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Israel Hamas War: The IMEC link to the escalations

From Economic Corridors to Battlefields: How the India-Middle-East, Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) Became a New Variable in Israel Hamas War

By Sanjay Kapoor
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Israel Hamas War | IMEC Link

India-Middle-East, Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

Israel Hamas War: The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the India-Middle-East, Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), signed on the sidelines of the G20 summit, has injected new complexities into the Israel-Palestine conflict. India, a staunch supporter of Israel, faces potential losses in significant business interests along the corridor if global players like China and Russia choose to exert their influence. The outcome remains uncertain, with much at stake for India.

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The motive and timing behind the Gaza-based Palestinian Islamist group Hamas' indiscriminate attack on Israeli territory have left much room to uncover the larger geopolitical stakes and triggers behind the sudden escalations. The October 7 attacks caught Israel, known for its formidable surveillance and security infrastructure, off guard. Many liberal Israelis are questioning what Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who prides himself on being an expert in security issues and routinely condemns the Palestinians and Iranians on every count, was doing exactly. And how did Mossad, one of the finest intelligence agencies in the world, fail so miserably in anticipating an attack of this magnitude?

On the sixth day of the Israel Hamas war, which was once supported by the Israelis to marginalise the left-wing Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), some 3,000 people were killed and thousands injured. The much-vaunted Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, did not give the impression that the war was imminent, as Prime Minister Netanyahu seemed in control of an "unstable stable" Gaza and was confident that he could manage any challenge thrown at him or his government. Oblivious to the impending onslaught, Netanyahu was busy dealing with greater domestic threats—the unending agitation against his government trying to initiate judicial reforms, a euphemism for ending the primacy of courts. To avoid facing the repercussions of corruption cases against him, Netanyahu wants nothing more than to render the courts redundant. This has led to deep divisions within Israel, prompting even the defence forces, including Mossad, to oppose the "reforms" they perceive as a threat to democracy.

Why did Hamas attack Israel now?

Certainly, the internal strife in Israel presented an opportune moment for Hamas to strike. However, that alone can't explain the audacity of the attacks. There are, perhaps, far greater and more complex forces at play that could have influenced the timing and intensity of Hamas' actions. Although it may seem improbable, the decision to launch the attack might be related to the resolution made in Delhi during the G20 summit in September 2023. The biggest development was not what transpired at the summit, but afterward. Brokered by U.S. President Joe Biden, Saudi Arabia and India announced the signing of an ambitious Memorandum of Understanding on the India-Middle-East, Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). This transcontinental corridor aimed to build Saudi Arabia as the bridge between India and Europe, weaving its way through Israel, Greece, France, and Germany to later connect with the U.S. This ambitious endeavour aimed to counter the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) conceived by China, which has engaged 155 countries since its inception 10 years ago. The U.S. and India have been exploring ways to challenge it, and in IMEC they found a project that could do just that.

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However, IMEC is based on the expansion of the Abraham Accords, a series of agreements aimed at normalising relations between Israel and several Arab states, initiated during President Donald Trump's administration. The U.S. had endeavoured to bring Saudi Arabia and Israel closer. In a rare interview appearance, Saudi Prince Muhammad Bin Salman suggested that the two countries were very close to an agreement. Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu also reiterated that both sides were on the threshold of signing this agreement. It seemed that not much was being conceded to residents of Gaza.

While it may not have received as much attention in this Euro-centric world, it's likely that Hamas and the Palestinian leadership were deeply concerned about the ramifications of IMEC. Saudi Arabia, the wealthiest and most influential nation in the Islamic world, was being enticed by the U.S. to foster closer ties with Israel without apparent significant concessions for those trapped in Gaza or the West Bank.

If IMEC were to go through, it would have been a body blow to the cause of Palestinians who have been locked out from their own country since the day of Naqba on May 15, 1948. Considered to be the most civilised section of the Arab world, the Palestinian diaspora has been living in subhuman conditions in Gaza and other settlements. Over the years, Palestinians have seen their cause being devalued, and countries that were once their supporters are slowly getting mired in their own problems—Syria, Iraq, and Libya, for instance.

Why did Israeli intelligence fail to anticipate the attack?

In the context of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, the failure to act upon advanced warnings raises critical questions about Israel's intelligence capabilities and decision-making processes, potentially exposing vulnerabilities that could have significant ramifications. The jury is still out on whether the Israeli defence establishment was aware of the impending attack or not, or if, like the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the formidable Mossad simply couldn't piece together the puzzle. Back then, they possessed comprehensive intelligence regarding the impending air assault by the Egyptian and Syrian defence forces on Israeli airfields. Now, the Israeli government acknowledges that they received advance warning from Egyptian intelligence about the impending attack but failed to act upon it. What caused this breakdown in response? Conflicting reports offer varying explanations.

Initial reports suggested that all intelligence chatter indicated Hamas' apparent reluctance to start a fight. In fact, they sounded conciliatory. Does this mean that the seasoned analysts who were intercepting communication in Gaza were led down the garden path? That seems a bit unlikely. Israel has extensive infrastructure in place to keep a hawk's eye on the region, and nothing really escapes their attention. The Israelis have the numbers of all mobile users in Gaza. They are so precise in their surveillance that they notify residents before bombing their buildings. This suggests that Israel has the entire Gaza area wired; nothing escapes them.

Another unlikely hypothesis circulating to explain the intelligence failure is Hamas using seemingly unhackable Chinese Huawei phones. Israel, equipped with U.S. surveillance technology, has consistently struggled to breach the security of Huawei phones. Huawei's intelligence experts maintain that their phones are impervious to hacking. U.S. data experts have raised concerns that Huawei equipment may have a backdoor accessible by Beijing. However, considering Israel's uncompromising commitment to national security, this theory appears far-fetched.

What may have made Israel complacent is that their army had been pushing the Palestinians for some time. Since the beginning of 2023, 200 Palestinians have been killed, and many have been taken as prisoners. The Israeli army's strategy of picking up young boys from villages targeted by Jewish settlers—as it lowers the resolve of the community to fight back—is simply indefensible. This backstory is conveniently overlooked by those who use snapshots of Hamas' terrorist acts to tarnish the entire Palestinian society.

What is next?

The Israel Hamas war threatens to spill over. This threat is built on the rapprochement brokered by China between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Last week, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and Iran's President Raisi spoke for 45 minutes on Palestine and the imperative for coordinated action. If the two countries, along with Russia and others, decide to impose an oil embargo on countries supporting Israel, then we could have a peculiar mix of Ukraine and Palestine impacting a war-weary world. How will India navigate these circumstances after initially supporting Israel and then backtracking to support Palestine?

There is also the possibility that if Saudi Arabia remains unwilling to engage in negotiations with Israel, the highly anticipated IMEC project could end up being stillborn. Under these circumstances, India could potentially face significant losses, as the corridor's route intersects with some of the ports where Indian businessman Adani has made substantial investments.

In the unfolding Israel-Hamas war, this policy shift could have far-reaching consequences, not only affecting the volatile relationship between Israel and Palestine, but also potentially disrupting geopolitical balances in the Middle East and beyond. However, the carpet bombing by the Israeli air force on an open-air jail called Gaza has changed the narrative in the Western world as well. The European Union has called for humanitarian aid, but Israel has said categorically that it will stop raids only if the 150 hostages that Hamas has taken are released. Now it wants a million Gazans to leave the tiny strip within 24 hours, without specifying where they should go. It's apparent that Israel wants the Gaza Strip as part of the enlargement policy that Netanyahu and his supporters follow diligently. This policy has disturbing implications for Israel and its neighbourhood.

Beware of bad times.


Sanjay Kapoor is a Senior Journalist based out of Delhi. He is a foreign policy specialist focused on India, its neighbourhood and West Asia. He is the Founder and Editor of Hardnews Magazine. He is a Member of the Editors Guild of India (EGI) and, until recently, served as the General Secretary of EGI.

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