On Sunday, 26 November 2023, the Strategic Studies Unit at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies held a symposium titled “The War on Gaza: Military, Intelligence, and Regional Perspectives”. Head of the SSU, Omar Ashour, ACRPS Researcher, Ahmed Qasem Hussein, Assistant Professor on the Critical Security Studies Programme at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, Muhanad Seloom, and Senior Research Fellow in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, Inna Rudolf, all presented their interventions in the session, moderated by Sid Ahmed Goudjili, also Assistant Professor of Critical Security Studies at the Doha Institute.

Omar Ashour opened the panel by presenting a military analysis of the armed confrontations since Operation Al-Aqsa Flood began on 7 October 2023, focusing on the tactical, operational, and strategic level. He pointed out that the pace of fighting was intense on an unprecedented scale in the Gaza Strip, and Israel suffered the largest number of losses in one day since 1948. The number of Israeli soldiers killed during 15 years of war in southern Lebanon (1985- 2000) did not exceed 300, while more than 300 have killed in just fifty days of the ongoing war. Ashour pointed out that the 17-year siege of Gaza had not succeeded in reducing missile capacities, given that the Palestinian Resistance forces fired about five thousand rockets and mortar shells (about three thousand according to Israeli estimates) in the space of 27 minutes on 7 October, compared to four thousand during the stretch of the 2014 war, which lasted 51 days.

Ashour added that the Israeli escalations and attacks in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the occupied Palestinian interior provide a context for the Al-Aqsa Flood Operation, but the strategic dimension of the operation is still unclear. He drew attention to three possibilities. The first is to capture land, which is an unlikely possibility because the number of soldiers equal to just one military regiment carried out the operation. The second is improving the conditions for negotiation, which is also an unlikely possibility because it is not the framework followed by Hamas. The last, most likely possibility, and which has achieved a degree of success, is that the goal was to liberate the prisoners. On the other hand, the ground military operation in Gaza, according to the Israeli army, aims to take control of Gaza, destroy the military capabilities of the Resistance, and liberate the Israeli prisoners. Meanwhile, some analyses indicate that the ground invasion aims to displace the residents of the Gaza Strip and return the settlements that were dismantled in 2005.

In the second intervention, Ahmed Qasem Hussein, presented the development of the military performance of the Palestinian Resistance forces, led by Al-Qassam Brigades, considering the three security challenges to Israel. First, the southern front (Gaza Strip), which the researcher describes as the “chronic security dilemma” resulting from the Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip developing its military capabilities, especially its missile capabilities, and its offensive capabilities through commando operations carried out by its fighters behind enemy lines. Secondly, the West Bank, which the researcher describes as the “soft flank,” resulting from the recent growth of popular and armed resistance in the West Bank, especially the cities of Jenin and Nablus, through two irregular military forces, the “Jenin Brigade” and the “Lions’ Den,” which indicate the return of organized armed forces in the West Bank. Third, the northern front, which the researcher describes as the “fragile flank,” due to the presence of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon, Hezbollah, which forces Israel to take it into its strategic calculations when countering every security threat. In the wake of Al-Aqsa Flood, political and military leaders in Israel have sought to deter Hezbollah from entering the battle.

Furthermore, Hussein touched on how the development of the capabilities of the Palestinian Resistance revealed the defects of the Israeli military and technological arsenal, including its notorious Iron Dome system, which revealed the limits of its operational ability in the face of intense missile barrages (short and long range), in addition to technical defects and the high cost of Israeli interceptor missiles.

Speaking third, Muhanad Seloom, explained the failure of Israeli intelligence to anticipate Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7, and, on the other hand, how the resistance factions successfully misled Israeli security intelligence during planning, preparation and implementation of the operation. He discussed the repercussions of this failure on the Israeli intelligence community and its relations with allied intelligence services. The researcher pointed out that Al-Aqsa Flood represents the largest intelligence failure that occurred in Israel’s history. The Israeli intelligence services are yet to consolidate information to explain the failure and it will take decades to recover from the damage to its reputation domestically, internationally, and within its network of intelligence cooperation.

Moreover, the operation demonstrates the enhanced capacity of the Palestinian Resistance to hide extensive missile launch pads, conduct long term preparations, and penetrate the boundary with about 1,600 fighters, alongside the use of drones, paragliders, and naval boats, despite the tight surveillance and control over the small Gaza Strip. Salloum explained this failure to obtain and then analyze intelligence information, by listing three main reasons: first, the intelligence services’ excessive reliance on technology and the digitization of intelligence work, moving away from traditional intelligence sources represented in collaborators, and underestimating the ability of the Palestinian resistance forces to conduct advanced intelligence work and considering their behaviour mere propaganda.

The final speaker, Inna Rudolf, focused on the regional dimension, touching on the position of the resistance factions in Iraq regarding Israel’s war on Gaza, and linking it to the Iranian-led axis of resistance. Pointing out that the escalation of these military operations in Iraq in the context of Al-Aqsa flood confirms its adherence to the principle of “unity of arenas” that links the geography of the axis of resistance. On the other hand, Rudolf argued that military and political analyses, since the assassination of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, were already expecting Iraqi resistance factions to carry out attacks on military targets in retaliation for their killing, which continue at a fluctuating pace to this day, in a separate context to Al-Aqsa flood. Rudolf explained that the difficulty of confronting the factions allied with Iran lies in their reliance on a local agenda in addition to regional coordination. The Islamic resistance in Iraq, especially the Hezbollah Brigades, for instance, has often resorted to requesting the intervention of the Iraqi government to prevent US bombing after carrying out attacks. The leaders of the resistance axis forces find a dilemma in maintaining a balance between national public opinion and thanking regional supporters in their discourse, as was clear the first speech of the Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah after Al-Aqsa Flood. On the other hand, Iran maintains its distance from the attacks of its allies, especially in Yemen and Iraq, in its rhetoric, in order not to directly entangle itself in a conflict that would require a response to maintain prestige.

The panel followed up by answering questions about the extent of the similarity between the strategic goals of the resistance forces and liberation movements with regular armies, the regional role in the continuation of the war on Gaza, the impact of the Al-Aqsa Flood on the trajectory of Arab-Israeli normalization, the possibilities of the temporary truce turning into a permanent ceasefire, and the lessons learned from Al-Aqsa Flood for Arab armies and intelligence services.