Scholars from the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies discussed the global and regional implications of Hamas’ terror attack during a webinar on October 13, 2023.
Larry Diamond, the Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy at FSI and William L. Clayton Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, moderated the conversation. Speakers included Abbas Milani, the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies; Ori Rabinowitz of the International Relations Department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a visiting associate professor at FSI’s Center for International Security and Cooperation; and Amichai Magen, of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy, and Strategy, Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel, and the inaugural visiting fellow in Israel Studies at FSI.
Israel declared war against Hamas after the terrorist group infiltrated the country on October 7, firing thousands of rockets at residential areas, killing civilians, and inflicting the most lethal attack on Israel since its founding in 1948.
Diamond said, “The brutal October 7 attacks on innocent Israeli civilians by the terrorist group Hamas constitute one of the most appalling incidents of terrorism in our lifetimes.” He noted that for a smaller country the size of Israel, when compared to the U.S., their death toll of 1,200 that weekend is equivalent to more than 40,000 Americans – or more than 10 times the U.S. death toll on 9/11.
Impact on Israelis
Rabinowitz said Israelis have been deeply affected by Hamas’ atrocities. “It’s trauma being compounded by failure of the Israeli state and the army institution to respond immediately to all levels of this. It really brought to the surface images of the Holocaust.”
However, she said, Israeli civil society is strong and resilient, and it’s taking on the role of providing what the government's institutions and leadership should have provided more quickly after the attacks. “Soldiers called up for duty were driven to the front by their parents and by family friends,” for example, she said.
Magen said Hamas’ attacks shattered three fundamental myths for Israelis. One involved the notion that Israel could coexist with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The second illusion that broke was the belief that the government of Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces could effectively protect the civilian population.
“The reason why this is a much bigger trauma than Yom Kippur (in 1973) is because on Yom Kippur there was a very high military death toll, but the civilian population was protected,” Magen said. "However, this time, thousands of Israeli civilians were massacred before the Israeli state could even respond."
The third illusion, Magen said, was the belief that global jihad was non-existent in today’s world. “This is a cautionary tale – sometimes Israel is the canary in the coal mine. What happens in Israel today may tragically happen in the United States or elsewhere.”
Iran and Regional Implications
Milani noted the speculation about whether Iran ordered the attacks, but said that misses the larger picture. “Iran created Hamas in this sense. Iran is the architect of the narrative” that the future of the Middle East must not include Israel.
He said the only solution for lasting peace in the region is a two-state solution (with a Palestinian state) and an Iran with a democratic government. But extremists are in power in all the involved countries and now this outcome is even more difficult, said Milani. “Iran has been adamant in undermining the two-state solution.”
Milani also said the Hamas incursions should end the illusion shared by some in the West that you can make enough concessions to the Iranian regime and it will change its support for terrorism.
“This regime is not going to abide by laws, it is not going to abide by its commitments. It is murderously suppressing the Iranian people,” he said.
Iran, Milani believes, sees the Hamas attacks as a major turning point in its bid for regional supremacy and the demise of Israel. It wants to undermine the delicate normalization talks between Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. With Iranian-backed Hezbollah aiming more than 150,000 rockets at Israel, Iran is maneuvering for possibly a broader conflict and chaos that could see Israel confronting several fronts.
Milani added that his heart goes out to all the victims and the hostages of this ordeal, noting that the 2 million-plus citizens of Gaza are also hostages to this catastrophe. “Human beings should be considered as hostages in this brutal regime (Hamas).” Their lives should be protected as well, and this would be best for the future of the Middle East and for the future of Israel.
Factors Leading to Attacks
Rabinowitz said scholars in the future will need to examine how the more radical factions in the Middle East realigned and created such a situation, she said.
Magen said Israel was too complacent in regard to their technologically-enhanced security systems, rife with domestic political polarization, and naïve that a deal could be struck with Hamas.
“Israel was clearly perceived to be vulnerable and divided internally, and the enemy pounced. We in Israel tend to think that we watch very carefully what is happening in the neighborhood, but the neighborhood also watches us,” he said.
With Iran nearing the nuclear threshold for a weapon of mass destruction, the West needs to be incredibly aware of this possibility, Magen said.
Diamond and the scholars emphasized the need for civil dialogue and safe spaces for conversations on college campuses about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rabinowitz said the Stanford community is well-positioned to achieve this.
She said, “We’re not in Israel and Gaza, and we can use this opportunity to foster more dialogue between the different groups, between different students, and I think that is part of our jobs.”
Magen said, “We must create constructive spaces for empathic and sympathetic analysis, conversation, and engagement. We need to talk about difficult issues – we live in a difficult world.”
The Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies produced the webinar, “The Hamas Terrorist Attack on Israel and its Implications for the Middle East,” in cooperation with the Visiting Fellows in Israel Studies program, where Professors Magen and Rabinowitz are visiting scholars. The program was launched in September 2021 with the aim of deepening FSI’s academic expertise in geopolitics and democracy studies as it relates to Israel.