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Israel In A Catch-22 Situation As It Mulls Rescue Of Its Citizens From Hamas Captivity

The Israel-Hamas military confrontation can plunge the entire region into a vortex of violence and bring Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other militant groups to the fray.

People gather in support of the recent attacks on Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas
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If the idea of the Hamas attack was to focus international attention on the almost forgotten Palestine cause, it has succeeded in doing so with dramatic and tragic consequences. Fears of a regional confrontation are mounting as Hamas leaders are asking civilians to come out with whatever weapons they have to fight  Israel. Palestinians living in the West Bank,  Arabs in Israel and around the region could well respond to what is termed a battle of survival. The Israel-Hamas military confrontation can plunge the entire region into a vortex of violence and bring Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other militant groups to the fray. Arab rulers in the region will find it difficult to ignore the voices of ordinary people from the mosques and bazaars, where there is overwhelming support for Palestine.  

US President Joe Biden has been in touch with leaders of neighbouring countries as fears of regional confrontation mount. His officials are scrabbling to ensure that the fire in the region is put off as quickly as possible. The US has been in touch with its allies in the region, Egypt and Jordan. Turkiye, UAE, and Saudi Arabia have all been contacted by Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other senior leaders.

The fear of the Iran-backed Hezbollah getting into the fray is a reality; Americans are already talking of Iran’s role as well as that of Syria. President Bashar-Al-Asad has been a staunch supporter of Palestine. President Biden in a brief statement to express solidarity with Israel had warned regional powers not to stir the pot which could engulf the entire region. Without naming Iran, Biden said wagging his finger: “The United States warns against any other party hostile to Israel seeking advantage in this situation.  My Administration’s support for Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering.”

Hezbollah in Lebanon has welcomed the Hamas action and said that the operation served as a “retaliation against the ongoing offences and transgressions by the occupiers.” It appealed to “all free individuals worldwide” to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian movement.

As the world scrambles to prevent the situation from escalating further and ponders ways to stop the fighting, the chances of normalisation of  Saudi-Israel diplomatic ties have become much more difficult. Just a few weeks back, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said during his address to the United Nations General Assembly about an imminent deal with the Kingdom that could change the landscape of West Asia. Now chances of that seem rather remote.

The Saudi foreign ministry’s initial statement on Saturday gave an indication of which way the wind was blowing. The  Kingdom had long warned  “of the dangers of the explosion of the situation as a result of the continued occupation, the deprivation of the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights, and the repetition of systemic provocations against its sanctities,” the statement noted.

The normalisation talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia had also hinged on giving concessions to the Palestinians, which now will be extremely difficult for Netanyahu. He presides over a government filled with religious leaders and hard-right-wing groups willing to give no concessions.

The Western world led by the US has all stood solidly behind Israel. India, once a major supporter of the Palestinian cause has over the years shifted its position and built relations with Israel. India and Israel today are close partners and Prime Minister Modi and Netanyahu have excellent personal ties. The MEA has issued no official statement. But the Prime Minister wrote in X, hours after the incident:

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“Deeply shocked by the news of terrorist attacks on Israel. Our thoughts and prayers are with the innocent victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with Israel at this difficult hour.’’

Israel In A Catch-22 Situation

US experts have called the latest Hamas attack the most sophisticated and well-coordinated assault on Israel since the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, led by a coalition of Arab countries. So far, Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, has killed more than 200 Israeli soldiers and civilians. Earlier rocket attacks fired from Gaza rarely met their targets or resulted in deaths. Most of these home-assembled rockets were easily shot down by Israeli forces. But Hamas has rehauled its fighting capabilities to be able to carry out the rocket attacks with military precision and at the same time successfully breach the heavily guarded border fencing to send in fighters into southern Israeli towns.  

Israel is in a catch-22 situation, while massive retaliation is being planned the fact that Hamas was able to capture several Israeli soldiers and civilians will give it pause. Israeli citizens have been driven off to hiding places in underground tunnel networks that crisscross the Gaza Strip, so rescue operation could risk their lives. The lack of intelligence is also because Hamas is completely out of the grid with electronic devices like cell phones and laptops avoided and messages passed on by courtiers. Neither Israel nor the US nor any of its Western allies have any human people on the ground to act as spies and give an indication of what is happening. 

Hamas is hoping that it can exchange its 5,000 or so Palestinian prisoners freed in exchange for Israeli citizens. Hamas had already said that Operation Al Aqsa Storm was also meant to help free Palestinians from Israeli prisons. Expectedly, Tel Aviv hit back with a series of airstrikes inside Gaza killing more than 200 people and injuring large numbers. The death toll in Gaza will rise considering the dismal state of medical infrastructure in the area. Whether there will be a full-scale invasion by Israeli troops inside Gaza is not known but experts believe that could prove a difficult proposition and could risk the lives of Israeli prisoners.

So, what can be expected in the next few days and weeks to come? How will Israel rescue its citizens now held prisoner by Hamas?

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