By Barry Rubin
you can understand why Hamas is ending its cease-fire with
From of a Western moderate pragmatist standpoint, Hamas's decision makes no sense for several reasons:
§ Hamas cannot defeat
§ Israeli counterattacks will cause both injuries and material damage in the Gaza Strip, inflicting big costs on Hamas's domain and subjects.
§ Returning to warfare will ensure Hamas remains politically isolated and blocks international recognition or aid that would help its cause or end economic sanctions against the Gaza Strip.
§ Going back to fighting makes certain that the Gaza Strip faces continued, even heightened, reductions in the material let in, thus ensuring more Palestinian suffering there.
And Hamas is seemingly making three additional mistakes regarding timing.
The first is that it is ending the cease-fire while George W. Bush is president. Certainly
Second, the cease-fire is being suspended on the eve of a major Palestinian crisis as Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas announces a self-extension of his term in office. One might think Hamas would prefer to keep the
Finally, there's the Israeli election campaign. While this doesn't make large-scale retaliation inevitable, such a move would make the current government more popular with the electorate.
Therefore, Hamas's behavior, an outside observer can easily conclude, seems stupid. But having built a mass movement, sizable army, seized the Gaza Strip and built broad support throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, Hamas may be composed of genocide-oriented fanatics but not fools. What then explains this apparently silly behavior?
Here's a case study of how
• Hamas really believes its own propaganda, expecting victory despite the odds. Costs and casualties are irrelevant. The battle will go on until total victory even if that takes decades. This indicates Hamas will not moderate - the same applies to
• At the same time, Hamas is not only indifferent to its own people's welfare, it actually seeking to inflict suffering on them as a political strategy. The worse off Palestinians are, Hamas believes, the more likely they will fight and die. This "the worse things are, the better they are" is the exact opposite of Western perspectives.
But Hamas goes even further. It knows suffering can be blamed on
Thus, Hamas can well conclude that the best way to put pressure on
To cite one example, what is considered
Then, too, setting off a crisis, Hamas expects, will draw peacekeepers like hardworking ants, giving press conferences in which they will insist that "something must be done to defuse the crisis." That "something" usually seems to be unilateral Israeli concessions. In short, the international community may rush in to save Hamas or the Palestinians in spite of themselves.
At the same time, though, Hamas believes that its intransigence and aggressiveness will increase support in the Arab and Muslim worlds. As with Hizbullah, waging a war and portraying it as victory - even though the facts are otherwise - makes one a hero and attracts financing. This is also a judgment regarding Palestinian responses. More popular support can be garnered by producing martyrs than by producing higher living standards. Thus, Hamas will do better in its rivalry with the PA by fighting
I am not saying this strategy will work completely, but it does succeed in part. If one believes the short run is irrelevant and the deity is on one's side, reality looks rather different. In addition, macho militancy in the
Yet this world view is also illusory. Impoverishing one's people and destroying the infrastructure over which one rules makes such groups weaker rather than stronger, especially as
Ironically, too, regarding the West, Islamists cannot get away with what radical Arab nationalists can. Too many Western intellectuals, journalists, leftists and even politicians might have been carried away with revolutionary romanticism for Fatah - seeing Yasser Arafat as merely an ugly version of Che Guevara. Far fewer see radical Islamists as heroic liberators.
The bottom line is that Hamas will remain isolated and weaker than it could be if it kept things quiet, consolidated its hold on the Gaza Strip, built up its armies and base of support and had more patience.
But Hamas will also survive, ideology undiluted, able to utter war cries about wiping
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.