Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Who Made the Flood? 

More important than the Al-Aqsa Flood operation is the situation that will prevail after the war on Gaza ends. What will the situation be like on the present and future of Gaza, the West Bank, Israel and the region?

Retaliation for the Flood with a new Nakba will only fuel instability. Tackling the Flood with the two-state solution will return the Palestinian file to its people and allow the diseased Middle East to catch its breath.

It quickly became evident that Hamas’ Al-Aqsa Flood operation, launched on October 7, was a declaration of war, not just a widescale military operation. This was confirmed by the news that first emerged from the scene of the crime and the number of victims and hostages. It was evident that the attack was broader and more dangerous than all the confrontations that had been waged between Israel and Hamas over the past two decades. It was expected for Israel to retaliate to the war with a war, especially since the first blow revealed its security lapses and slow response by its military.

Hours after the attack was launched, I recalled remarks made years ago by a man who operated along the Beirut-Tehran route that passes through Damascus. We used to speak of the need for stability to be restored in Lebanon and the region. He predicted that greater conflicts were in store for the region.

Prompted for more information, he said that the journalist must always keep in mind that a confrontation with Israel will always be in the cards and that it will one day awaken to a major blow. I asked him what this blow may be to which he explained that it could be salvoes of missiles fired at Israel from Lebanon and Gaza, perhaps even Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

The purpose of the attack would be to reduce Israel’s strategic importance and force some of its residents to consider returning to the countries from which they came from. He revealed that Qassem Soleimani’s friends and students shared a firm conviction that the major battle was imminent and that it will force Israel, the United States and the West to contend with a new reality.

During that same period, former leader of the Islamic Jihad Dr. Ramadan Abduallah Shalah declared that Israel’s settlement policies and disregard for Palestinians will only speed up the eruption of confrontations that will inevitably be fiercer than previous ones because the resistance fighters have been supplied with better weapons, as have their allies.

I thought about the “major blow” when Hezbollah began fighting Israeli forces from southern Lebanon, when a handful of rockets were fired from Syria and when the Houthis launched rockets and drones from Yemen. I also paused at the attacks launched by Iraqi groups on American bases in Iraq and Syria.

After more than 40 days since Hamas’ attack and in spite of the massive losses caused by Israel’s barbaric war on Gaza, the conflict has not yet expanded to other fronts and not yet developed into a regional war. There is no doubt that the international community’s top priority should be reaching an immediate ceasefire and the delivery of aid to the besieged enclave.

This demand will be conveyed to influential capitals by the ministerial committee that was formed at the Arab-Islamic summit in Riyadh. The committee will try to convince major countries that allowing the conflict to persist and escalate will lead to massive dangers to the Palestinian people and gravely harm regional countries and the interests of major powers in them. It will stress the need to resolve the conflict through firmly and seriously adopting the two-state solution.

Faced with the new Nakba looming in Gaza that is claiming civilian lives, hospitals, schools and houses, the observer finds himself confronted with difficult questions. Who planned the Al-Aqsa Flood operation that took years of training, information gathering and technology, and misleading Israeli intelligence and drones hovering over Gaza? Could Hamas alone have taken the decision to wage such a war on such a scale? Were Hamas’ allies really surprised by the operation or just by its timing? Did Hamas really believe that the operation will lead to dealing the “major blow” and that rockets will rain down on Israel all winter?

Did Yehya al-Sinwar and Mohammed al-Dayf believe that Israel’s response will be less barbaric than this? Did they expect tensions to flare up even more in the West Bank or for a regional war to erupt? Could Hamas accept a ceasefire if one of the conditions was Israeli and western refusal that it return to power in Gaza? What if Gaza’s reconstruction was tied to Hamas being removed from the equation entirely? Would Hamas be willing to sacrifice its military presence in Gaza for returning the two-state solution option to the list of priorities of major countries and the international community?

Hamas could not have launched the Al-Aqsa Flood operation without the planning of other parties. A quick review of the negotiations carried out by Yasser Arafat with various Israeli prime ministers reveals the extent of Israel’s political blindness. None of these governments tried to reach a settlement with Arafat. They instead preoccupied themselves with trying to defeat him and unleashing settlements and settlers, brusquely slapping away the hand that was extended to them.

Israel believed that the September 11 attacks, invasion of Iraq and emergence of ISIS were opportunities to eliminate Palestinian rights and Palestinians as partners. One could even go so far as to say that it rejoiced at the division between Gaza and the West Bank. It saw the weakening of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ authority as a strategic goal, even if it led to the empowerment of factions in Gaza.

Perhaps the greatest element that paved the way for the launch of the Al-Aqsa Flood was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his idiotic government’s suicidal decisions. One must not forget the role of Palestinian factions’ suicide operations that undermined the Oslo Accords.

Other partners inadvertently contributed to paving the way for the operation. The US ended its role as honest mediator and didn’t try to seriously mend the peace process so that it could be resumed at a later time. Israeli incursions in the West Bank continued to eat away at Abbas’ authority and weaken Palestinian institutions. The weakness of the Palestinian Authority is now a main obstacle in finding a Palestinian solution to Gaza after a ceasefire is reached.

Hamas itself committed a major error when it believed that it would not need cover from Abbas and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Now, the region is paying the price of the barbaric response to the flood launched by Hamas and which other parties helped facilitate after they shunned peace and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.