Syria and Hamas : Some Reflections

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Saturday 14 October 2023

By Nasrin Akhter

 As Israel looks set to launch a massive ground invasion in Gaza in response to Hamas’ unprecedented incursion into Israel by air, land and sea under Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on the 7 October, events seem to be spiralling into a wider regional conflagration. Already, Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia group, has promised to open up a second front in Lebanon if Israel continues its devastating ‘scorched-earth’ policy in Gaza.[1] This came after a statement by the far-right Israeli Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, on Monday (9 October) announcing a complete siege of the beleaguered territory in an act of collective punishment against the Palestinian population, who he pejoratively described as ‘human animals.’[2]

 With Gaza completely on its knees, cut off from the outside world and fast running out of fuel, food and water for its 2.3 million inhabitants in one of the most densely populated places in the world,[3] Hezbollah’s promise now seems to be coming to pass. On Wednesday (11 October), despite perhaps its reluctance to be dragged into a wider conflict not at a time of its own choosing, Hezbollah launched limited, yet symbolic, missile attacks against IDF positions in northern Israel in response to the killing of three of its fighters in an Israeli airstrike on 9 October in a series of tit-for-tat escalatory clashes.[4] As Israel continues its punishing bombardment of the Gaza Strip in a ‘total siege’ of the territory,[5] that has left at least 1,200 Palestinians dead, 5,600 wounded, and a further 38,000 displaced at the time of writing,[6] Hezbollah has also allowed Palestinian militants to infiltrate into Israel from across the border in Lebanon, and can ill afford to sit on the sidelines without significant damage to its own resistance credentials.

 But what of Syria’s response, the other member of the putative Axis of Resistance? Of course, there was no love lost between the Syrian regime and the Sunni movement when the Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, chose to come out in open support of the Syrian opposition in February 2012, and provided moral and material aid for Syrian rebels in their fight against the minority-led Alawite regime. Mired in economic turmoil after over a decade of devastating conflict, and with the recent resurgence of anti-regime protests in the southern city of Sweida and Deraa, ‘cradle of the Syrian revolution’ in August,[7] the Syrian regime may be far too preoccupied with its own domestic problems to join the fray. The mysterious drone attack on an army cadet graduation ceremony that killed 89 people, the majority of whom were soldiers, in the central city of Homs in October, demonstrates just how vulnerable the regime is, with a third of Syrian territory still outside of the regime’s control.  

But with Israel stepping up its deadly attacks on Iranian installations inside Syria, and expanding the number of illegal Israeli settlements inside the occupied Golan Heights, this has only given the Syrian regime common cause with Hamas, leading to a historic rapprochement between the two sides in September 2022,[8] creating perhaps the very thing that Israel sought to contain. As the far-right Israeli Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, now seizes on Hamas’ unprecedented incursion into Israel as an opportunity to eliminate the Palestinian resistance once and for all, creating a ‘New Middle East’ in Israel’s own image,[9] and with Israel carrying out pre-emptive strikes against Syria on Thursday (12 October), disabling two of its main airports through which Iranian arms flow, the Syrian regime, like Hezbollah, may well come to see Hamas’ fight as its own fight, in an existential struggle for its very survival.

In the short term at least, Syria’s support for Hamas, allowing Palestinian factions to launch missiles strikes against Israeli targets in the occupied Golan Heights from the Syrian side of the border,[10] may well be a boon for the Syrian regime which has long played the Palestinian card to bolster its own Arab nationalist image, and detract attention away from its domestic human rights violations as it steps up its assault in Idlib, the last rebel-held territory in the north. A principled stand on the Palestinian issue would also set Syria apart from the so-called moderate Arab states (the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco), which rushed to normalise relations with Israel under the so-called Abraham Accords, with Saudi Arabia hoping to follow suit, abandoning the Palestinian population very much to their own fate.

 But in the long term, of course, there can be no winners in a wider regional war. Instead, as Israel continues to carpet bomb entire Palestinian neighbourhoods in Gaza in preparation for an imminent ground invasion, and issuing an impossible 24-hour deadline on Friday (13 October) for 1.1 million Palestinians to leave the north, with nowhere to flee,[11] it is only the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza, 50 percent of whom are under the age of 15, that will continue to suffer. Having bankrolled the Israeli state for decades and turned a blind eye to Israel’s consistent violations of human rights and the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements that Amnesty International has stated amounts to a policy of apartheid,[12] it is the West that now bears culpability for much the current situation. Rather than giving Israel carte blanch to carry out ethnic cleansing and the systematic genocide of the Palestinian population in Gaza, which leaders on both sides of the political divide in the UK now seem to be encouraging it to do,[13] the West needs to pull Israel bank from the brink and compel it to act with caution. Not to do so, will only risk breeding deep-seated resentment brought about by Palestinian suffering, and perpetuate the never-ending cycle of violence, the consequences of which will reverberate well beyond the region for generations to come.   

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.lemonde.fr/en/international/article/2023/10/11/after-hamas-attack-hezbollah-threatens-escalation-in-northern-israel_6165388_4.html

https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/lebanons-hezbollah-war-footing-moves-carefully-conflict-widens-2023-10-11/

[2] https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/israel-defence-minister-human-animals-gaza-palestine_uk_65245ebae4b0a32c15bfe6b6       

[3] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/10/11/gaza-faces-humanitarian-catastrophe-as-sole-power-plant-runs-out-of-fuel

[4] https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/20231011%20Iran%20Update.pdf

[5] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/10/9/israel-announces-total-blockade-on-gaza

[6] https://www.lemonde.fr/en/international/article/2023/10/12/more-than-333-800-people-have-been-displaced-from-gaza_6166086_4.html

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/aug/26/anti-government-protests-shake-syrian-provinces-amid-anger-over-economy

[8] https://ojs.st-andrews.ac.uk/index.php/syria/article/view/2485/1892

[9] https://www.timesofisrael.com/pm-predicts-an-israel-transformed-in-mideast-has-no-words-for-internal-israeli-peace/

https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/netanyahu-says-israels-response-gaza-attack-will-change-middle-east-2023-10-09/

[10] https://www.business-standard.com/world-news/israel-responds-to-fire-from-syria-with-artillery-mortar-amid-hamas-attack-123101100038_1.html

[11] https://time.com/6323333/israel-evacuation-gaza/

[12] https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde15/5141/2022/en/

[13] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-palestine-war-keir-starmer-criticised-right-cut-gaza-water-power

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