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The Israel-Hamas war and its geopolitical and economic implications

  • Rome
  • 7 November 2023

        A point of departure in analyzing the events of October 7, 2023 – both political and military – is the fact that the entire region and international community was taken entirely by surprise. It is undeniable that Israel was seriously unprepared at military and intelligence levels for Hamas’ vicious attack, and that its impact was astonishing in extent and brutality.

        From the perspective of Israel – and not only of the current government – Hamas can in no way be considered a counterpart in future negotiations, or even a participant in any overall diplomatic process with the Palestinians. That is the premise of the military operations in Gaza and of the regional jockeying now underway. In particular, the dialogue that had begun with Saudi Arabia could resume and indeed accelerate on the impetus of common economic and diplomatic interests, but the necessary security preconditions have yet to be established.

        The conflict is developing at three levels simultaneously. The first pits Hamas against Israel, with the traditional terrorist objectives (and an Israeli response similar to that of the United States’ post-9/11 and later of the international anti-ISIS coalition). A second level consist of Iran’s challenge to the normalization of Israeli/Saudi relations, which could potentially have involved the Palestinians at a subsequent stage (here we see a potential a post-conflict opportunity to hasten negotiations, which nevertheless need a Palestinian leadership willing to embrace such an approach). A third level is associated with Russia’s decision to take Hamas’ side in a radical reversal of Moscow’s traditional position vis à vis Israel (Putin seems to be calculating the advantages not only of an Arab-Iranian front against Israel but also of a new anti-Western democracy front).

        As for regional and even global analyses, however, it can also be noted that the so-called “axis of resistance” is in reality proving less compact than was previously expected. Both Hezbollah and Iran have sought to explicitly distance themselves from Hamas, at least as regards direct responsibility for the October 7 attack; indeed, Hamas’ political agenda itself seems not entirely consistent with these two actors’ regional interests.  

        In global terms, terrorism is often a violent reaction against the market integration and the free circulation of ideas and innovation; in this case too we are probably witnessing something of this nature involving, at least in part, the Arab masses in general and not only Palestine. The answer therefore cannot be solely a military one, as President Biden himself took pains to point out to Israeli premier Netanyahu, making direct reference to the American experience and to the “mistakes” made in the wake of September 11, 2001. 

        Of course, various revisionist and anti-American powers have launched (even opportunistic) signs of convergence, opening multiple conflicts that have distracted Washington from competition with China and at the same time made room for the maneuvering of regional actors. In any case, Iran has seen a potential advantage in slowing or hindering the Israeli-Saudi rapprochement, although it is still too early to say whether the goal has been achieved from Teheran’s perspective. According to some participants, it remains one of the Arab governments’ priorities to encourage new forms of economic development and, therefore, to ensure that diplomatic dialogue is hampered by the violent actions of armed groups.

        Others, however, felt that Teheran did not, in any case, intend to cross a sort of red line – a massive Hezbollah attack on Israel, which would trigger a direct Israeli air offensive against objectives on Iranian soil. In that sense, it could be said that deterrence would not come principally from US capacity in the region but from Israel’s, which however could prove insufficient without broader international support.

        The Turkish perspective on the events underway is not favorable toward any further regional escalation, given the fragility of Mideast balances and Ankara’s own ambitions in various local settings that, in effect, would not benefit from a wider conflict. In any case, Turkey remains harshly critical of America’s practically unlimited support for Israel; and there is also considerable disappointment for the absence of a truly active stance on the part of the EU – observations on which nearly all European observers themselves agree. As for the future of Turkey’s relations with Israel, much will depend on how willing Tel Aviv is to reembrace the two-State solution as the structural answer to the Palestinian question and as the possible foundation for a multilateral assurance of regional stability – which, from the standpoint of Turkey and the Arab world, has little to do with the eventual elimination or scaling back of Hamas.  

        It was pointed out that, in any case, at the moment we are in the presence of a traditional war.  Israel’s being for now a major counter-terrorism operation, it is essential to win the battle of communication as well as that of legality – this precisely in order to facilitate a new phase of multilateral negotiations. Many doubts were expressed, however, regarding the classic Two-State approach as a means to the pacification and stabilization of Israeli-Palestinian relations. According to some participants, this is still possible, but calls for major adjustments as well as the active collaboration of prominent Arab nations.