial attacks, is bound to reshape regional geopolitics in consequential ways.

The determination of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, to “turn Gaza into a deserted island” and to “target each and every corner of the strip” looms particularly ominous [1].

Coming on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War,

this devastating and brazen assault against Israel has both symbolic and strategic significance.

For one, it serves as a powerful reminder of the continuing vulnerability of the state of Israel to asymmetric warfare carried out in the name of the Palestinian cause. Actions by the current Israeli government – described as the most right-wing, religious-nationalist in the country’s history – can widely be viewed as having thrown accelerant on the embers of the Israeli-Palestinian disputes over Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In mid-July 20023, the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now reported that Israel had built a record number of 12,855 settler units since the start of 2023 [2]. From a strategic perspective, the Hamas assault reminds Israel and the world that, despite hopeful developments in the Middle East in recent years – including most notably the 2020 Abraham Accords between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – lasting peace and stability for Israel will necessitate a comprehensive, clear, and credible resolution of the Palestinian question. Unfortunately, the Netanyahu government’s policy of deliberately sidelining the Palestinian issue underscores the interconnectedness of Israel’s peace and security and Palestinian sovereignty [3].

The similarities with the 1973 Yom Kippur War will undoubtedly be debated by pundits over the coming days and weeks and will carefully be scrutinized by historians and strategists in the years ahead. The similarities in glaring intelligence failures are especially unsettling. Beyond that, though, it is already apparent that, although caught completely by surprise in 1973 and 2023, the challenge this time around for the Israeli government, and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in particular, is that it is confronting a non-state actor carrying out asymmetric warfare against Israeli interests. And while it has been living near-continuously since its creation in 1948 with such asymmetric challenges to its national security, Israel’s retaliatory options – its unrivaled regional military might notwithstanding – are complicated by widespread hostage-taking of Israeli citizens. In fact, Hamas might well be intending to use them as human shields against Israeli retaliatory strikes in the Gaza Strip.

Where do we go from here?

The situation on the ground remains especially fluid at this stage, and it is difficult to see how it could be de-escalated in the short-term. That being said, could there be a bigger catalyst behind the attacks, above and beyond being a response to “the desecration of the Al Aqsa Mosque as well as Israeli atrocities against Palestinians over the decades”? [4]. And what about the broader regional fallout of this latest clash?

Hamas emerged out of the First Intifada (1987-1993) as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish State. As stated in its 1988 Covenant, “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious…In face of the Jews’ usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised” [5]. Although of Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist origin, it is worth noting that Hamas has been the recipient of funds, arms, and training from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) since the early 1990s [6]. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, senior leaders of Hamas (and Hezbollah) have apparently confirmed that “[O]fficers of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had worked with Hamas since August to devise the air, land and sea incursions” against Israel [7].

If corroborated, Iran’s implicit support for Hamas’s attacks fits into a broader geopolitical calculus. As the main Shi’ite power in the Middle East, Iran has been locked in a pronounced rivalry with Saudi Arabia. Consequently, any recent talk of a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel [8] would invariably have unnerved the regime in Tehran, as such a development could shift the regional balance of power significantly in Saudi Arabia’s favor. To guard against such an eventuality, lending support to and encouraging Hamas to launch an attack against Israel serves the strategic purpose of trying to scuttle any nascent rapprochement between Iran’s erstwhile regional enemies. In case that may indeed be part of Iran’s strategic motivation, initial pronouncements by Saudi Arabia appear to reward the risky gamble to some extent. In a written statement, the Saudi Foreign Ministry noted, “The kingdom recalls its repeated warnings of the dangers of the explosion of the situation as a result of the continued occupation, the deprivation of the Palestinian people of their legitimate rights, and the repetition of systematic provocations against its sanctities” [9]. While expressing a desire for de-escalation, Riyadh is clearly signaling that any forceful retaliatory move by Israel against Palestinians would be met with strong Saudi condemnation. Thus, it would appear that Tehran may have secured a tentative, short-term victory. The nature and scope of Israel’s response may thus not only run the risk of setting back ongoing talks of normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia; it might well galvanize other Arab states in support of the Palestinians, and potentially even endanger the foundations of the 2020 Abraham Accords.

The security situation is without any doubt very precarious at the moment. A credible counterstrike by Israel is necessitated to signal its unwavering determination to defend its citizens and national interests, and to maintain a credible deterrence posture against regional state actors. At the same time, however, it could also galvanize Hezbollah, another Iran-backed terrorist group operating out of Lebanon, into opening a second front against Israel. Meanwhile, some pundits have even begun to speculate about possible Israeli strikes against Iran. That prospect, however, seems very far-fetched at the moment, considering the obvious military overstretch and operational-strategic complications it would entail.

Meanwhile, the undeniable reality is that the Hamas attacks have begun to dramatically impact the regional geopolitical and security landscape.

Developments on the ground, both militarily and diplomatically in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate in the region and beyond. Apart from the likely short-term impact on a Saudi-Israel rapprochement mentioned above, the newly declared state of war between Israel and Hamas also presents substantive challenges for the United States.

For one, Washington’s unambiguous signaling of steadfast support for Israel in the wake of the attacks – including supply of munitions [10] – runs the risk of damaging an already precarious public on the Arab Street, especially if Israeli military counterstrikes should result in excessively high Palestinian casualties. Additionally, it could further complicate continued support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s war of aggression; an outcome that would most certainly be celebrated in Moscow. In fact, a statement on social media by the Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, is rather telling in this regard: “Clashes between Hamas and Israel on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War come as an expected development. This is what Washington and its allies should be busy with. The conflict between Israel and Palestine has been going on for decades, with the U.S. the key player in it. But instead of actively working at Palestinian-Israeli settlement, these morons have interfered with us, and are providing [slur against Ukraine] with full-scale aid, pitting the two closely related peoples against each other” [11]. Meanwhile, a prominent Russian propagandist, Sergey Madan, has unabashedly and openly expressed delight over the unfolding reality in Israel, declaring: “This mess is beneficial for Russia, because the globalist toad will be distracted from Ukraine and will get busy trying to put out the eternal Middle Eastern fire.” He went on to say that “Iran is our real military ally. Israel is an ally of the United States. Therefore, choosing a side is easy!…Iran is our real military ally. Israel is an ally of the United States. Therefore, choosing a side is easy!” [12].

As it proceeds with the planning and execution of a sustained counterstrike, Israel needs to be careful not to get caught up in a Gaza Strip quagmire. It is worth recalling that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, once hailed by Yitzhak Rabin as “the greatest field commander in our history”, had the requisite strategic foresight to order a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. It would not merely be counterproductive, but unnecessarily complicating any future effort to tackle to the persistent Palestinian question if the current government were to launch a comprehensive incursion into the Gaza Strip without carefully weighing the inherent short- and long-term costs. At present, it also remains unclear if the current right-wing governing coalition is willing and able to engage in the requisite realist assessment of the broader security ramifications that any precipitate incursion into Gaza, absent clearly defined operational objectives and exit strategy, would entail.

The Road to De-Escalation

Given the ongoing attacks and indiscriminate violence against innocent civilians,

the situation on the ground is bound to escalate considerably for some time to come before any hopes of de-escalation can reasonably be entertained.

It should also be noted that any reasonable prospect of stepping away from the brink of a wider regional blowback is contingent on efforts by the international community, and especially the United States, to convince Benjamin Netanyahu of the need to disband the most right-wing, religiously conservative governing coalition in Israeli political history, as it constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to any hope of de-escalation in the near- to medium-term. Apart from constituting a tall order, it will also be a critical benchmark of Netanyahu’s commitment to the wider national interests of Israel, as opposed to his own political ambitions. Absent a fundamental change in the Israeli body politic, the off-ramp from this new wave of violence will thus prove elusive.

Finally, under the guise of its Global Security Initiative (GSI), China has recently been stepping up its involvement in the Middle East in concrete ways, as reflected in its efforts in March 2023 to mediate a détente between Saudi Arabia and Iran [13]. If Chinese entreaties at great-power diplomacy in the Middle East are part of a calculated effort to facilitate the rise of “a new anti-Western global order and excluding the United States from a new regional arrangement” [14], it is not inconceivable that Beijing will in due course try to act as a mediator in the heretofore intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, any move along those lines could be simultaneously channeled into a concerted effort to use China’s geoeconomic influence to solidify its regional interests – connected to the Belt and Road Initiative – and concurrently counter the nascent designs of the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor that the U.S. announced on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit, held in India last month.

In summary, even at this early stage of the latest conflagration that is engulfing the Middle East, it is readily apparent that the newly declared sate of war between Israel and Hamas will engender far-reaching security and strategic consequences for the region and beyond, the full extent of which we can only begin to fully assess in the months ahead.


[1]. “Fears of a ground invasion of Gaza grow as Israel vows ‘mighty vengeance’”, Al-Jazeera, October 7, 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/10/7/world-is-watching-fears-grow-of-a-massive-gaza-invasion-by-israel.

[2]. “Israel advances peak number of West Bank settlement plans in 2023, watchdog says”, Reuters, July 14, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israel-advances-peak-number-west-bank-settlement-plans-2023-watchdog-2023-07-13/.

[3]. “The lessons from Hamas’s assault on Israel”, The Economist, October 9, 2023, http://www.economist.com/leaders/2023/10/08/the-lessons-from-hamass-assault-on-israel.  

[4]. “Fears of a ground invasion of Gaza grow as Israel vows ‘mighty vengeance’”, Al-Jazeera, October 7, 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/10/7/world-is-watching-fears-grow-of-a-massive-gaza-invasion-by-israel.

[5]. “The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement”, August 18, 1988, https://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hamas.asp.

[6]. “What you need to know about the Iran-backed terror group Hamas and its attack on Israel”, American Jewish Committee, October 7, 2023, https://www.ajc.org/news/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-iran-backed-terror-group-hamas-and-its-attack-on-israel; “Outlaw Regime: A Chronicle of Iran’s Destructive Activities”, Iran Action Group, U.S. State Department, 2020 edition, https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Outlaw-Regime-2020-A-Chronicle-of-Irans-Destabilizing-Activity.pdf;

[7]. “Iran helped plot attack against Israel over several weeks”, The Wall Street Journal, October 8, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/world/middle-east/iran-israel-hamas-strike-planning-bbe07b25.

[8]. Daniel Kurtzer and Aaron David Miller, “Getting Israeli-Saudi rapprochement right”, Foreign Affairs, August 21, 2023, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/israel/getting-israeli-saudi-rapprochement-right; Kabir Taneja, “The contours of an Israel-Saudi Arabia rapprochement”, Observer Research Foundation, October 3, 2023, https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/the-contours-of-an-israel-saudi-arabia-rapprochement/; Edward Wong et al., “U.S. continues push for Saudi-Israel ties even as war with Hamas begins”, The New York Times, October 8, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/08/us/politics/saudi-arabia-israel-palestinians-hamas.html.

[9]. Stephen Kalin, “Saudi Arabia calls for de-escalation amid talks on normalization with Israel”, The Wall Street Journal, October 8, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/israel-hamas-gaza-rockets-attack-palestinians/card/saudi-arabia-calls-for-de-escalation-amid-talks-on-normalization-with-israel-dlOw0NP66IGNaMq7U0Yk.

[10]. Eric Schmitt and Michael D. Shear, “After Hamas attack, U.S. to send weapons and warships to support Israel”, The New York Times, October 8, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/08/us/politics/israel-aid-pentagon-us-hamas.html#:~:text=The%20Pentagon%20announced%20on%20Sunday,Israeli%20territory%20in%2050%20years.

[11]. “An invisible hand: Kremlin accused of supporting Hamas attack on Israel to divert aid for Ukraine,” Milwaukee Independent, October 8, 2023, http://www.milwaukeeindependent.com/articles/invisible-hand-kremlin-accused-supporting-hamas-attack-israel-divert-support-ukraine/.

[12]. Julia Davis, “ ‘Only god news today’ – Russia’s propagandists delight as Israelis die”, The Center for European Policy Analysis, October 8, 2023, https://cepa.org/article/only-good-news-today-russias-propagandists-delight-as-israelis-die/.  

[13]. Maria Fantappie and Vali Nasr, “A new order in the Middle East?”, Foreign Affairs, March 22, 2023, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/china/iran-saudi-arabia-middle-east-relations.

[14]. Saeld Golkar, “The real motivation behind Iran’s deal with Saudi Arabia”, Foreign Policy, April 6, 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/04/06/iran-saudi-arabia-deal-agreement-china-meeting-beijing/.




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