Hamas attack is a psychological blow for Israel | ET REALITY

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The most extensive invasion of Israeli territory in decades, carried out by a Hamas force that had been widely seen as a ragtag group of militants, has caused such a psychological shock to Israel that its very foundations are being questioned: its army, its intelligence services. , his government and his ability to control the millions of Palestinians in his midst.

The war that began with a Hamas attack that has claimed up to 700 Israeli lives is not an existential struggle for the survival of the Israeli state itself, as were the 1948 war triggered by the founding of Israel or the Yom Kippur War of Israel. 1973. But 75 years and half a century, respectively, since those conflicts, the sight of villages once again invaded, of hostages taken and desperate civilians murdered by Palestinian militants has awakened a kind of primal fear.

“Israelis are shocked to the core,” said Yuval Shany, a professor of international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “There is outrage against Hamas, but also against the political and military leaders who allowed this to happen. Such a strong state would be expected to prevent such things, yet 75 years after Israel’s creation, the government has failed in its primary responsibility: protecting the lives of its citizens.”

As with the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, disbelief has mixed with anger at a colossal intelligence failure.

In 1973, after Israel’s blitz in the 1967 Six-Day War, Syria and Egypt were assumed to be exhausted. Today, the belief had grown that Hamas was not interested in large-scale violence and could even be a useful vehicle for weakening the more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, thus burying rumors of a Palestinian state.

“The fact that we were allowing the most extremist Palestinian elements to grow stronger was overlooked, and it was revealed that Israel was completely unprepared, strategically and operationally,” said Shlomo Avineri, a political scientist in Jerusalem.

The page has been turned, whatever the outcome of the war that has just begun. After all, Israel has not moved beyond the conflict that has dogged it since the creation of the modern state in 1948: the claims of two peoples, Jewish and Palestinian, to the same narrow strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. . .

Its wealth, vibrant startup culture, and growing acceptance in the Middle East could not forever mask fundamental Israeli instability. Now the impact on its own image is so great that, after the initial demonstration around the flag, Israel could be projected into a period of profound social and political turbulence.

Certainly, heady rumors about a transformative normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, brokered by the Biden administration, appear optimistic as a result of the Hamas attack.

This blow to Israel comes at a time of deep internal unrest. Dismay that the Israel Defense Forces, the nation’s revered central security institution, could allow a multi-pronged Palestinian attack to take place (and then appear slow to react) has been compounded by a There was a widespread feeling that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was fatally distracted.

His focus on a fiercely contested judicial reform that would weaken the independence of the judiciary and therefore compromise democratic checks and balances appeared to leave the situation in Gaza as a low priority.

The Israeli protests against the government program were such that the military had to deal with more than 10,000 reservists who threatened to refuse service, which was a major distraction. There have been no such threats since the Hamas attack. Wild settler projects in the West Bank backed by far-right government ministers also proved distracting.

“The government was obsessed with a plan that had nothing to do with national security,” Shany said. “There is a clear link between that and the dismal Israeli performance. It doesn’t look good for Mr. Netanyahu.”

The Yom Kippur War, an equally profound psychological shock to Israel, did not immediately upend national politics. But within four years, in 1977, the Labor government that had ruled Israel since its founding was defeated, a right-wing Likud government took power in a landslide victory, and the Labor Party has barely recovered in the almost five decades since. since then.

Certainly, Netanyahu’s right-wing government appears to be in a deep hole, facing agonizing decisions about how extensive Israeli retaliation should be in Gaza. Gaza, controlled by Hamas, which the United States identifies as a terrorist organization, has long been mired in an overcrowded state of poverty and resentment under a 16-year Israeli blockade.

For many years there had been an assumption in Israel that the Palestinian question was no longer an issue and that a policy of tactical delay, as Israeli settlements in the West Bank grew ever larger, would ensure that no Palestinian state would ever come into existence. .

The conflict became “the situation,” a bland term for a combustible status quo. Netanyahu emerged as the advocate of a “kick the can down the road” approach that left the idea of ​​two states on life support. Israel normalized relations with several smaller Arab states. The Palestinian issue practically disappeared from the global agenda. There was talk of a new Middle East.

All this, however, could not hide the elephant in the room: growing Palestinian anger at the humiliation and marginalization that had already led to a surge in violence in the West Bank this year.

The status quo was never really like that. It incubated the bloodshed by institutionalizing the steady advance of Israeli control over the more than 2.6 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Israel’s dominance over surrounded Gaza, where an estimated additional 2.1 million Palestinians live.

“If there is a lesson from this,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer living in Haifa, “it is not that it was a security failure. It was a failure on the part of the world to address the conflict. Every day is violent. We woke up to violence. “We lie down in the face of violence against the Palestinians.”

Palestinian Israelis, often called Israeli Arabs, who make up more than 20 percent of the Israeli population, were shocked by what happened and worried about the future, he said, but there was also “a sense of pride that the people most the besieged managed to break through,” mixed with unrest and concern about Hamas’s brutality against civilians.

“We are divided,” said Reem Younis, a Palestinian entrepreneur with a high-tech neuroscience business in Nazareth. “And now we don’t know what to expect and we’re scared.”

In a recorded message, Muhammad Deif, leader of Hamas’s military wing, described the goal of the “operation” as ensuring that “the enemy understands that the time for its attacks without accountability is over.” The statement was clearly intended to shake Palestinians out of their acquiescence to helplessness in Gaza and the West Bank.

But the cost to both sides could be very high. The operation showed the world that, as Avineri said, “every Israeli Jew is, for Hamas, a legitimate target to kill.” That will not help the broader Palestinian cause with Western governments.

Netanyahu has promised a “long and difficult war” that now enters an “offensive phase, which will continue without limitations or respite until the objectives are achieved.” More than 400 Palestinians have already died.

The temptation to launch an overwhelming Israeli offensive is clearly strong to ensure that Hamas can never mount such an operation again. One model could be the massive 2006 offensive in southern Lebanon; Since then, the border has been relatively quiet, although Hezbollah fired artillery shells on Sunday at three Israeli posts in the disputed Shebaa Farms area.

But in Gaza, the presence of perhaps dozens of Israeli hostages taken by Hamas is a deeply complicating factor. Israel does not abandon its own. Hostage executions in response to an Israeli attack would become an explosive domestic political issue. After what seems like a grave mistake, Netanyahu faces one of his most delicate challenges.

“Questions of international law, around proportionality and collateral damage, are sure to arise,” Shany said of the impending Israeli offensive, referring to legal restrictions on the use of military force. “But political interest in moderation is very limited. This will be a serious test for Israel.”

The long-term test has been clear for some time. Danny Yatom, director of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, summarized it years ago between 1996 and 1998: A single Israeli state between the sea and Jordan, encompassing the West Bank “will deteriorate into an apartheid state or a state without apartheid.” -Jewish state,” Yatom said. “If we continue to govern the territories, I see it as an existential danger.”

Netanyahu never wanted to listen to such warnings or engage in serious talks for a two-state peace. The consequences of that policy could not be ignored forever in talk of a bright new Middle East.

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