Israel-Hamas War: A Simple Explanation
The recent surge of violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip has captured the world’s attention. This conflict erupted after Hamas, the ruling militant group in Gaza, launched a multi-front attack on Israel on October 7. As both sides declare war, casualties continue to rise, with thousands of Israeli reservists called into service and Gaza facing intense airstrikes. In this article, we’ll delve into the conflict, understanding who Hamas is, what the Gaza Strip represents, and the regional implications of this crisis.
Hamas, short for the Islamic Resistance Movement, is a Palestinian Islamist militant group with a clear goal: the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. This organization operates from and controls the Gaza Strip, which we will discuss shortly.
Hamas has been designated a terrorist organization by Australia, the United States, and the European Union. It has a long history of armed resistance against Israel and receives financial and material support from Iran.
Born in the late 1980s as an offshoot of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas gained control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, defeating its rival political party, Fatah, which dominates the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and governs the West Bank, another Palestinian territory.
The Gaza Strip: A Snapshot
The Gaza Strip is a narrow piece of land, approximately 40 kilometers long, located between Israel, Egypt, and the Mediterranean Sea. Home to over 2 million people, it is one of the most densely populated areas globally.
Historically, Gaza was under Egyptian control until 1967 when Israel captured it during the Six-Day War. Israel maintained control and allowed Jewish settlements until 2005 when international pressure led to a withdrawal. However, since 2007, Israel has imposed a strict land, sea, and air blockade, severely limiting the flow of goods and people.
Hamas has been the de facto authority in Gaza since 2007, engaging in multiple conflicts with Israel during its rule. While Hamas initially called for Israel’s destruction, recent leaders have shown willingness to accept a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders without formally recognizing Israel’s statehood.
Hamas vs. Fatah: Palestinian Divide
It’s crucial to note that Hamas does not represent all Palestinians. The larger West Bank is governed by the Fatah party, under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Fatah recognizes Israel’s right to exist and emphasizes negotiation over violence.
Hamas and Fatah have controlled the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, respectively, since 2007, with different approaches to dealing with Israel. Hamas relies on armed resistance, while Fatah seeks peaceful negotiations.
The Trigger for Conflict
The exact cause of the recent Hamas attack remains unclear, but it follows weeks of escalating tensions along the Gaza frontier. The violence erupted shortly after Hamas stated that people needed to end the occupation, accusing Israel of committing crimes across Palestinian territory, especially at the holy site of al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.
Al-Aqsa holds immense significance for both Muslims and Jews. To Muslims, it’s the third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina. To Jews, it’s known as Temple Mount and is a revered place. Hamas named its offensive “Operation al-Aqsa Deluge.”
The conflict escalated as Hamas launched thousands of rockets at Israel, breaching security barriers, while Israel responded with airstrikes. This recent clash builds upon years of tensions, cross-border raids, and blockades, contributing to a dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.
International Support for Hamas and Israel
Hamas forms part of a regional alliance with Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, sharing opposition to US Middle East policy and Israel. Iran is a primary supporter, providing financial and material aid to Hamas. Lebanon’s Hezbollah also joined the conflict by firing artillery and rockets into Israeli-controlled territory.
On the other side, Israel has garnered support from over 80 countries, with the US at the forefront. The US is sending additional munitions and naval warships to show support. Other Western nations like Germany, France, and the UK have expressed solidarity with Israel.
Across the Arab world, leaders have called for restraint, highlighting the complex dynamics of regional relations.
Experts worry that the ongoing conflict may further strain relations between Israel and Arab nations, including delicate negotiations with Saudi Arabia. Talks between the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia aimed at normalizing relations and recognizing Israel’s statehood could now be in jeopardy.
This situation represents a significant challenge for President Joe Biden, who had been working to build diplomatic ties between nations in the region. The Abraham Accords, brokered in 2020, led to normalization between Israel and Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Hopes were high for Saudi Arabia to follow suit, but the recent Hamas attack has cast a shadow over these diplomatic efforts.