Israel-Palestine, New Fire: Has the Third Intifada Started? At War, says Israel

israel palentine conflict

On Saturday, Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist group, launched the most brutal attack on Israel in several years. Just last week when Israeli Defence Forces said, that Gaza was in a state of “stable instability”, Hamas fighters overnight stormed Israel’s southern border with Gaza. Hamas claims to have launched 5,000 rockets in the Israeli territory, killing at least 200  people including civilians, thousands have been wounded and many have been taken as hostages.

Hamas fighters used an explosive to barge into the wall fence that has been enclosing the Gaza strip, which has been under a long-term siege, the breakthrough happened through air, land, and sea routes, which marks a grave escalation by Hamas through its Operation Al-Aqsa Storm” with Israel retaliating by declaring a “state of war”. 

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to avenge with mass army mobilization. “The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) is about to use all its force to destroy Hamas’s capabilities. “We will strike them to the bitter end and avenge with force this black day they brought on Israel and its people”,he said. The forces have launched “Operation Swords of  Iron”, striking a number of targets in the Gaza Strip

The attack happened on Simchat Torah, a pious day for the Jews, this reminds of the attack by Egyptian and Syrian forces, 50 years back in 1973 on the Jewish holiday of  Yom Kippur, aiming to reclaim territory that Israel had captured during a short conflict in 1967.

The strength and the execution of the attack, by Hamas have left the world shocked also pointing out the failure of the most coveted intelligence agency in Israel.

Though the conflicts have happened earlier also between Gaza’s Hamas and Israel but the relations have been steadily deteriorating in recent years. The present scale of escalation, makes the situation dangerous for the region, considering the incumbent far-right government in Israel and Palestine’s rising angst and despair against the blockade of Gaza.Israel had conducted raids inside occupied West Bank cities over the past year, there was also a raid at disputed Al Aqsa mosque, which is Islam’s third holiest place of worship, which is also a holy site for the Jews sacred to them as Temple Mount.

Moreover, Hamas has claimed to hold a large number of Israelis including senior officials in order to use them as prisoner swaps to free the Palestinian detainees lodged in Israeli jails, considering Israel’s past vendetta. Factoring in all the above stated things, the situation becomes all the more precarious and volatile in the region.

Intelligence Failure?

Considering the collaborative efforts in the past of Shin Bet (Israeli domestic intelligence), Mossad (external spy agency), and Aman (military intelligence) along with the capabilities of the Israel Defense Forces, it is genuinely surprising that no one anticipated this in advance.

The country which has been known for its most extensive, well-funded, and sophisticated intelligence networks across West Asia, has failed to prevent a fierce attack from Hamas this time on such a large scale.

Tracing the Palestinian Issue

After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, Britain took control of the Palestinian area in the Middle East, where the Arabs far outnumbered the Jews.

During the Second World War, the Holocaust launched by Hitler during the war made the Jews flee the persecution in Europe to their ancestral home for shelter.

However, the Jews found themselves in a minority in an Arab majority land, sooner the tensions started growing with cross-cutting divides across national, political, territorial, cultural, and religious factors.

The international community supported the Jews, after 6 million Jew lives were lost  in the Holocaust and entrusted Britain with the responsibility of creating a “national home” in Palestine for the Jewish population. The Jews claim Palestine to be their natural home.

Under United Nations Resolution 181, adopted in November 1947, Palestine was to be divided into Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem placed under international control. However, in the year 1948 when Britain lifted its control over the area and Jews declared the creation of  Israel on 14 May 1948,  provoking an eight-month war with the surrounding Arab states, thousands of Palestinians fled their homes. After the war, Israel occupied more territory than what Resolution 181 visualized.

Subsequently, Jordan engaged in a conflict with Israel and took control of a portion of the territory known as the West Bank, while Egypt occupied Gaza, with Jerusalem getting divided between Israel in the West, and Jordan in the East, this First Arab-Israeli war resulted in statelessness for Palestinian people, who became refugees in the neighboring Arab states. Thereafter, the region continued to see a rise in tensions and the blame game continued.

Timeline of major events in the century old issue:

  •  1964– Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was created with the aim of liberating the whole of Palestine.
  • 1967- War broke out in June between Israel and its Arab neighbors, with Israel defeating Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, capturing  East Jerusalem and the West Bank with various areas of Syrian Golan Heights, Gaza, and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. This brought Palestinians under the Israeli occupation.
  • 1987 to 1993First Intifada or the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli rule.
  •  1993- Israel and PLO signed a declaration on principles to grant Palestine autonomy, with 6 months of secret negotiations in Oslo.
  • 1994- PLO leader Yaseer Arafat, returns to Gaza and creates the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), establishing self-rule in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho.
  • 1999 to 2000- Breakdown  of  Oslo Peace process, 
  •  2000 to 2005- Second Intifada and Israel’s charged-up response to it.
  • 2005- Mahmud Abbas became the leader of the Palestinian National Authority. In September 2005 Israel independently pulled back its military forces and settlers from the Gaza Strip, a strategy known as “disengagement” intended, in principle, to relinquish Israel’s direct control over the Palestinian-inhabited region.
  • 2007- Hamas seizes control of the Gaza Strip by force. Hamas is the militant faction of its rival, Fatah i.e. the official Palestinian leadership led by Abbas

Thereafter, Israel enforced a stringent blockade on Gaza, severely limiting the movement of goods and individuals in and out of the area. Hamas has launched cross-border raids, Suicide bombings, and firing skyrockets in Israeli territory, with Israel using strong defense mechanisms such as the Iron Dome and hitting Gaza with periodic airstrikes and targeting the militant groups.

These intermittent attacks by Israel have been subtly referred to as “mowing the grass,” signifying the notion that it is not possible to completely eliminate the terrorist threat but rather reduce it to a manageable level.

Currently, the Palestinians remain stateless and the territory which is expected to become a future state of Palestine, i.e. West Bank and Gaza Strip remains separated with the West Bank under Israeli occupation and Gaza Strip blockaded. In 2017, a reconciliation accord was signed between Hamas and Fatah factions.

What is Hamas?

Hamas, an acronym of Ḥarakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah, is a  militant, Palestinian nationalist and Islamist movement in the West Bank and Gaza strip that is dedicated to the establishment of an independent Islamic state in historical Palestine. 

It was founded in 1987, soon after the First intifada broke out, by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a Palestinian cleric who became an activist in local branches of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas opposed the secular and peaceful approach of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and rejected attempts to cede any part of Palestine.

Hamas was an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a religio-political organization founded in 1928 in Egypt,   with its self-stated aim for the establishment of a state ruled by Sharia law, it has spread rapidly throughout Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, and Northern Africa. 

India’s Position on the Palestine Issue:

Euphemistically in international relations, it is called, if Palestine is India’s wife, Israel is its mistressIndia’s stance on the world’s longest-running conflict has shifted over time, transitioning from a staunchly pro-Palestine position during the initial four decades to a delicate balancing act due to its three-decade-long amicable relationship with Israel.

Though in recent years India has been following a dehyphenation policy between Israel and Palestine like the majority of the international community, India also supports peaceful negotiations to the Palestinian issues and security with recognition of Israel remaining the end goal.

Israel has been India’s most reliable and key defence and security partner in the world, personally also PM Modi shares a warm chemistry with Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu but India always has an arduous task of balancing the situation in the complex waters of  West Asia, where it has friends on many sides of the aisle to name a few like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel and UAE, the four major powers in the region.

Israel-Palestine War: Where Does The World Stand?

“We are at war and we will win it”, said Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu soon after Hamas launched a deadly attack from Gaza Strip towards Israel.

Iran, Turkey, and Qatar have been supporting Hamas for years. In fact, Iran is one of Hamas’s biggest benefactors, contributing funds, weapons, and training. Turkey has been another supporter of Hamas, though it insists that it supports Hamas politically only. Turkey has always been a critic of Israel and has called for restraint from all the parties but it has more to hide than to say.

Whereas, Iran, the regional arch-enemy of Israel, has openly congratulated and hailed the Hamas fighters and the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Naseer Kanaani said, “Today’s operation created a new page in the field of resistance and armed operation against the occupiers”.

Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas expressed solidarity with Palestinian civilians and stressed the right of the Palestinian people to defend themselves against the terrorism of settlers and the occupation forces.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group has congratulated Hamas, praising the attack as a response to “Israeli crimes”. Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shia Islamist political party and militant group.

Though Saudi Arabia has not recognized Israel since it was founded in 1948 and until now had signaled that it would not even consider normalizing relations until Israel agrees to allow for the creation of a Palestine state, has called for a halt to the fighting.

Western countries like the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Ukraine, Russia, and the European Union have condemned the surprise attack from Gaza and have expressed solidarity with Israel.

USA has drawn a hard line and pledged to ensure Israel has, “what it needs to defend itself” and has criticized the “appalling assault” by the Hamas militants. Biden said, “Terrorism is never justified. Israel has a right to defend itself and its people”

The UN Security Council called an emergency meeting today, US President Joe Biden voiced “rock solid and unwavering” support for Israel and warned, “against any other party hostile to Israel seeking advantage in this situation”.

India has also affirmed solidarity with Israel. “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.”, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi

China called for an immediate end to hostilities and a resumption of peace talks.

“The fundamental way out of the conflict lies in implementing the two-state solution and establishing an independent State of Palestine,” a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said in a Q&A published Sunday morning.

Current Scenario:

The core issue of the present hostility is not just rooted in “land” but is also about the “right to self-determination” and the current aggressive upsurge  comes at a time when major world powers are preoccupied with the war in Ukraine, rising differences between China and the West, and rising concerns that the global economy is inching close to a recession. 

The majority of the countries, in the world have expressed solidarity with Israel, and now the next debate stands, as to who is to be held responsible for triggering the current conflict and as expected the blame game has started.

The Palestine and Israel hostility will also put to test, the US-brokered Abraham Accords among Israel, UAE, and Bahrain and the ongoing efforts for rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

I2U2(India, Israel, US, and UAE) though largely an economic grouping, along with the newly announced India-Middle East-European Corridor are set to face their challenges now, with the current volatile situation.

Some are even terming the present escalation between Palestine and Israel as the “Third Intifada” but right now it is difficult to come on the possible impact of the escalation in the region but as rightly pointed out by India and many other countries, the need of the hour is to de-escalate so as to arrest any deterioration of the situation, to prevent further loss of precious human lives.

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