In the Middle East, there will be a 'before' and 'after' October 7

There will be a “before and after Oct. 7, 2023” for Israelis, Palestinians and the entire region.

I woke up Saturday morning to a series of messages from my father.

“Aren’t you following what’s happening?” he asked. “It’s unprecedented since 1973.”

As I quickly went through the news, I realized he was talking about the surprise offensive launched against Hamas that very morning.

“You’re exaggerating,” I replied.

How could “just another round of violence” between Hamas and the Israeli army be compared to the war waged by former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad exactly 50 years ago?

I was mistaken.

Nobody anticipated the scale of what happened on Saturday.

No one could have imagined that Hamas would be capable of carrying out an operation of this magnitude. They bombed and infiltrated Israeli territory simultaneously, resulting in hundreds of casualties, thousands of injuries and dozens of hostages taken.

No one could have foreseen such a significant breakdown of the Israeli military-security apparatus. Israel has never appeared so fragile, at least not since 1973.

There will be a “before and after Oct. 7, 2023” for Israelis, Palestinians and the entire region.

It’s not that the balance of power among the different stakeholders has fundamentally changed, but rather, that all barriers have collapsed. Everyone will need to readjust their positions based on this new reality.

Hamas pulled off an operation unparalleled in its history.

The group’s offensive is likely to be regarded as a remarkable feat across the Arab world, where Israeli dominance and arrogance has been a collective source of trauma.

From this point forward, the Islamist movement will position itself as the sole local defender of the Palestinian issue, effectively sidelining the weakened Fatah movement.

One can also say that Oct. 7, 2023 is the final nail in the coffin of the Oslo Accords.

If Hamas was able to catch its Israeli enemy by surprise, it is undoubtedly due to the movement’s close ties with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran.

After years of strained relations due to the Syrian war, ties between Hamas and Hezbollah appear to be stronger than ever. This is particularly true knowing that some of Hamas’ leaders have relocated to Lebanon.

Has Hamas become a direct Iranian proxy, like the Islamic Jihad Movement? One also wonders if the decision to attack was made in Tehran, or if Lebanon is serving as the operational command center.

At present, these questions are merely hypotheses, albeit plausible in light of the current context. The offensive clearly bears the hallmarks of the “axis of resistance.”

Furthermore, Iran has also emerged strengthened, positioning itself as the sole sponsor of the Palestinian issue, and sending a message that any peace agreement in the region that could alter regional geopolitics will have to go through Tehran.

The offensive seems to have dealt a deadly blow to the Israeli-Saudi normalization process, at least for the foreseeable future.

Saudi Arabia cannot sign a peace agreement with Israel, which is likely to raze Gaza to the ground, and is inclined to adopt a more radical stance toward the Palestinians.

Riyadh, with its aspirations of transforming the Middle East into a “new Europe,” is now caught between an Iranian-backed “axis of resistance,” committed to perpetuating regional destabilization and Israel, led by a far-right coalition with intentions of eradicating Palestinian presence both literally and figuratively from across the eastern Mediterranean all the way to Jordan.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman will now need to reassess his calculations, to navigate this complex equation effectively.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been resisting going to war and made every effort to depoliticize the Palestinian issue, has just experienced a major setback.

In Israel, Netanyahu is already being held accountable for these failures, and faces criticism from all sides, particularly from the most radical factions within his own government.

How should he respond to such a challenge? Simply curtailing Hamas’ influence by eliminating a substantial number of its fighters may not be sufficient to fully restore Israel’s deterrent force.

Waging an all-out war to completely eliminate Hamas, as was the case with Operation Galileo in Lebanon in 1982, appears to be an extremely complex feat.

The densely populated Gaza Strip provides favorable conditions for Hamas to resist the Israeli state. For Israel, Saturday’s attack is a monumental event, on par with 9/11, and Tel Aviv is likely to retaliate in a manner reminiscent of its American ally.

Given its lack of a politically viable solution, the Netanyahu government is likely to resort to a strategy involving heightened violence and animosity in Gaza and other Palestinian territories, possibly with the tacit approval of the international community.

However, such an approach is unlikely to resolve the underlying issues and may even weaken Israel’s alliances with Arab countries and amplify the bellicose rhetoric of the “axis of resistance.”

Israel also faces the threat of a second fighting front on its border with Lebanon.

The question arises: Will Hezbollah take the risk and lead the entire region into uncontrollable escalation?

The party, along with its Iranian sponsor, may be tempted to deliver another blow to a vulnerable Israel. This is particularly true at a time when both Iran and Hezbollah seek to regain legitimacy in the region. Such an offensive, however, could come at a significant cost, not just for them but for Lebanon as a whole.

Consequently, the “axis of resistance” might opt to merely observe the unfolding events and reserve the option of all-out war for another time.

The decision to go to war must be made within a context ripe with at least a certain level of legitimacy, both in Lebanon and in the Arab world. It should be aimed to yield a tangible outcome, namely, imposing a new balance of power vis-à-vis Israel.

Tehran is also reluctant to unleash havoc upon Lebanon — and the decision to go to war would likely lead to such a consequence — without securing substantial benefits or concessions in return.

Where does the Palestinian issue stand in this equation?

The Hamas offensive will lead to the destruction of Gaza, the acceleration of Israeli colonization and the death of thousands of Palestinians.

The Palestinian issue has been taken hostage by Iran and will be set back decades. Images of the atrocities committed by Hamas on civilians on Saturday will likely mark the memory and public opinion of the West for a long time.

Beyond the deaths of civilians on both sides, this would indeed be a great tragedy.

For decades, Israel has killed, colonized, imprisoned and restricted Palestinians with impunity, leaving them with little choice but to resort to violence in the pursuit of dignity in this holy land.

Today, Hamas offers both the only and the worst response to the humiliation haunting Palestinians.

Undoubtedly, Hamas remains a tumor for the Palestinian issue. The movement imposes a backwards vision on society, tightening their grip around the Gaza Strip by means of propaganda and terror and advancing their own interests at the expense of what's truly best for the Palestinians people. Above all, Hamas remains at Tehran’s mercy.

Nevertheless, nothing sustains its existence more than Israel’s perceived arrogance and its blatant disregard for the Palestinian people.

This article was originally published in French in L'Orient Le-Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.

I woke up Saturday morning to a series of messages from my father.“Aren’t you following what’s happening?” he asked. “It’s unprecedented since 1973.”As I quickly went through the news, I realized he was talking about the surprise offensive launched against Hamas that very morning.“You’re exaggerating,” I replied.How could “just another round of violence” between Hamas and...