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ET Analysis: Recent Hamas attack on Israel is blog blow to ‘normal’ West Asia dynamic

The Hamas attack on Israel is a big blow to West Asia’s ‘normalisation’ dynamic. The hit has dented Israel’s national pride on its security and intelligence superiority in the region, exposing how soon the capability gap narrowed while Tel Aviv was still making assumptions on an old playbook.

That said, Israel will respond. It’s consolidating now but is most certainly assessing options, potential targets and methods of execution. The celebration of these attacks across the Islamic world, stitched by solidarity around the storming of Al-Aqsa mosque, has given fresh depth to old fault-lines. The implications for India could be significant.

Blow to US Efforts
First, the attack is a big setback to the ongoing US efforts at normalising ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel. White House had been talking behind closed doors to senators on a possible deal that could involve certain security guarantees to Saudi Arabia.

This was an extension of the US-mediated Abraham Accords of 2020, which normalised ties between Israel and United Arab Emirates, then Bahrain. The Biden administration, after coming to power, had taken its eyes off the region for domestic political reasons, but prospects of a China-brokered Saudi-Iran deal rung enough alarm bells for Washington to shift gears.

The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEEC), agreed on the margins of the New Delhi G20 Summit, was to be the signature economic project showcasing this political deal as Saudi Arabia would get western assistance to develop a rail network and obtain access to Israel’s Haifa port through Jordan. The attacks have put all of this on a hold.

In fact, the way in which Hamas and Iran-backed Hezbollah group have combined in this attack points to a deliberate attempt at scuttling this normalisation effort. The attacks come days after Iran-aligned Yemen Houthi rebels carried out a drone attack on the Saudi-Yemen border killing at least two Bahraini soldiers.

Audacity and scale
Second, the audacity and scale of the terror attack is likely to inspire a whole set of actors, currently abated for either lack of sponsorship or contained by real time effective intelligence cooperation among countries. Hamas has shown this can be hoodwinked with, of course, backing of willing states.

The finger of suspicion in this case besides Iran is also on Qatar, which, apart from Taliban, has also played host to key members of the Hamas leadership. While Israel contemplates its counterattack, questions around capitals like New Delhi will be on how much of a template could this serve to re-energise Pakistan-based terror groups, especially on the Kashmir issue. Historically, the Pakistan deep state has emulated models and methods from the Israel-Palestine theatre.

Shifting Focus
Third, from a larger geopolitical standpoint, the US focus may shift to the West Asia theatre from the Indo-Pacific. The last five-to-six years has seen the West on a ‘withdrawal mode’ from the region, starting with the Qatar deal on installing a Taliban government in Afghanistan and removal of four patriot anti-missile systems from the region in 2020-21, two of which were deployed to protect Saudi oil assets.

Initially, ruling regimes in many of these countries worked hard at curbing Islamic fundamentalism. This brought benefit to countries like India, which stitched new security arrangements with UAE and Saudi Arabia. But soon, competing powers wanted to fill the power vacuum left by the US – Saudi turned to China, Iran looked to Russia and so on.

Eventually, Washington decided to pivot back a bit. But as this attack has shown, strategic re-entry is likely to be more violent than expected.

For the rest, including India, it’s back to the drawing board in West Asia, where a forgettable familiar past of Islamic extremism and terror has made a dangerous comeback – reverberations of which will travel faster, possibly felt longer.

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