The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the India-Middle-East, Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), signed on the sidelines of the G20 summit, has injected new complexities into the Israel-Palestine conflict. India, a staunch supporter of Israel, faces potential losses in significant business interests along the corridor if global players like China and Russia choose to exert their influence. The outcome remains uncertain, with much at stake for India.
The motive and timing behind Gaza-based Palestinian Islamist group Hamas’ indiscriminate attack on Israeli territory have left much room to uncover the larger geopolitical stakes and triggers behind the sudden escalations. The Oct 7 attacks caught Israel, known for its formidable surveillance and security infrastructure, off guard. Many liberal Israelis are questioning what Prime Minister Bibi Netanyhu, who prides himself in being an expert on security issues, and routinely hammers the Palestinians and Iranians on every count, was exactly doing? And how did Mossad, one of the finest intelligence agencies in the world fail so miserably in anticipating an attack of this magnitude.
In the sixth day of war between the state of Israel and Hamas, which was once pampered by the Israelis to marginalize the left wing, Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), some 3000 people have been killed and thousands injured. The much-vaunted Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, did not give an impression that the war was imminent as the Prime Minister Netanyahu seemed in control of an “unstable stable” Gaza and was confident that it could control anything that was thrown at him or his government. Oblivious of the impending onslaught, Netanyahu was busy dealing with greater domestic threats – the unending agitation against his government trying to initiate Judicial reforms- a euphemism for ending the primacy of courts. To avoid facing the repercussions of corruption cases against him, Netanyahu wants nothing more than to render the courts redundant. This has led to deep divisions within Israel, prompting even the defense forces, including the Mossad, to oppose the ‘reforms’ they perceive as a threat to democracy.
Why did Hamas attack Israel now?
Certainly, the internal strife in Israel presented an opportune moment for Hamas to strike. But that alone can’t explain the audacity of the attacks. There are, perhaps, far greater and complex forces at play that could have influenced the timing and intensity in Hamas’ actions. Though it may seem improbable, the decision to launch the attack might be related to the resolution made in Delhi during the G20 summit in September 2023. The biggest development was not what transpired in the summit, but later. Brokered by US President, Joe Biden, Saudi Arabia and India announced the signing of an ambitious Memorandum of Understanding on India-Middle-East, Europe Economic corridor or (IMEC). This transcontinental corridor was to build Saudi Arabia as the bridge between India and Europe, weaving in its way through Israel, Greece, France and Germany to later connect with the US. This ambitious endeavor aimed to counter the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) conceived by China, which has engaged 155 countries since its inception 10 years ago. The US and India have been exploring ways to challenge it, and in IMEC they found a project that could do just that.
However, IMEC based on the expansion of the Abraham Accords, a series of agreements aimed at normalising relations between Israel and several Arab states, initiated during President Donald Trump’s administration.
The US had endeavored to bring Saudi Arabia and Israel closer. In a rare interview appearance, Saudi Prince Muhammad Bin Salman suggested that the two countries were very close to an agreement. Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu, too, repeated the same thing that both sides were on the threshold of signing this agreement. It seemed not much was being conceded to residents of Gaza.
While it may not have received as much attention in this Euro-centric world, it’s likely that Hamas and the Palestinian leadership were deeply concerned about the ramifications of IMEC. Saudi Arabia, the wealthiest and most influential nation in the Islamic world, was being enticed by the US to foster closer ties with Israel without apparent significant concessions for those trapped in Gaza or the West Bank.
If the IMEC would have gone through then it would have been a body blow to the cause of Palestinians who had been locked out from their own country since the day of Naqba, May 15, 1948. Considered to be the most civilized section of the Arab world, the Palestinian diaspora has been living in subhuman conditions in Gaza and other settlements. Over the years, Palestinians have seen their cause being devalued and countries that were their supporters slowly getting mired in their problems- Syria, Iraq and Libya for instance.
Why did Israeli intelligence fail to anticipate the attack?
The jury is still out on whether the Israeli defense establishment was aware of the impending attack or not, or if, like the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the formidable Mossad simply couldn’t piece together the puzzle. Back then, they possessed comprehensive intelligence regarding the impending air assault by the Egyptian and Syrian defense forces on Israeli airfields. Now, the Israeli government acknowledges that they received advance warning from Egyptian intelligence about the impending attack but failed to act upon it. What caused this breakdown in response? Conflicting reports offer varying explanations.
Initial reports suggested that all intelligence chatter indicated Hamas’ apparent reluctance to start a fight. In fact, they sounded conciliatory. Does it mean that the seasoned analysts who were intercepting communication in Gaza were led down the garden path? That seems a bit unlikely. Israel has extensive infrastructure in place to keep a hawk’s eye on the region and nothing really escapes their attention. The Israelis have all the numbers of mobile users in Gaza. They are so precise in their surveillance that they notify anyone before bombing their building. when one realizes that Israel has the entire Gaza wired. Nothing escapes them.
Another unlikely hypothesis doing the rounds explaining the intelligence failure is Hamas using seemingly unhackable Chinese Huawei phones. Israel, equipped with US surveillance technology, has consistently struggled to breach the security of Huawei phones. Huawei’s intelligence experts maintain that their phones are impervious to hacking. US data experts have raised concerns that Huawei equipment may have a backdoor accessible by Beijing. However, considering Israel’s uncompromising commitment to national security, this theory appears far-fetched.
What may have made Israel complacent is that their army had been pushing the Palestinians for some time. Since the beginning of 2023, 200 Palestinians have been killed and many have been taken as prisoners. The Israeli army’s strategy to pick up young boys from the villages targeted by jew settlers- as it lowers the resolve of the community to fight back – is simply indefensible. This backstory is conveniently overlooked by those who use snapshots of Hamas’ terrorist acts to trash the entire Palestinian society.
What is next?
The war threatens to spill over. This threat is built on the rapprochement brokered by China between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Last week Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and Iran’s President Raisi, spoke for 45 mins on Palestine and the imperative for a coordinated action. If the two countries, along with Russia and others, decide to impose an oil embargo on the countries that are supporting Israel then we could have a peculiar mix of Ukraine+Palestine impacting a war weary world. How will India save itself in these circumstances after supporting Israel initially and then backsliding to support Palestine?
There is also the possibility that if Saudi Arabia remains unwilling to engage in negotiations with Israel, the highly anticipated IMEC project could end up being stillborn. Under these circumstances, India could potentially face significant losses, as the corridor’s route intersects with some of the ports where Indian businessman Adani has made substantial investments.
However, the carpet bombing by the Israel air force on an open-air jail called Gaza has changed the narrative in the Western world also. The European Union has called for humanitarian aid, but Israel has said categorically that it would stop raids only if the 150 hostages of Israel that Hamas has taken are released. Now it wants a million Gazans to leave the tiny strip within 24 hours. They don’t tell where. It’s apparent that Israel wants the Gaza strip as part of the enlargement policy that Netanyahu and his supporters follow diligently. This policy has disturbing implications for Israel and its neighborhood.
Beware of the bad times.