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When Hamas went on a murderous rampage in the South of Israel, its leadership knew exactly what it was doing; It was hitting at one of the fundamental pillars of the Israeli narrative whereby the “Jewish State” was established to protect the Jewish people against the pogroms that had dotted the past of their communities in Europe as well as against any kind of persecution. Hamas purposely destroyed that narrative fully aware that their actions would drive the Israelis to extremes. A country built on the commitment that “never again” Jews would be indiscriminately murdered simply because they were Jews was in tatters. Not only were Jews massacred in many communities across a wide swath of geography but they also fell prey to this horrific event in Israel itself on the watch of the most odious, racist and supremacist government Israelis had ever empowered.
Two Faces of the Same Coin? Hamas and Israel’s Religious Parties
An external observer will marvel at how similar Hamas and Israel’s religious parties are. Whereas both pay lip service to nationalist aspirations and leverage the power of national fulfillment to appeal to a wider range of constituencies, they are both committed to a theocratic vision that is not dissimilar to that of the ruling Mullahs in Iran and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Because this is a dispute over God, religious law and the earthly kingdom, compromise becomes very difficult. When Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin attempted to make just such a compromise in the 1990s, he was assassinated by an agent of Israel’s religious deep state.
It was while the eyes of Netanyahu, Ben Gvir and Smotrich were focused on biblical “Judea and Samaria,” otherwise known to the world as the Occupied West Bank, that Hamas stepped in. Israeli leaders were more focused on devising outrageous ways to settle larger numbers of religious fanatics both homegrown and imported from the diaspora under the discriminatory so-called “Law of Return” onto Palestinian land and in the heart of Palestinian communities than they were on protecting the borders that they already had.
So why did Hamas act now? Why did it initiate this murderous rampage at a time when more and more supporters of Israel, including Jewish people around the world, were finally beginning to ask themselves serious questions about the morality of Israel’s actions and whether after all, it might not be “conscionable” (a word that is being used one-sidedly in public statements these days) to support the morally and legally reprehensible actions of the Israeli government and condone apartheid. In one fell swoop, Hamas restored this unity and anchored it not in the horror of the civilian blood spilt by its militants, but in a more solid bedrock; the idea that disunity results in a holocaust.
In doing so, Hamas has set the stage for the next generation of Jewish supremacists. Palestinians will sadly have to deal with it. They will now have to contend with even more discrimination, dehumanization, spoliation and suffering at the hands of the occupiers and their abettors in the West and elsewhere. Barbarity takes many forms and the Israeli army’s inhuman bombing of Gaza in front of the entire world is a case in point. This is set to breed more hate and misery unless the parties can be compelled by the international community to reach compromises through negotiation.
The Saudi Prize
The consensus among pundits is that Hamas’ essential objective was to derail the normalization of Saudi Arabia with Israel under the auspices of the United States. It is no secret that Iran funds Hamas and likely provides military support to the organization, and it would not be an extraordinary leap of the imagination to expect that this support would have bought Iran substantial influence with Hamas. If this is the case, then we can understand the current conflict within the framework of a dispute between two suitors, Israel and Iran, in favor of Saudi Arabia.
The Biden administration, which many consider to be Obama’s third term, has predicated the US “exit” strategy from the Middle East on crafting a delicate balance of power between Iran, Israel, KSA and Turkey, as this would allow the US to lighten its footprint in the Middle East and “pivot” towards China. It is in this context that the Biden administration has pursued policies toward Iran first imagined by Obama.
These policies were essentially designed to signal to the ruling theocratic leaders of Iran that the US had no intention of promoting regime change and was willing to turn a blind eye to its nuclear empowerment in exchange for Iran reining in its regional ambitions to the extent needed for the required equilibrium to materialize.
In parallel, the Biden Administration sought to engineer an Israeli-KSA rapprochement fundamentally premised on mutual protection against Iran, the dominant regional hegemon to the East. However, neither the Iranians nor the Chinese seem to have been happy with this planned US architecture, as both countries have invested in an Iranian-Saudi Arabian rapprochement. It would make eminent sense for Iran to favor “pan-Muslim” accords over a Saudi-Israel iteration of the Abraham Accords.
Having brought Israeli-Gulf rapprochement to a screeching halt, Hamas has been of enormous service to Iran. As every chess player knows, it is sometimes necessary to sacrifice a knight to protect the queen. Could such an outcome justify the unfolding disaster in Gaza and the further undermining of the Palestinian Cause?