Israel always knew that it could stifle Hamas out of existence. The basic amenities of the strip and most of the routes to the outside world have been under the direct control of Tel Aviv since the takeover of Gaza by the militant Islamist group following the withdrawal of Israeli troops in 2006. Iran, despite the rhetoric coming out of Tehran, is fully aware that it is incapable of obliterating the Jewish state. But just as Hamas unwittingly played its divisive part in the fractious political life of Palestinians, Iran has exploited its political slogans to maintain a revolutionary posture amidst failures on other fronts.
Now that push has come to shove for Hamas after 7 October horrifying attack on Israel one wonders what future has in store for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the first glance a Palestinian state appears more likely than before albeit with certain interim limitations, that Israel would impose for its security. That may partially repair the serious damage Tel Aviv’s image has suffered internationally due to what seems to be IDF delivering a collective punishment for the crimes of the few. Despite the despicable use of innocent Palestinians as human shields by Hamas, the death of civilians in the bombings will not be acceptable to the world’s public opinion.
Secondly, Hamas in all likelihood will cease to exist at least in its current shape and form. The mainstream Fatah as the internationally recognized representative of Palestinians will be at the helms negotiating its way to statehood. Arab states, by and large, will be supportive as will the West and rest of the international community. Radical Islamist politics will gradually lose its grip on the Palestinian issue and will have to direct its attention elsewhere.
Two important items, however, will still remain as concerns for the Israel. One is Hizbollah in Lebanon and the other is the more defiant and stronger Islamic Republic of Iran. Treating Hizbollah like Hamas is not possible, and Israel knows that. The radical organization is now part of the Lebanese polity and a stakeholder in the status-quo. It has a justifiable claim to political power albeit in an exaggerated and somewhat convoluted manner. Its independent military strength and security network, however, has rendered it a state within a state. The Lebanese people somehow will have to find their way out of this complex maze.
The question of Iran, however, is summarized for Israel in the former’s nuclear infrastructure and missile programme. The elaborate and underground network spread throughout the vast territory of Iran renders the suspected nuclear and missile sites almost unreachable for the IDF. If embarking on such a mission, Israeli generals know two things for sure: It would not be a matter of surgical strikes but rather a long campaign of sustained bombings and also that they would need the indispensable assistance of the United States. The outcome of the war would likely be in their favour but the price for victory could be a heavy one.
The neighbouring countries have mixed feelings about any escalation of the Hamas-Israeli war that would involve Iran. The littoral states of the Persian Gulf are wary of missile attacks by Tehran that could potentially drive out foreign investment and companies. Should the war lead to the collapse of the regime in Iran the Iraqi militant Shi’a groups would be afraid of losing their benefactors and thus sliding into political oblivion. The Bashar government in Syria would hate to lose her valuable ally and the Houthis would dread a future without the support of the Islamic Republic. At the same time, however, many regional countries would like to see the fall of the Shi’a theocratic establishment in Tehran. Saudi Arabia for one could relax her fears of missile attacks by Houthis from Yemen and would feel free to exercise greater influence and leverage in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, where the Islamic Republic continues to impact political developments significantly. Bahrain, Jordan, and Kuwait, not to mention Israel, would be happy to see the back of clerical rulers of Iran. Turkey, aspiring to regain the status of Ottoman days as the political guardian of Muslims worldwide, would be left with greater space to maneuver in the volatile field of Islamic politics.
We do live in interesting times as the Chinese adage says. Steering out of these troubled waters, however, requires vision, courage, and brinkmanship. Sadly, there seems a conspicuous scarcity of those traits amongst today’s political elite in the world.