In Other News – Hamas and Israel

October 19, 2023

The catastrophic aftermath of Hamas’s attack on Israel continues, resulting in extensive loss of civilian lives and exceedingly complicated political calculations. Hamas and Israel are now engaged in both a physical and information war, as demonstrated by the response to this week’s al-Ahli hospital explosion in Gaza where multiple social and traditional media mistakenly blamed an Israeli airstrike for the destruction.

On October 18, the day after the explosion, US President Biden arrived in Israel to express solidarity with the victims of the Hamas attack, and to negotiate humanitarian aid deliveries for Gaza’s civilians through Egypt’s border with Gaza. Biden was supposed to meet with Palestinian, Jordanian, and Egyptian leaders on his visit, but they pulled out of the summit in the aftermath of the reporting on the hospital and the corresponding widespread outrage of the greater Muslim world.

What happened to the hospital- and the world’s reaction to it, are indicative of the broader security and political implications of this regional conflict. Several hours after the hospital explosion, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) determined the attack was not attributable to an Israeli airstrike- which US intelligence has since confirmed. But by then, it was too late to control the narrative. Instead, misinformation and disinformation immediately spread like wildfire and have been threatening political discourse and the security of Muslims and Jews worldwide ever since.

Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been going on for decades, is only further exasperated by inaccurate reporting – making verified information more critical than ever. While the world wades through a slew of disinformation and misinformation regarding the Middle East, it’s also worth highlighting that some global war crimes are irrefutably true.

For example, we can say with certainty that since February 24, 2022, Russia has regularly and deliberately attacked hospitals in Ukraine. The WHO’s surveillance system for attacks on health care (SSA) recorded 1,147 attacks on health care, including hospitals and other facilities, in Ukraine from February 2022 to August 2023. And yet, Putin is rarely held to account for this by the press or many of the world’s leading autocrats– who are opportunistically decrying events in Gaza.

Instead, the autocrats appear to be exploiting the instability to advance their own agendas. President Xi is cozying up to Putin at this week’s Belt and Road summit and shoring-up China’s budding alliances with the principle Middle East autocrats. It’s going to be important to watch how Xi tries to further exploit the instability in the Middle East and Ukraine to propel forth his vision for an alternative to Western hegemony and whether he will change his calculus of if and when to invade Taiwan.

Further, what we just witnessed through Hamas’s violent onslaught serves as a reminder that sometimes we don’t need to sort through troves of disinformation or misinformation to see what’s happening: it’s been clearly articulated to us through the very words of our adversaries. They are who they say they are. For years, Putin has expressed his view that territorial sovereignty means nothing, and Ukraine belongs to Russia. Putin made no mystery of this with his 2014 invasion of Crimea and in nearly all the subsequent speeches and proclamations that he’s made ever since. But it was still easy to dismiss or underestimate the threat Putin posed to Ukraine – especially as economic relations normalized between Russia and much of Europe – even while he was speaking it to us right there in plain language.

Likewise, for years, Hamas has been motivated by its mission to wipe Israel off the map. Although over the past two years relations between Israel and Hamas had seemingly normalized, or at least normalized enough for Israel to drop Hamas further down the list of its multiple security concerns, Hamas was never hiding what it was truly aiming for – it’s articulated right there in the Hamas doctrine.

Dismissing an adversary’s stated or written goals has implications for our assessment of President Xi as well. Throughout his rule, Xi has consistently espoused the One China principle whereby Taiwan is an “inalienable part of China.” Last March, in four separate speeches, Xi delivered consistent messaging about China’s preparations for war, further amplified by conducting extensive military exercises and more generally expanding his defense budget which has been steadily increasing for years.

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.