It was not only Israel which was unaware in advance of the atrocious October 7 attack. Iran’s supreme leader has accused Hamas of not giving any prior warning. And Hizbollah fighters were reportedly not even on alert in villages close to the border. “We woke up to a war,” a Hizbollah commander said. There is, as the saying goes, no honour among thieves.
In what is surely a pivotal moment for this conflict, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has now told Hamas that while Iran would continue to provide political and moral backing, it would not intervene directly. One might argue that Iran has done enough; its financial support for Hamas is said to be worth $100 million a year. And it is certainly the case that Iran has encouraged its complex network of militias and terrorist groups to target Israel. It doesn’t take direct confrontation to inflict unimaginable harm.
But without Iran’s assistance, the destruction of Hamas – which wrought such brutality on the people of Israel – may be assured.
Did Hamas foresee this response, that there would be limits to the support some partners in the “axis of evil” would provide? Perhaps a more important question is: would it have mattered? These terrorists are fanatical, driven not just by a desire to torpedo normalisation in the region but also the destruction of an independent country.
The military solution, therefore, is for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to neutralise Hamas as quickly as possible. The West can help by channelling humanitarian aid in and evacuating the injured whilst the IDF eliminate the terrorists. There are enough US and UK hospital ships and helicopters just off the Gazan beaches to do this, and now.
Winning the battle to defeat Hamas axiomatically may be the easy part in relative terms. Winning the peace, creating long term stability in the region, is what must be the focus for politicians and diplomats in Washington, London, Riyadh, Doha and Tehran, and of course Tel Aviv.
But they will be doing so against a backdrop of Hamas failure. The group has not managed to inflame the Middle East as was their want, with escalation not looking likely at this stage. And while there may be pro-Palestinian marches occurring in the progressive West, the evidence is that the Arab world is turning against Hamas. As Jake Wallis Simons, the editor of The Jewish Chronicle, has suggested: “Anecdotally, it seems that the merciless, drug-fuelled hyper-violence meted out by Hamas savages has provoked queasiness and concern even among natural supporters of the Palestinian cause.”
It is arguably more likely that a solution which includes two states, with security and prosperity for these two countries, will be reached than it was before October 7. Now is the time for determined leadership from the West rather than the unedifying scenes seen at Westminster. Now is the time for David Cameron – and even Tony Blair – to atone for previous blunders in the Middle East.
If other groups like Isis and Hizbollah realise that Iran will no longer underwrite their terror, where does that leave them? Though the direct conflict between Israel and Hamas could come to a swifter end than many feared, its implications will be vast.
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