Hamas’s Forever War Won’t Work

Haviv Rettig Gur
22 May 2021

Hamas now faces the military version of a painful hangover.

Israel systematically disrupted Hamas’s tactical innovations and demolished hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of military infrastructure. Hamas spent a decade building major new warfighting capabilities. A crack naval commando force equipped with miniature submarines failed to produce a significant attack, and had much of its infrastructure and equipment blown up. Anti-tank missile crews were identified and destroyed so quickly that Hamas ordered them withdrawn from the battlefield. Strike drones were efficiently intercepted. ‘The Metro’ – a sprawling underground tunnel and bunker system that offered Hamas fighters the ability to quickly maneuver across Gaza without exposing themselves to Israeli airstrikes – provided Israel with cleaner targets. Hamas ranks are perforated with Israeli intelligence assets.

The IDF prefers a low death toll on both sides. Hamas needs higher death tolls. Hamas killed 12 Israelis, at the cost of thousands of toppled buildings and massive damage to expensive infrastructure. The total Palestinian death toll after thousands of Israeli strikes, according to Hamas, was 232. That level of surgical precision may be unprecedented in modern warfare.

Hamas deputy political chief Musa Abu Marzouk said, ‘This is not the final war. It’s not like it was in Vietnam and elsewhere, where things ended up with negotiations. This is just one of a series of wars, and a war will come when we negotiate with them about the end of their occupation and their leaving of Palestine. Israel will come to an end just like it began. … Until recently, the whole world supported the White government in South Africa, but things have changed.’

Hamas’s most fundamental belief about its enemy is that the Jews of Israel are an illegitimate usurper polity, the last vestige of European colonialism, and therefore doomed to failure like all other European colonial projects from the last century. Israel, in Hamas’s telling, is like the South African apartheid regime, a thin patina of political institutions and concepts that will burn away in the harsh light of sustained resistance. In Hamas’s vision, the pain endured by Gazans is a worthwhile price to pay for unifying Palestinians around that anti-colonial struggle. Will Hamas’s grand strategy work?

In the Second Intifada, that began in 2000, relentless waves of well over 100 suicide bombings detonated in Israel’s cities. That wave of violence began after Israeli troops had left Palestinian cities, the Palestinian Authority had been established, and Israeli, Palestinian and American leaders had negotiated the final boundaries of a two-state solution. The Israeli experience of those terror waves did not see them as an attack on the occupation, but as an attack on an Israel trying to dismantle the occupation.

Meir Dagan led everything from IDF commando squads to armored brigades, and served as director of the Mossad. Yossi Ben Hanan, after serving as one of Israel’s most successful tank commanders in the 1973 war, would go on to lead the armored corps and the IDF’s R&D arm. He is most famous for the Life magazine cover photo of him standing in the waters of the Suez Canal. Dagan and Hanan traveled together to Vietnam, to meet Vietnam’s defence minister, General Vo Nguyen Giap.

It was a long meeting, and when the Israelis rose to leave, Giap said, ‘The Palestinians are always coming here and saying to me, ‘You expelled the French and the Americans. How do we expel the Jews?’ I tell them that the French went back to France, and the Americans to America, but the Jews have nowhere to go. You will not expel them.’

Israeli Jews do not see themselves as an artificial colonialist entity doomed to fall. They believe they are a people with nowhere to go and facing an unappeasable foe. Israeli Jews are unified and mobilized by Palestinian pressure.

Israel’s sense of vulnerability and unjust victimization is a gift from Hamas

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