Hamas Sends a Clear Signal to the PNA and Saudi Arabia
Renzo Guolo 10 October 2023

The unprecedented attack intends to demonstrate that the Islamist movement is the only one still on the front lines of the fight. Netanyahu could want to mask his political decline with an all-out victory. But there are still too many unknowns.


Hamas’ truly unprecedented attack on Israel has multiple objectives. The first, most obvious and dramatically tangible in its casualty count and penetration capacity, is to dispel the myth of an unassailable “enemy.” Hang-gliders and motorcycles, pickup trucks and rockets have shown that they are capable of undermining the Israeli defense system even in the context of a decidedly asymmetrical war. Israel’s primary arial defense, the Iron Dome, considered by many an invisible yet impenetrable barricade was rendered useless under the barrage of thousands of rockets from Gaza.

A strategy that highlights how the Al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of Hamas led by Mohammed Deif, managed to evade Israel’s security apparatus: that Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, which has thousands of informants and undercover agents in Gaza, as well as the Israeli Military Intelligence, also known as Aman, and Mossad, its external espionage service, had no inkling of an operation that requires time, training, and external collaborations to be prepared, is resounding.

Beyond the stunned astonishment at the shock and the many casualties, the spread of the feeling of insecurity within one’s own borders, the return of fear for fear’s sake, is fraught with consequences for Israel’s collective psychology. As is the taking of so many hostages, both military and civilian, whose fate lies in the balance, destined to be traded for what Hamas deems “prisoners of war”.

The prospect of a trade as envisaged by Hamas promises to be a fraught interaction. One need only think of the story of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier traded against 1,027 prisoners in 2011. Not only politically but also militarily: the Gaza Strip, where Hamas has led all those it has captured in southern Israel, hiding them, probably, in the city’s network of tunnels or in “safe houses” connected to its vast underground, will be enormously risky for anyone attempting a rescue operation.

In a scenario like the Middle East, perception is often more relevant than reality, political success, even before the military success of the attack, matters. The message, by no means subliminal, that Hamas has sent to Palestinians and others is “if you do not give in to resignation anything is possible”: even dealing a very hard blow to Israel.


The crisis of the PNA

Its second, and closely related goal, is to permanently undermine the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) leadership, now condemned to a delegitimizing immobility by its internal and external choices.

Caught between its need to not further fuel Hamas, which expelled it from the Strip following the 2006 elections and trying to shape the Palestinian micro-state envisioned by the Oslo Accords, the PNA is at the end of its rope.

Even in its traditional stronghold, the West Bank, a generation of young men, eager to go toe-to-toe with Israel, cannot reconcile their ideals with a political elite still guided by the PLO’s old guard and Mahmoud Abbas, nor can they identify with the Palestinian Brotherhood in the guise of Hamas, considered “hyperpolitical” and too tied to long-term strategies. Hamas’ attack on Israel, therefore, allows it to move beyond the claustrophobic “pool” of Gaza and show the eager young men of the West Bank, though historically tied to the PLO, that the Islamist cause is the only one determined enough to really fight Israel. Their attempt to move beyond their borders can be seen in Jenin, a dustbowl town often prone to flare-ups and clashes with the Israeli army in the hunt for Islamic jihadists and Hamas militants.


The Saudi Objective

Their third aim and certainly not their least, is to sabotage the understanding between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the true seal of the Abrahamic Accords, announced as imminent by Netanyahu. The war between Hamas and Israel will most likely scupper, if not wholly sink, this step. Not least because it throws the specter of Iran onto the negotiation table, whose regime is politically supportive of the attack and possibly directly assisting Hamas in intelligence and military supplies.

It is difficult to imagine that in the course of a “military operation,” deliberately titled “Al Aqsa”, Islam’s third holy site, albeit pragmatic Mohammed Bin Salman could seal such an agreement to realize the ambitions of the Saudi Vision 2030 project.

To realize its plans, Saudi Arabia envisions normalized Middle East relations, and unlike Qatar, does not have nor yearns to have good relations with Hamas. Nonetheless it would be hard for it to reconcile a conflict involving Israel and Sunni Arabs, of whom it has set itself up as protector (in competition with Turkey). This does not allow it much room for bold maneuvers. How could he realistically sign a deal with a government like the one led by Netanyahu, that is comprised of members that would actively seek the annexation of Palestinian territories with not so covert messianic intent.

Saudi Arabia has positioned itself as the guardian of the Holy Places. The risk for MBS is that the war will give oxygen to disgruntled sectors of the royal family, and especially to jurists and theologians hostile to the powerful Crown Prince’s post-Wahhabism.

Realizing that the challenge issued will goad Israel into an unprecedented response: both a mechanical and canonical response – bombing/launching of rockets; retaliatory bombing and then returning to a quiet, vigilant state is no longer in the cards – Hamas has decided to sacrifice much of its military strength, destined, as Netanyahu has promised to be “destroyed” in the war, to these goals.


Bibi’s Problem

It is, in fact, likely that Bibi, formerly known as Mr. Security – a nickname that has since evaporated in the face of the enormity of the incident and the new hamekdahl, or war of incompetence, exhibited on October 7 – seeks to obscure the humiliation of that “black day” with a war at unprecedented scale, seeking a total victory capable not only of restoring deterrence but also of averting his own political decline.

The Prime Minister, however, has constraints: if he forms a national unity government to cover up the disaster, he will have to take into account the new members of the majority.

Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid, the main opposition party, unlike Benny Gantz the former Chief of General Staff and leader of the Blue and White party, has set a condition: that the leaders of the extreme nationalist right, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, proponents of the annexation of “Judea and Samaria,” the Hebrew name for the Palestinian territories and a point of reference for Messianic settlers, who are considered among those most responsible, in the exercise of their functions, for the current situation, will not be part of it.

In any case, the executive tiller will no longer lean far to the right. Even the tempting curve ball of settling the score with Iran, which the US does not seem to want to endorse, would remain so.

A mix of internal and external constraints shape Israel’s choices.


This article was originally published by the Italian newspaper Domani (October 9, 2023) . 


Cover Photo: Israeli soldiers patrol an area in Kfar Aza, south of Israel bordering Gaza Strip, on October 10, 2023 (photo by Jack Guez / AFP.)


Follow us on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn to see and interact with our latest contents.

If you like our stories, events, publications and dossiers, sign up for our newsletter (twice a month).  




Please consider giving a tax-free donation to Reset this year

Any amount will help show your support for our activities

In Europe and elsewhere
(Reset DOC)

In the US
(Reset Dialogues)