Theories on the Gaza War

Thoughts in and around geopolitics

2 mins read
[Photo: Majdi Fathi]

Many of our readers have written in to ask why we haven’t had much to say on the war between Hamas and Israel. The reason, lamentably, was that we had nothing to say that wasn’t being said by the mainstream media, and that what we were hearing from other sources was not absolutely reliable. This includes claims that North Korea, of all places, was behind the attack. Now that the dust has settled somewhat, I’d recommend reading Kamran Bokhari’s piece published on Thursday that lays out some of the strategic elements of what Israel must consider. But today, I’d like to attempt to define what is known and unknown.

The first question everyone asked was who was behind the attack. The most common answer is Iran. The problem with this is the sheer number of rockets possessed by Hamas, thought to number some 1,500. It would be extremely difficult to send that many rockets overland into Gaza without being detected.

Because it was so hard to imagine who gave Hamas the missiles, we considered that the munitions might have been delivered by ships through the Mediterranean. The question became who might ship the rockets to the region. We considered Russia, which we hypothesized might have wanted to force the U.S. to send weapons and resources to Israel and thus away from Ukraine. We quickly dismissed this theory, however, because it was all but logistically impossible.

This left us with the theory that Hamas had manufactured them in their tunnels. It’s not impossible that Hamas is skilled enough to do so, but the problems of manufacturing them underground could create defects in the munitions. The key question, then, was still unanswered: Where did a load of rockets come from, and why weren’t they detected?

Which brings us to the question of the intelligence failure. Neither the Israelis nor the Americans detected the missiles or the construction of various apparatuses needed for defensive warfare in the likely event Israel would retaliate. There is a precedent for such failure in Israel. In the 1973 war, military intelligence failed to detect or understand the large-scale movement of Egyptian and Syrian troops. They simply didn’t believe that an attack was possible. Of course, I don’t know the frequency or extent of coverage of U.S. intelligence on Israel, or of Israel’s own intel, but if we take 1973 as a cautionary tale, then complacency might be the answer. In other words, Israeli intelligence noticed what was happening but dismissed it as improbable or inconsequential. Or the intelligence had been misinterpreted altogether.

The next question was: Why did Hamas choose to attack now rather than, say, six months from now? One answer might be logistics. Hamas had everything in place and wanted to move before the plan was detected. Perhaps the agreement slowly coming together between Israel and Saudi Arabia compelled someone with regional interests – someone who couldn’t attack the Saudis – to encourage Hamas to attack in the hopes of scuttling the deal. It’s a theory with too many unknowns to count.

It’s clear that the Oct.7 attack was designed to draw Israeli forces into the direction of Gaza, which would open the door for an attack to the rear. It was a sound strategy that ultimately failed. At this point, Israel is undertaking a ground operation in Gaza. Its infantry is excellent, but Hamas has been preparing for this war for a long time. Rockets are still being fired, and Israel has not managed to shut them down with counterfire or air force. Hamas must be running out. All the while, there is an American aircraft carrier and another warship nearby, but they have apparently not been fired on.

I admit that in reading this analysis, you will see that we have raised guesswork to a high art. But there is a point here. Hamas’ capabilities, assisted or not, are such that the group can execute an attack bigger and more complex than previously thought. Extracting even a minimal understanding of what happened is difficult. We would assume that U.S. and Israeli intelligence has a far better understanding. The key now is to understand whether Hamas has a follow-up plan.

George Friedman

George Friedman is an internationally recognized geopolitical forecaster and strategist on international affairs and the founder and chairman of Geopolitical Futures.

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