Anchal Vohra is a commentator on global affairs who was previously located in Beirut.
On Saturday morning, Israeli citizens were faced with a terrifying reality as members of Hamas illegally entered the southern region of the country. They recklessly shot at innocent bystanders, kidnapped people and took them in their vehicles, targeted young individuals at a musical event, and launched numerous rockets at cities in Israel, including Jerusalem.
Several survivors of the shooting shared terrifying stories of witnessing bullets flying and losing friends who died in their arms. By the end of the day, over 700 Israelis were brutally killed, with more than 2,000 sustaining injuries and a considerable number being taken as prisoners.
The leader of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, described the current situation as a state of war and issued a warning of a strong retaliation. In a speech to his people, he stated that the events of today were unprecedented and promised to prevent them from occurring again. He also vowed to seek revenge for this “dark day” and has called for reserve soldiers to join in decisive actions in Gaza and to be prepared for war on various fronts.
“I spoke with former Israeli Deputy National Security Advisor Eran Lerman over the phone from central Israel, and he expressed anger and appeared shaken by the onslaught. He believes that this action will lead to the downfall of Hamas, even if they are currently holding hostages.”
The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine has a long history. However, the recent attack was particularly large and not a direct reaction to any specific event. The tension has been growing due to the presence of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories and the lack of communication between the two sides.
Why now? Why initiate an offensive of such magnitude that could potentially lead to the downfall of Hamas and shift international sympathy towards Israel, when Palestine already lacks leverage as an underdog fighting against a more powerful military?
The overall reaction to the attack has been mostly negative. The European Union’s main representative Josep Borrell expressed disapproval of the reports of civilians being held captive and urged for their prompt release. The United States also denounced the unprovoked attacks by Hamas and President Joe Biden referred to the situation as unacceptable.
The unexpected timing of the assault has perplexed analysts and sparked theories that Hamas and its supporter Iran were unsettled by the advancements in the Israeli-Saudi Arabia normalization agreement.
Recently, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, stated that Muslim nations who establish relations with Israel are making a losing bet. He also stated that Israel will be destroyed by the Palestinian people and resistance forces in the region.
Furthermore, Hezbollah stated that the attack was intended as a message, particularly to those who are attempting to normalize relations with the enemy. The organization also made it clear that they are in communication with the leaders of the Palestinian resistance.
The agreement between Tel Aviv and Riyadh, who holds a dominant position in the Sunni Islamic world, was not good news for Hamas. This would mean that the unified opposition from the Muslim world against Israel would come to an end, potentially leading to more agreements with other Islamic nations and ultimately leaving Hamas even more isolated.
In 2002, Saudi Arabia introduced the Arab peace plan, which urges for the creation of a Palestinian nation in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem – areas that were seized by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict. However, Saudi Arabia does not formally acknowledge Israel’s existence.
However, the top priority for Riyadh is now addressing its national security concerns rather than advocating for an independent Palestinian state. Its main concern is the potential threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.
In return for an agreement to normalize relations with Israel, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman requested U.S.-supported civilian nuclear energy initiatives and advanced American defense technology.
Before the Hamas attack, the White House announced that a potential deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia was already established. This was reinforced by the first visits of Israeli ministers to Riyadh and Saudi Arabia’s Palestinian envoy to the West Bank, leading some skeptics to believe that a treaty between these long-standing enemies may be on the horizon.
The crown prince of Saudi Arabia has given people hope for a potential agreement by stating in an interview with Fox News that talks of normalization are now becoming a reality. However, he also dashed the hopes of Palestinians by stating that his focus is on improving their quality of life rather than on achieving a future Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Lerman explained to me that Iranians encouraged Hamas to execute this attack in order to divert our attention from what should be our main priority – Iran’s nuclear program. Unfortunately, their plan has been effective.
The Saudi government has criticized Israel for the recent violence, placing responsibility on Israel’s occupation. The foreign ministry stated that they have previously warned about the potential dangers of the situation escalating due to the ongoing occupation.
Some people doubt that the timing can be directly connected to the potential agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, suggesting that preparing for an attack would have required a longer period of time. Mohammad Marandi, a political analyst from Iran, explained to me during a phone call from Tehran that discussions about the deal have only recently begun.
Although it is widely accepted that the attack was premeditated, it is possible that Iran strategically chose the timing of its launch.
Marandi also acknowledged that Iran provides support to Palestinian militant organizations “in any way possible.” The nation has assisted Hamas in producing weapons with longer range capabilities, and the precision demonstrated in the most recent strike, carried out through air, sea, and land, reflects the influence of Iran and Hezbollah’s training and organization.
Hezbollah released a statement urging the people of the Arab and Islamic nation, as well as free individuals globally, to show their solidarity and support for the Palestinian people and Resistance groups. The statement emphasized the importance of unity through action, words, and shared blood.
While Israel retaliates against Gaza by bombing, innocent Gazans continue to lose their lives while seeking refuge. At the same time, Hamas is engaged in a potentially devastating conflict and the chances of Palestinians achieving their own independent state are dwindling. Meanwhile, it appears that Iran may be the only party profiting from this situation, if they have indeed managed to sabotage the Saudi deal and thwart their plans of obtaining nuclear power.