There is no doubt that this week’s violence between Hamas and Israel will completely shift the nature of the conflict. The surprise element of the attack caught everyone off guard, given that Hamas has been running a political campaign to reengage with Arab countries and promote itself as a political player who seeks to improve the socioeconomic conditions for the people in Gaza.
There are clear regional factors worth considering in the timing of the attacks. The escalation in Syria targeting Iran and many of its activities is certainly likely to have encouraged them to pursue the objective of causing trouble for Israel. At the same time, creating a military, security, intelligence and political crisis for Israel will reshape priorities, forcing Israel to shift its focus internally, thus limiting their regional operational and diplomatic efforts to achieve peace with Arab countries.
Shifting the fight onto Israeli soil was not a new plan. Years ago, Hizbollah ran simulations of a war in the northern settlements of Israel. This attack’s objectives were to obtain the greatest number of civilian and military hostages, the scale of which represents a challenge that Israel has never faced. It also gives Hamas leverage in negotiations and could serve to contain the length of the war. Further, it could enable Hamas to call for the release of all Palestinian prisoners, which would help Hamas promote itself as the only true representative of the Palestinian people.
This operation has put Israeli intelligence under real pressure, and created fear of other unexpected surprises that will make the Israelis cautious. As we are seeing the beginning of the Israeli response, which already appears strong despite immediate calls from Hamas for peace talks and mediation regarding the hostages.
We may yet see special operations, or assassination of leaders of Hamas and other groups, which would be impactful. It is also expected that Israel will expand its confrontation to the region. Rather than limiting its focus on Hamas, there is an opportunity for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prove his fears about Iran-Syria-Hizbollah network in the region. Israel needs to convince the US to join its efforts to ensure a strong response that is not limited to Gaza, but also neutralises the sources of funding, weapons and planning.
Hamas is aware of the response that Gaza and the movement will be facing from Israel, but getting it to focus on its internal security was the objective. The surprise element could also be used by Hizbollah, who has not yet entered in a traditional military sense, but is still active and causing problems in the north.