Lina Khatib: “Hamas has broad support among Palestinians for this attack” | International

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Lina Khatib was born and raised in Beirut. Her parents still live in Lebanon and, no doubt, she pays lip service to the land of her birth, although she makes it clear that she now works and lives in London. Khatib is one of the most respected voices in the study and analysis of what is happening in the Middle East, today as director of the SOAS Institute (acronym in English for the School of Oriental and African Studies), in the British capital, but with the prestigious Carnegie centers and Chatam House in his curriculum. The professor, essayist and commentator attends EL PAÍS at Casa Arabe, in Madrid, within the framework of a EuroMeSCo network seminar organized by the European Mediterranean Institute. “There is concern in Lebanon that it will become just another front,” she says, asked about her roots. “[La milicia] Hezbollah knows that its reaction is expected and has done so by launching rockets towards Israel, although I do not think it will expand its commitment [en la ofensiva de Hamás]”.

Ask. The attack on Israel launched on Saturday is of great magnitude. Is Hamas solely responsible?

Answer. As far as the Palestinian side is concerned, Hamas is undoubtedly the main actor in this attack. He has some involvement with Islamic Jihad, which is another Iranian-backed group in Palestinian territory, particularly in Gaza. In the geopolitical context, Hamas has the support of Iran, as do Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. When it comes to who provided the funding, training and equipment to Hamas, Iran is definitely the key player here along with Hezbollah. This militia has a longer history and has been assisting Hamas in military coordination, training and equipping for several years. Hamas does not act without Iranian support.

Q. So, without Iran's assistance, would such an offensive be conceivable?

R. Without Iranian resources, Hamas would not have the military equipment, training, and funding it has, all of which have allowed this attack to occur. We should distinguish between Iran ordering it and Hamas obeying, and Hamas wanting to do it and Iran agreeing and supporting it. The scenario is the second. It is not an attack that Tehran ordered and Hamas carried out. It is an attack that Hamas has planned and executed in partnership with Iran and Hezbollah.

Q. What is the objective of the Hamas operation?

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R. The main one is political. It is intended to be a political turning point for Hamas. And this has two levels. One is national and the other is international. Internally, through this attack, Hamas wants to show that the Palestinian Authority, which is ultimately a political rival, is weak and does not represent the voices of Palestinians. Second, at the geopolitical level, Hamas wants to be seen internationally as the only legitimate interlocutor for the Palestinians. And with this, Iran also wants to increase its own regional position. So there would be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without the international community negotiating with Iran at the geopolitical level and with Hamas at the Palestinian level.

Q. What is the breeding ground that explains why it occurs now?

R. In recent months, in the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis, there has been a lot of tension, a lot of violence, especially from Israeli forces against Palestinians, not only in Gaza, but even outside, in Jerusalem. And this has caused growing anger among the Palestinian population. Hamas has taken advantage of this sentiment by presenting itself as the one who can put an end to this situation. Because of this, Hamas has broad support among Palestinians for this attack, even among those who would not traditionally support the militia.

On a geopolitical level, in recent months talks between Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States have intensified, and the Palestinian Authority has been involved in negotiating an agreement between these actors. This would have provided some security guarantees for Saudi Arabia and would have presented some type of solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, involving the Palestinian Authority for any solution. Of course, Hamas has been excluded. And as these talks gain momentum, Hamas risks being politically irrelevant or excluded and therefore wants to assert itself politically internationally.

Lina Khatib, from the SOAS Middle East Institute, during the interview this Monday at Casa Arabe, in Madrid. Samuel Sanchez

Q. The most difficult thing to explain is the lack of foresight and intelligence information in Israel.

R. There is more and more information about how Hamas prepared itself militarily, the training they carried out. And yet Israel did not see it coming. Perhaps there was not enough coordination within Israel between, for example, Mossad and other elements of the Interior Ministry and the military. Perhaps political divisions in Israel have influenced this lack of coordination. And when there is a lack of coordination like this, certain things get overlooked in a complex scenario like this. American intelligence didn't see it coming either. But I think part of this is also because many in the West, including Israel, viewed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as stagnant, as a sort of stalemate, as low-intensity. No one really expected Hamas to act at this level in a military campaign against Israel.

Q. What cost will it have for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?

R. Netanyahu contributed in many ways to this attack through the behavior of the far-right government he leads, where he put an extremist in charge of the Interior Ministry. Netanyahu, at the same time, faces a judicial process and needs to be in power. Otherwise, he could end up in prison. Being in power gives him immunity and therefore it is important for Netanyahu to remain in power so as not to end up imprisoned for corruption. That is why he has involved other leaders of rival political parties to form an emergency government, which is a kind of coalition between him, [Benny] Gantz and [Yair] Lapid, so that he is not isolated.

Israel loses prestige if its own citizens see it as weak against Hamas, and that is another reason why Netanyahu wants to show that he is firm in his response. And that is why the Israeli army has announced a complete siege of Gaza. I think it will not amount to a total ground invasion, because it would have a very high price for both Israel and the Palestinian citizens. But a siege, of course, has a high cost, mainly for the Palestinians.

Q. The Israeli response expects hundreds of Palestinians, including civilians, to lose their lives. Does Hamas have enough support in the occupied territories to maintain its aggression against Israel?

R. The situation in Gaza is inhumane. Many, including myself, have described it as an open-air prison. We have a siege that has been going on for about two decades, a situation where people have nowhere to go, so it is a densely populated territory. There are no means to earn a living. These people feel desperate, with few options. And if a military campaign, even at a high price, means a change in the the status quothen many people will be willing to make that sacrifice.

Q. Will the Abraham Accords reached by Israel with other Arab countries affect the region's response to the escalation of violence?

R. The Abraham Accords were not really about Israel and Palestine. They dealt with the relationship between the different Arab countries that signed with Israel. It was never intended to be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But there are other actors that have been closely involved in trying to resolve this conflict, such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which maintains that it remains committed to the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative, which advocates a two-state solution. He has reiterated it after the attacks. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt have stated that they will seek to meet and try to find a way out. The Arab countries that have traditionally been involved continue to be. This conflict has not changed who is seen as peace mediators. But one thing is clear: this attack makes it very difficult for Saudi Arabia to move forward with its plan to talk to Israel, the United States and the Palestinian Authority about a possible solution.

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