The timing and behavior surrounding the Palestinian attacks point to larger changes occurring in the Middle East and the world.
As the war between Israel and the Palestinians continues in its first week, several questions come to mind. It’s understood, of course, that the Palestinians in general and Hamas in particular want to destroy the state of Israel and remove its people from the land once and for all. Naming the initial strike operation “Al-Aqsa Storm" is meant to put the war in an Islamic context, not just a political one over real estate.
First Shipment of US Armaments Arrives in Israel Amidst Escalating Conflict with Hamas
But why did Hamas choose to invade Israel on Oct. 7?
Was it to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the Yom Kippur War in 1973? That may have been the reason for choosing that specific date, just as the 9/11 attacks were waged on the anniversary of the Battle of Vienna in 1683, which marked the end of the Muslim military invasion into Europe.
But those are minor and incidental reasons. Below are seven concrete factors that are geopolitical, religious, and psychological in their scope. Some are contradictory, while others are complementary.
1. The Appearance of Israeli Weakness
The deep, persistent, and very public divisions within the Israeli government and people surrounding fundamental issues of governance gave the impression that Israel wouldn't be able to respond in a coordinated or effective way. The split was even perceived by some to have reached deeply into the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) leadership as well. That was, to some extent, true, which may help explain how or why the IDF and Israeli intelligence were surprised by the attack.
2. Trap Israel into an Overreaction, Damaging Its Relationships With Islamic Nations
This point speaks to the tactics of the initial invasion from Gaza into the southern region of Israel. Killing and kidnapping young people is a tactical move, not so much of a strategic one. The goal of this initial attack wasn’t to disrupt strategic communications or take control of key infrastructure.
Rather, the slaughter of hundreds of young adults at a music festival and the kidnapping of women and children was intended to provoke an “overreaction,” at least by Palestinian standards, on the part of the Israelis. The Palestinians’ actions so far haven’t been to defeat Israel as a nation, but their objective is to diminish Israel in the eyes of their regional partners and the world, as well as to satisfy Hamas’s anti-Israel sponsors in Tehran and Moscow.
3. Disrupt the Expanding Peace Between Israel and Islamic Nations
Israel has been the clear winner of the Middle East and Arab alliance game, with the Palestinians fading into irrelevance. Hamas’s attack on Israel seeks to change the dynamics of the “New Middle East” that Israel has worked so hard to build and manage with its Arab neighbors.
By contrast, Arab support for the Palestinian cause has been at a low ebb the past few years, beginning at least with the Abraham Accords that President Donald Trump brokered among Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain in 2020. Today, with the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia and several additional Islamic nations, the Palestinians could see their relevancy fading quickly into obsolescence.
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As it is, the Palestinians’ close ties with Iran endear them with only a few other Arab nations, such as Yemen and Syria. Iran is a direct threat to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other nations working with Israel. This war may change that.
4. Disrupt Israel’s Growing Energy Business
Israel’s offshore energy industry has become a direct threat to other energy producers, in particular, Iran and Russia. Both nations are threatened by Israeli energy supplies. Israel’s Tamar platform, for instance, in the country's exclusive economic zone in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, is one of its largest natural gas producing facilities. Before its ordered shutdown soon after war broke out, it was to provide energy to Europe via Egypt for the upcoming winter.
That brings us to Iran and Russia.
5. Iran Needs a War to Keep the Islamists in Power
There are several factors here. First, Iran is directly involved in Hamas, the Palestinian cause, and the war just launched against Israel. Internally, the clerics have lost Iran’s youth, and they know it. Just as Iran’s younger generation started the revolution, now it threatens to end it. There's no economic future for Iran’s young people, and everyone knows it. The clerics’ thinking is that if Iran’s youth want to fight, deflect their anger away from them to Israel.
Externally, Iran is also threatened by the widening influence of Israel in the region and the Islamic world at large. With neither the economic influence nor the soft power to attract but a few regional allies such as Yemen, Syria, and the Palestinians, it can offer only terror, war, and the threat of both to stay relevant. As with Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Palestinian National Authority on the West Bank, war is the only card Tehran has to play.
The peace accords and the vast economic potential that they represent would leave Tehran behind the times and, like the Palestinians, irrelevant in an economically vibrant and mostly peaceful Middle East.
6. The Weakness of America
The Biden administration’s release of $6 billion to Iran in exchange for a few hostages is the most recent demonstration of weakness in the Oval Office, and it isn’t lost on Tehran or Moscow. The Biden administration’s disastrous retreat from Afghanistan in 2021, leaving many billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment in radical Islamists’ hands, its cloying attempt to get a new nuclear deal with Tehran, and the second-class treatment of the administration by the Chinese communist leadership all point to strategic weakness and a lack of political will in Washington.
As the old Arabic saying goes, “A falling camel attracts many knives.” From Tehran’s point of view, that’s exactly what the Biden administration looks like. Launching the war is a wager by Tehran that it will gain power and influence in the region, particularly with the Palestinians and Syrians at the expense of the United States and Israel. From Moscow’s viewpoint, trapping the United States in a second war would further weaken it, helping both Russia’s cause in Ukraine and China’s in the Asia-Pacific region.
7. Harden and Escalate the Adversarial Nature of East-West Competition
Opening a new war front against Israel may attract other Islamic nations and anti-U.S. nations to join the war or at least stop Israel’s New Middle East plans. It also helps Russia in its war against Ukraine and its presence in Syria and, by extension, Iran and China. The thinking is simple: The more wars that the United States is involved in, the more beatable it becomes.
Are there more reasons and motives for this war launched by Hamas against Israel?