Israel has not only been the victim of a vicious and despicable terrorist attack. It is also the victim of a brazenly cynical move to disrupt the international stage and subvert tranquility in the Middle East. The Israeli-Palestinian powder keg conveniently served to add yet another full scale crisis putting even further pressure on a global order already strained to breaking point. Although no concrete evidence exists of any involvement in the attacks, Russia stands to gain the most from this extra flash point on the world map, as violence and war in the Middle East distracts from Putin’s unjustified war in Eastern Europe and stretches the resources of Ukraine’s allies.
Led by the elusive Mohammed Deif, a series of coordinated and well-executed surprise attacks on 7 October by Hamas caught Israeli defences completely off-guard. The dead run up to 1200 and thousands are wounded as the attacks set off a war against Hamas and Hezbollah, affecting Palestine and Lebanon, and reverberating across Syria and Yemen.
In retrospect, the attack’s material aspects and sophistication seemed to go beyond the known abilities of Hamas. Firstly, there was the advanced technical gear that managed to circumvent Israel’s monitoring capabilities so the attackers could pass undetected. As Israel has state of the art equipment it required equally advanced electronic warfare applications to neutralize it – of the kind only a state actor able to invest in such sophisticated means would be able to provide. The list of countries able to defeat Israeli technical intelligence equipment is small. Secondly, the assault was preceded by an increase in cyberattacks which again would have needed hacking abilities of a particular prowess. Thirdly, Hamas used cryptocurrency to finance its attack, and the links to where the transfers came from still have to be exposed. It should not be surprising therefore, before long speculation arose that there had been help from a powerful state actor, with Iran as the prime suspect. The Iranian envoy to the UN denied Iran’s involvement in the attack saying “We firmly support Palestine, but we are not involved in its response that was carried out alone.” They also added that blaming Iran was a way of justifying Israel’s failure.
However, reports indicate Iran and Hezbollah’s direct involvement in greenlighting and orchestrating the multi-pronged assault by Hamas. According to an October 8 report by The Wall Street Journal, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had been working with Hamas since August to plan the multipronged attacks against Israel. Details of the operation were reportedly discussed at several meetings in Beirut, which were also attended by Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). A Hamas spokesperson confirmed Iranian support to the BBC. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) involvement in the operational planning and execution, if confirmed, may partially explain the sophistication and elevated capabilities exhibited by Hamas in this lethal assault, as well as how this elaborate conspiracy evaded detection by Israeli intelligence. That Iran might have orchestrated this large-scale attack on Israel reiterates Tehran’s attempt to coordinate and facilitate the activities of the so-called “axis of resistance”, through direct operational support and offering safe haven for the enemies of Israel.
But obviously this was much more than just a resistance attack against Israel. The most direct effect of the conflagration, apart from the suffering and destruction, has been the halting of peace talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia. But the ripple effects will extend beyond politics in the Middle East with much wider strategic consequences on the global stage.
A normalization of relations between Tel Aviv and Riyadh would have facilitated the containment of Iran and its terrorist proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah through the added American security guarantees. Sabotaging these talks is therefore a direct gain. Saudi Arabia has not cancelled normalization talks, however a Senior Saudi official has stated everything is on hold. But a cascading effect of Israel’s counterassault, if too violent and draconian, could be that Saudi Arabia suspends talks altogether. After the attacks, there was also an incident in Egypt, where a police officer opened fire and killed two Israeli tourists in Alexandria, increasing the risk that Egypt will be in for Israeli retaliation as well. In a statement published by the White House, US Secretary of State Blinken encouraged Turkey to continue their involvement with an emphasis on efforts to free the hostages. But some assess that behind the scenes, Turkey along with Qatar are in support of Hamas. There is small chance of an Arab block forming against Israel, but the incident in Egypt and the reticent attitude of the other Middle Eastern nations show that some countries are not unhappy to see Israel undermined.
All-out war along the West Bank of course distracts from already ongoing crises the world over, such as the war in Eastern Europe. Israeli media reported that US President Joe Biden, in a conservation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the morning of 8 October 2023, informed the prime minister that additional aid to the IDF was on its way to Israel, and would continue in upcoming days. Several vessels from US Carrier Strike Group 12 moved towards the Eastern Mediterranean in a show of support for Israel. The need to monitor the situation in the Middle East and a possible diverting of resources could negatively impact the support of Ukraine’s allies, all of whom are as impacted by what is happening in Ukraine as this new crisis. Both conflicts are in Europe’s near abroad yet Europe does not have the capability to meaningfully influence events as long as the lack of a real EU common security and defence policy keeps it powerless. Adding another crisis further strains Western ability to maintain peace and global order, opening the door for rogue nations to achieve their goals undisturbed while the West is distracted with two wars in its backyard.
As in crime, in hybrid warfare cui bono is the guiding principle towards finding the ultimate culprit. Which begs the question who stands to gain the most from the global strategic repercussions of this event. A question so loud that there might be cause to speculate that Iran was perhaps inspired to execute this attack by a third nation? In any case all the mayhem and disorder resulting from this serious escalation stands to benefit mainly one party: Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Indirectly the Kremlin enjoys all the benefits from the chaos resulting from this drama. Israel has taken a serious blow and risks losing its credibility by becoming the main force of severe violence in the region. The position of the US is checked in the Middle East once more, but more than that the US has to divert attention and resources from helping Ukraine to assisting Israel, as war fatigue takes an increasing grip on US politics and public opinion. The EU is shown once more to be unable to control events within its near abroad and is relegated to about as much irrelevance as the UN in this matter. It is a perfect storm.
An operation like this could come straight out of the aktivye meriopratia toolbox of the GRU and the KGB’s successor SVR. Indeed, within hours of the attacks Russian disinformation mills put out fake stories about Hamas having gotten its weapons from Ukraine in a blatant but obvious attempt to blur where the weaponry might have come from. So even if not inspired by or even clandestinely masterminded by Russian intelligence, Iran and Hamas’ actions certainly played right into the hands of their Russian friends while serving their own direct interests. On 11 October senior Hamas official Ali Baraka stated on Memri TV their intentions could count on Moscow’s sympathy, indicating that the Kremlin approved the operation and may have known beforehand when it would take place. Last year, a high-level Hamas delegation travelled to Moscow twice to meet with Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov. They discussed working together to weaken the West. It would increasingly seem the contents of those discussions included some concrete actions with beneficial domino effects for all the enemies of peace and stability.
The question is if more is to follow. Unfortunately, it looks like it. Multiple crises coming together towards a global conflagration that breaks the international order seems to be the endgame in the war against the international rules-based order and the West currently being waged by the forces of authoritarianism.