The war in Gaza rages on. Yet, already important consequences are clear – not only on the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, but on the strategic scene in the Middle East as a whole.
Seven consequences merit attention.
One – Hamas was the party that determined the timing of the war. Of course the events in Jerusalem put political and emotional pressure on Hamas to act. But using its rockets against targets in Israel, Hamas was fully aware that the Israeli response will be massive. Yet, Hamas took the decision. This is the first time in several decades that a Palestinian group decides on the timing of war with Israel.
Two – Hamas has powerfully demonstrated its success in the past few years in building a rockets arsenal that is able to reach the depth of Israel, result in Israeli losses, and significantly disrupt life in the largest urban centres there. This is a key change in the power-dynamics of the struggle between the two sides.
This change in the power-dynamics is not merely between Israel and Hamas; rather between Israel and the alliance comprising Iran, Hizbollah, Syria, and Hamas. It has actually been quite conspicuous for some observers for some time. I wrote an essay about it for Foreign Affairs magazine exactly a year ago. I mention this not to boast of foresight, but to emphasise that this change is one of the most consequential in the Middle East’s strategic scene in the past two decades.
Three – This change means losses and disruptions Israel has not endured since the mid 1970s. That is, the entire current generation of Israeli leaders are now seeing a type of threat – and tension and apprehension inside Israel – that they have never known in their active lives. This will impact the Israeli collective psyche.
Four – This will have consequences on Israeli politics. Some observers focus on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s urgent need for something he can market as a victory over Hamas. What is more lasting is the impact on the Israeli armed forces, which is after all, the most important institution in the state of Israel. This actually has further implications, because a crucial aspect of the narrative of Israeli success – from global positioning to international trade, including in the lucrative industry of arms sales and in the commercial side of the intelligence and security world – is anchored on the image of the Israel army and its apparatuses. And so, the consequences of a notable success of Hamas will go far and wide.
Five – There are imminent changes in Palestinian politics. The Palestinian elections have now been postponed, a decision by the Authority in the West Bank that has antagonised wide sections of the Palestinians. Hamas was always expected to perform well in the elections. Its success in this war will give it political momentum not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank. This will be a turning point in Palestinian politics, particularly in the period post President Mahmoud Abbas.
Six – Hamas’s success has a major implication on Middle Eastern geo-politics. If the smallest component in the Iran, Hizbollah, Syria, and Hamas alliance has managed to score a notable success in a war with Israel, then it is conceivable that the alliance as a whole can achieve victory over Israel in a coming confrontation.
Seven – This will inevitably lead to reassessments in the Israeli strategic calculus – something that indeed must take place. It will also lead to new assessments by international actors with major interests in and influence on the region, mainly the US and Russia.