There is an obvious question we should ask about the Hamas raid into Israel on Oct. 7 that culminated in a massacre of more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.
Why did Hamas do it?
The Hamas planners were quite sophisticated in their techniques. The raiders had precise information on their cellphones about the location of Israel’s intelligence center near the Gaza frontier; they even had the location of the communication room in that center. Yet there was nothing subtle or discriminating about their targeting of victims. They did not go looking for Israeli soldiers or political extremists. The intruders shot their victims, or took them hostage, as if they wished to inspire the greatest possible outrage.
It is usually a mistake to assume that rulers of a group like Hamas are not only fanatical but also stupid. On the contrary, it should be assumed that Hamas leaders had a clear idea of the consequences that would follow upon a massacre of Israeli civilians. And it should also be assumed that they would not undertake such an operation without approval — or encouragement — from their backers in Tehran.
Indeed, it is easier to grasp an Iranian rationale for inducing the Oct. 7 operation than it is to understand why Hamas leaders would want to provoke the Israeli assault on Gaza that has been loosed on Palestinian families living there, causing horrific suffering among men, women, and children who had no say in the Hamas attack. For the ruling clique in Tehran, who aspire to become the dominant power in the Persian Gulf and much of the greater Middle East, a primary strategic goal is to reduce the numbers and influence of American ships, soldiers, and aircraft now stationed across the region.
Hence nothing could be more distressing to the authorities in Tehran than word that a tripartite agreement was in the works that could lead to a normalization of Israeli-Saudi relations; would grant American assistance for the development of nuclear energy in Saudi Arabia; and would provide enhanced US security assistance for the Sunni kingdom. With the possible exception of their panic over Iranian women refusing to wear the hijab in the properly subservient way, the looming prospect of an enhanced American military commitment to Saudi Arabia has become the worst nightmare of the clerical rulers in Tehran.
Iran’s ruling ayatollahs and Revolutionary Guard commanders had a motive, then, to encourage Hamas to stage a massacre of Israelis so appalling that it could induce Israel’s far-right government to launch an invasion of Gaza that could, in turn, provoke a regional conflagration. In this scenario, Iran’s Lebanese allies in the Hezbollah movement might unleash their 150,000 missiles and rockets at Israel, canceling the Zionist entity once and for all, and doing the same for the Saudi-American-Israeli triad.
Iran’s Shi’ite rulers might believe that such an apocalyptic conflict would suit their geopolitical interests. But how does such a scenario make sense for leaders of Hamas, who risk losing everything if their Iranian backers fail to drive the Americans from the region, to cancel the US-Saudi-Israeli entente, and to abolish the Zionist entity?
The evidence suggests either that Hamas decision makers believed Iran would come to their aid militarily or that provoking a devastating Israeli retaliation could somehow benefit the Palestinian people in Gaza and elsewhere.
Iranian strategists and Hamas leaders are not the only parties to the billowing conflict who have been feeding on illusions. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel has long operated on the assumption that Israel’s number one priority is to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state — and that therefore it should be Israeli policy to limit the powers of the Palestinian National Authority while surreptitiously empowering Hamas, even having Mossad agents enable the transfer of funds from Qatar to Hamas. The ancient Athenians had a word for blindness of that kind. They called it hubris.
If there is a political lesson in the billowing horrors of the current moment it is that Israelis and Palestinians each need a state of their own. The two-state solution would not be without its problems, but the one-state solution to the conflicts left behind by Ottoman and European colonialism remains a prescription for apocalyptic suffering.
If there is one thing that Israel’s extreme right-wing government and the leaders of the Hamas movement have in common, it is their fatal determination to prevent a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat used to evoke the potential for a Mideast version of Benelux, in which Israel, Jordan, and the state of Palestine would form a peaceful, prosperous collaborative entity.
Arafat’s vision may have been little more than a diverting pipe dream, but the one-state madness of Hamas leaders and extremist Israeli ministers leads only to more massacres of the innocent.
Alan Berger is a retired Globe editorial writer.