Thursday, September 18, 2014

Yaakov Lappin: What Does Hamas Really Want?

by Yaakov Lappin

Hamas's long-term ambitions are indistinguishable from those of Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Hamas will now focus on its next goal -- trying to strengthen its presence in the West Bank and eventually toppling the Palestinian Authority from power there, just as it did in Gaza. If Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank, Hamas would certainly find such a goal easier to accomplish.
Nothing keeps the flames of jihad alight, and Hamas's popularity secure, like frequent wars.

As the dust settles in Gaza and Israel after a relatively long war, the current truce forms a good opportunity to examine the reason Hamas began their conflict this summer in the first place.

Many observers have cited Hamas's goal of lifting the Israeli security blockade around Gaza as the aim of its war. The blockade was put in place to prevent weapons from being smuggled to Hamas inside the Strip, which is already saturated with rockets and arms.

Israel's blockade only exists because Hamas has turned Gaza into a heavily harmed hornet's nest of terrorism. Hence, the idea that Hamas believed that firing thousands of rockets and attempting to send death squads into Israel through underground tunnels would somehow force Israel into easing the blockade to make attacking Israel easier seems unconvincing.

Nevertheless, the three-headed Hamas leadership – made up of Khaled Mashaal, the movement's leader in Qatari exile, and the heads of the military and political wings in Gaza -- may have believed in their ability to extort Israel into concessions through force.

What else, then, may have pushed Hamas into starting a war?

Members of Israel's defense establishment say that Hamas's deep regional isolation and growing economic distress pushed the terror organization to begin planning for a war several months ago.

After smuggling tunnels linking Gaza to Egypt's Sinai were blocked by Cairo, Hamas reached out to its arch-rival in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and entered into a "unity" government, to try to find an alternate way for cash from the international community to reach 40,000 Hamas employees. But Abbas refused to transfer funds to Hamas.

Hamas then began planning for war with Israel. Hamas apparently hoped to capitalize on an arsenal of 10,000 rockets in Gaza, a network of cross-border tunnels for raids into Israel by Hamas death squads, and raids by Hamas's naval commando unit. But Israel's military and intelligence services rendered most of these attacks ineffective.

Gaza's terror organizations lost more than 1000 combatants, and approximately 1000 Palestinian noncombatants were also killed. More than 300,000 Gazans became internally displaced people as their homes and neighborhoods were turned into military bases by Hamas, and subsequently targeted by Israel in self-defense.

Hamas's only achievement was to be able to maintain rocket fire on Israel for two months, and score points against Israel in the international media arena.

Yet, looked at from Hamas's point of view, the war was not necessarily a total loss.

Two central fears seem to keep Hamas leaders awake at night. The first is the possibility that a fatigued Palestinian people might eventually ditch the idea of continuous war with Israel, and one day cause Hamas's jihad to flicker out and die. The second fear, made more acute by Sisi's rise to power, is that a coalition of regional powers, led by Israel and Egypt, will cooperate with Fatah to drive Hamas from power in Gaza.

This could explain Hamas's decision to go to war in July.

Hamas's bloody clashes have a dual purpose: First, they act as a fuel that Hamas pours on the national consciousness of Palestinians, to keep hatred burning, and ensure that Palestinians continue to see themselves as being at war with Israel, while viewing Hamas as the soldiers of that war, and thus their saviors.

Second, such wars marginalize Hamas's rivals in Ramallah, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority [PA], which Hamas often attempts to depict as an Israeli "collaborator."

Keeping the armed conflict alive -- whatever the cost to Gazans -- is the central tenet of Hamas's survival strategy.

Above all else, Hamas wishes to ensure that the torch of jihad keeps burning, to pass it on to the next Palestinian generation. Nothing keeps the flames of jihad alight, and Hamas's popularity secure, like frequent wars.

Long, open-ended truces, Hamas may fear, could lead to a hibernation of the conflict, which in turn could lead to a long-term political settlement with Israel.

In Hamas's lexicon, truces and ceasefires are synonymous with rearming and regrouping, and preparing the next attack on Israel.

Officials from the Israeli defense establishment said they hope they have succeeded in breaking this pattern, and that, by requiring Hamas to pay a heavy price for aggression over the summer, they might finally achieve a decent period of calm.

In the meantime, Hamas's military wing in Gaza, the Izzadin Al-Qassam Brigades, will most likely reactivate rocket production factories, continue to expand Gaza's indigenous arms industry and look for ways to smuggle in new and improved weapons from Iran.

The 16,000-strong Hamas guerilla-terrorist army will train in rocket launching, automatic rifle fire, sniper attacks, mortar attacks, planting bombs on the border and firing shoulder-held missile launchers. It will probably also resume trying to dig terror tunnels.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders will sit in underground bunkers, and Khaled Mashaal will sit in five-star hotels in the Gulf states, plotting new ways of harming Israelis, forming attack plans for when they think the time is ripe for a new conflict.

The IDF, for its part, will also be preparing itself for that time.

From Hamas's perspective, war is the only way to ensure that Palestinians do not drift away from Hamas's ideology of unending confrontation and out of Hamas's political reach.

Ultimately, Hamas's fantasy of displacing Israel to create a radical Islamic state in appears to remain at the heart of all its activities.

Hamas would also like to see its fellow Islamists take over neighboring Arab states, and to link up with them in a pan-Islamic caliphate. Its long-term ambitions are indistinguishable from those held by the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.

A crucial aspect of the Hamas strategy still involves subjecting Gaza's children to systematic indoctrination, filling them with both genocidal hatred for Israel and a desire for "martyrdom" while attacking Israelis. Such incitement to hatred and violence in all of Gaza's media and educational systems is already producing the next generation of soldiers for Hamas's wars. It also rules out any prospect of peace with Israel in the near future.

Now, Hamas will focus on its next goal -- trying to strengthen its presence in the West Bank, and eventually, toppling the Palestinian Authority from power there, just as it did in Gaza.
As a recent Shin Bet investigation found, a large-scale Hamas formation, uncovered recently in the West Bank, was planning a violent coup to topple the Palestinian Authority and take over the West Bank.

Masked Hamas members (dressed in black) prepare to execute local Palestinians who they claim spied for Israel, Aug. 22, 2014, in Gaza. Sources in the Gaza Strip revealed that some of the executed men belonged to PA President Mahmoud Abbas's rival Fatah faction and had no connection with Israel. (Image source: Reuters video screenshot)

From there, Hamas would create a second rocket and mortar base, targeting central Israel with thousands of rockets in an attempt to paralyze the greater Tel Aviv metropolis.

If the Israeli military were to withdraw from the West Bank, Hamas would find such a coup easier to accomplish.

Israel's military presence in the West Bank secures the very existence of the Palestinian Authority, which is calling for an Israel's withdrawal -- just the thing that would endanger the PA most.

In the meantime, sadly, Hamas, like ISIS, can still cause much cause much suffering -- especially to its own Palestinian people.

Yaakov Lappin


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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