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Many Shades of Israel’s War against Hamas

Tags: israel gaza hamas

By Col R Hariharan

The Hamas, the Islamic extremist group in control of the Gaza Strip, barely 400 sq km of land with 2.4 million people sealed off from the outside world by Israel armed forces, surprised the world with a lightning strike on Israel in the wee hours of October 7. The Hamas overcame Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system, firing 5,000 rockets, broke through the fences surrounding Gaza in the morning, attacking Israeli by land, sea and air, using mechanized hang gliders and motorbikes to storm hapless Jewish communities close to the border with Gaza.

The Hamas flooded the social media showing scenes of bravado, including the taking of 150 hostages and killing of innocent civilians—women and children—shouting Allahu Akbar. A TikTok video circulating showed Israeli Rear Admirals, Brigadier Generals and Lt Generals “captured” by the Hamas.

Israel is in a state of war, declared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and vowed to destroy the Hamas. Probably, he considers it an opportunity to settle scores with the Hamas. As defence minister, Netanyahu had quit over Ariel Sharon’s government’s decision to forcibly remove nearly 10,000 Israeli citizens from the settlements in Gaza, after handing over governance to Palestine authority in 2005.

Israel has recalled 3,00,000 reservists to join the army even as it hunted out the Hamas infiltrators in communities close to the Gaza border. Israeli rockets and missiles hit suspected Hamas hideouts in Gaza, flattening many multi-storey buildings. According to Israeli media by Day 6 of the attack, at least 1,300 Israelis have been killed and over 7,400 people in all wounded. The Gaza Health Ministry said 447 children and 248 women were among the 1,417 Palestinians killed by Israel Defence Forces (IDF). The IDF said it is holding 1,500 bodies of militants. And the body count is likely to grow as the end of war is nowhere in sight. Over 3,30,000 people in Gaza have been forced to flee their homes after Israel rockets and bombs hit residential buildings, according to the UN. Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz has said there will be no supply of electricity, fuel or water to Gaza until the Hamas releases Israelis taken as hostages. And UN experts have warned of impending human disaster when Israel launches its ground offensive in Gaza.

Netanyahu has announced the forming of an “emergency government” with Opposition leader Benny Gantz, a former defence minister and army chief for the duration of the war. The three-member “war cabinet” would include Netanyahu, Gantz and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

The IDF is preparing for the widely expected ground offensive in Gaza. Media reports indicate tens of thousands of Israeli forces have been massed along the Gaza border and also along the northern border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah, the Shia militant group, is based in Lebanon. There is a general expectation that it could join in the war, when the IDF launches its ground offensive in Gaza.

In a chilling statement, Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, while addressing the troops deployed along the Gaza border, asserted that Gaza will “never go back to what it was”. He said: “I have released all the restraints. We have regained control of the area and we are moving to a full offence. You will have the ability to change the reality here. You have seen the prices being paid and you will get to see the change. Hamas wanted a change; it will change 180 degrees from what it thought.” “They will regret this moment, Gaza will never go back to what it was,” he added. The minister said that Israel with all its might and without compromise, would eliminate “whoever comes to decapitate, murder women, Holocaust survivors.”

Gallant was echoing the words of Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s comment when Operation Pillar of Defense was launched in November 2012. Yishai said: “The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.” It seems Gaza has now bounced back from the Middle Ages, after 11 years to haunt Israel and yet another Israeli minister.

Intelligence Failure

Lt General Herzi Halevi, IDF chief of staff, has admitted to shortcomings that allowed Hamas’ incursion and significant casualties on Saturday. The Times of Israel quoted him as saying: “The IDF is responsible for the security of the country and its citizens, and on Saturday morning in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip, we did not handle it. We will learn, we will investigate, but now is the time for war.”

But the IDF may not be wholly responsible. In a way, the Hamas’ war was waiting to happen as PM Netanyahu has been increasing “the pressure cooker syndrome” of Palestinians living on the West bank, eating into their territory relentlessly to settle new Jewish communities. This could have drawn the focus of the IDF on the West Bank. While the PM’s right-wing supporters applauded him, political preoccupation seems to have ignored the ever-present security threat posed by the Hamas.

The Chairman of US House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul is reported to have told a closed door intelligence briefing that Egypt had warned Israel three days earlier that “an event like this could happen.” Undoubtedly, Shin Bet, responsible for internal security, and the legendary Mossad, known for its intelligence exploits, both seem to have failed.

In a podcast on BBC Radio, Sir Alex Younger, former head of MI6, called it “the failure of imagination”. He said there were two reasons why Israel’s intelligence had no knowledge of the impending attack. Firstly, “the really big failures that are labelled as intelligence failures…are in fact failures of imagination”. Citing 9/11 as a classic example, Younger said: “The assumption was not that we were vulnerable to anything in terms of this type of attack. The assumption was that it essentially wasn’t possible.”  He further added: “And it is my assumption therefore… that there will have been data breaking through, which probably could have been interpreted differently… but people were just not looking at it in that way.” This is what happened in the intelligence failure that led to 9/11 too!

Israel’s intelligence failure should caution Indian intelligence honchos and leadership, who depend upon information from multiple sources. They need to remember Albert Einstein’s words: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

International Dimension

Unmindful of all the complexities and calamities, security pandits from both sides are debating on the TV, the semantics of war and who is responsible for it. Geographically for over 75 years, the Levant has frequently faced the tectonics of war, more than any other part of the globe. So, the international dimension of the conflict is hogging the limelight. And its Indian dimension is of special interest as India-Israel relations have become closer than ever before in the last nine years. Just as the Ukraine War divided the world, the Israeli offensive against the Hamas also seems to have found its “us and they”.

The White House released a joint statement of leaders of the US, France, Germany, Italy and UK pledging “to support Israel in its efforts to defend itself and the surprise attacks by militant group Hamas”. They added that they recognised “the legitimate aspirations of the Palestine people”, but said the Hamas offered “nothing for the Palestine people other than more terror and bloodshed.”

India was among the first countries to show solidarity with Israel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an X message on October 7 wrote: “Deeply shocked by the news of terrorist attacks in Israel. Our thoughts and prayers are with the innocent victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with Israel at this difficult hour.” India’s gesture has been appreciated by Israel. On the other hand, China seems to have disappointed Israel, when it issued a vanilla statement. It called on “relevant parties to remain calm, exercise restraint and immediately end the hostilities to protect civilians and avoid further deterioration of the situation”. Later President Xi Jinping tried to strengthen the statement to condemn “all violence and attacks on civilians” without specifically naming the Hamas.

NATO countries have told Israel’s defence minister that they stood by his country after the attack by the Hamas, but urged his forces to respond with “proportionality”. However, after the defence ministers’ meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was unequivocal in his support to Israel. After condemning the Hamas’ “indefensible attack on civilians,” he called for the immediate release of all hostages. He added: “Israel has the right to defend itself and as the conflict unfolds, the protection of civilians is essential.” He cautioned: “No nation or organisation hostile to Israel should seek to take advantage of the situation or to escalate the conflict.”

The 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) strongly condemned the “ongoing Israeli military aggression against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip”. It considered the brutal aggression against the Palestinian people a blatant international and humanitarian law violation and “a war crime”. Did OIC’s stand reflect Saudi Arabia’s views as it is headquartered in Jeddah?

Some clarity emerged when Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed the Palestine-Israeli conflict on October 11. In a telephone conversation, they discussed the need to end war crimes against Palestine, according to Iranian state media. The Saudi crown prince “affirmed the Kingdom is making all possible efforts in communicating with all international and regional parties to stop the ongoing escalation” according to the Saudi state news agency.

Qatar’s foreign ministry’s blame of Israel for the recent escalation of violence with the Palestinians is not surprising as the Hamas headquarters is located in Qatar. It called for restraint from both sides and urged the international community to prevent Israel from using these events as a pretext for a disproportionate war against Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

India’s Support to Israel

India was one of the first countries to recognise the Palestinian cause; in fact, India had been one of its biggest supporters in international forums. India established full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992. Despite this, their relations had been at a low key, as it was hyphenated with Arab countries’ support to Palestine.

However, India-Israel relations became closer and multifaceted after PM Modi came to power in 2014. Modi was the first Indian PM to visit Israel in July 2017, when the two countries signed seven MoUs. The MoUs covered a wide range of subjects, ranging from industrial innovation, water conservation to cooperation on diverse subjects like electric propulsion of small satellites. The visit of PM Netanyahu, a year later, further reinforced the relations.

These visits paved the way for various Israeli unicorns to operate in India. In 2020, Israel’s National Cyber Directorate and Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) decided to enhance capacity building initiatives. The relations between the two countries were further cemented when India joined Israel, USA and UAE to form the I2-U2 grouping in 2022. This paved the way for close cooperation for joint initiatives in a number areas in water, energy, transportation, space, health and food security sectors.

Over the years, Israel has emerged as the biggest defence supplier, next only to Russia. With Israel’s collaboration India has been able to develop and produce state-of-the-art systems such as Barak 8 surface to air defence missiles, Skystriker drones, etc. In May 2023, India and Israel signed a Vision on Defence Cooperation statement during the visit of the Israeli defence minister. It formalised further collaboration and production of a whole range of defence equipment, particularly in development of UAVs and light combat aircraft and helicopters, so essential to guard our Himalayan frontiers. Israel’s close involvement in India’s defence preparedness has to be understood while studying the relations between the two countries. This is more so, when Israel is confronting an Islamic terror group like the Hamas, even as India continues to support a just deal for the Palestine people.

India clarified its stand in a carefully worded statement issued by its Ministry of External Affairs, reiterating the country’s support for a sovereign, independent and viable Palestine state. It described the Hamas assault on Israel as terrorist attacks, adding clarity to India’s position on the subject.

—The writer is a retired military intelligence specialist on South Asia associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies

The post Many Shades of Israel’s War against Hamas appeared first on India Legal.

This post first appeared on Legal News In India, Indian Law News, Latest Supreme-High Court News Updates, please read the originial post: here

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Many Shades of Israel’s War against Hamas


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