Georgia Tech Experts Shed Light on Israel-Hamas War

Georgia Tech Experts Shed Light on Israel-Hamas War

Attacks carried out by Hamas in Israel, along with subsequent strikes in Gaza and a declaration of war from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have resulted in global unrest. Georgia Tech experts offer their thoughts on the conflict, what comes next, and what role the United States will play.

What Happened?

On the Jewish Sabbath, which coincided with the holiday of Simchat Torah, 3,000 Hamas militants crossed into Israel and executed a coordinated attack on Israeli civilians and military personnel by land, sea, and air, killing an estimated 1,400.

At the latest count, nearly 200 hostages were taken, including Americans and people from other countries. The attacks caught Israel Defense Forces (IDF) by surprise in what Lawrence Rubin, associate professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, described as one of the biggest intelligence failures since the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

"It is too early to make a definitive assessment as to why this intelligence failure occurred. However, it’s clear that there was a heavy reliance on technology and a certain amount of complacency in thinking that the threat from Hamas was contained and the greater Palestinian threat was in the West Bank. Israel had also been much more focused on the Iranian nuclear threat," said Rubin, author of Islam in the Balance: Ideational Threat in Arab Politics.

Following Netanyahu's vow to "avenge this dark day" and win the ensuing war despite an inevitable "unbearable price," Israel quickly launched counterstrikes in Gaza, which have killed and wounded thousands. The conflict has escalated to a level not seen in the region in decades.

What's Next?

As Israel contemplates its next strategic move, Jenna Jordan, associate professor and associate chair of the Nunn School, said a ground invasion into Gaza could play into Hamas' goals of undermining diplomatic efforts in the Middle East and gaining support among the Palestinian people and the broader international community.

"A ground invasion could result in major civilian casualties in Gaza, creating a humanitarian crisis. Hamas anticipated that a massive retaliatory response would change the tide of sentiment to their favor, mobilizing new recruits, support, and allies. Hamas seeks to appear as the most committed group fighting for and protecting the Palestinian people. These highly visible operations are a way for the group to demonstrate that they are more resolved and a stronger advocate for the Palestinian cause than Fatah and the Palestinian Authority," she said.

Jordan, author of Leadership Decapitation: Strategic Targeting of Terrorist Organizations, explained that Hamas, which rose to power in Gaza and the West Bank in 2006 after winning 44.5% of the seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, has already achieved an important strategic objective by seizing the attention of the international community and placing Israel in a strategic conundrum.

"Israel is under pressure to respond with force given the scale of the attack, as is every nation in the wake of a major terrorist attack," she said. "The U.S. faced a similar decision in the aftermath of 9/11 and launched a very long and costly ground invasion into Iraq starting in 2003. This fueled the rise of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and eventually ISIS. It is imperative that Israel considers whether its counter operations will backlash and create more support for extremism in the region.”

The possibility that Iran will intervene is the biggest wild card and could carry the greatest risk for regional conflict and escalation, according to Rubin. An Axios report states that Iran plans to intervene should a ground operation in Gaza occur and this could take the form of supporting Hezbollah operations against Israel if it opens a second front. Rubin warns this would bring the conflict to an entirely different level.

U.S. Involvement

The United States has offered its unwavering support for Israel, but President Joe Biden warned that invading Gaza would be a "big mistake." He announced plans to visit Israel before traveling to Jordan to meet with his Majesty King Abdullah, Egyptian President Sisi, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Following the attacks on Oct. 7, the U.S. positioned an aircraft carrier, the USS Ford, in the eastern Mediterranean Sea as a deterrent, and a second carrier was deployed to the region on Oct. 15.

As the U.S. continues to support the Ukrainian war effort against Russia, Rubin explained that the new conflict could shift the nation's focus further away from China. Should this conflict continue, it may erode previous efforts at bringing the Saudis and Israelis together to normalize relations, which already had plenty of challenges to begin with, Rubin said.

National Trauma and Negotiations

An IDF spokesperson called the Hamas attacks Israel's 9/11. Rubin speculated that it might be worse than that for Israel because the attacks have conjured images of pogroms and the Holocaust. He said Israel's small population exacerbates the sense of national trauma and could decrease the likelihood of a non-military response.

“Almost everyone in Israel, particularly Jewish Israelis, knows someone who was killed, wounded, or kidnapped. Combined with the effect of having women and children held hostage, with reports of rape circulating on social media, this will reduce Israel’s willingness to compromise,” Rubin said.

Whether Hamas can withstand Israel's efforts to restrict the flow of resources into Gaza and likely attacks on its leadership remains to be seen, explained Jordan. President Biden said on 60 Minutes that he supports the elimination of Hamas entirely, but Jordan noted that organizations such as Hamas — with popular support, a bureaucratized organizational structure, and a strong ideological foundation — are extraordinarily resilient.

“It’s important to remember that ideology can become more entrenched in the face of violence and heavy-handed counterreactions on the part of the state fighting that particular group," she said.

On Campus

Jordan and Rubin, along with Associate Professor Rachel Whitlark and Lawrence Silverman, U.S. ambassador to Kuwait from 2016 to 2019, will host a virtual discussion titled Israel and Hamas at War on Wednesday, Oct. 18, at noon.

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Lawrence Rubin, associate professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs.

Lawrence Rubin, associate professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs.

Jenna Jordan, associate professor and associate chair of the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs.

Jenna Jordan, associate professor and associate chair of the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs.