By Barry Rubin
Nothing is clearer than Hamas’s strategy. It gives Israel the choice between rockets and media, and Hamas thinks it is a situation of, “We win or you lose.”
Option A: The Ceasefire
Hamas ends a ceasefire giving it the peace and quiet needed to build up its army and consolidate its rule over the Gaza Strip. Israel would deliver supplies as long as there weren’t attacks. From a Western-style pragmatic standpoint this is a great situation.
But Hamas isn’t a Western-style pragmatic organization. Peace and quiet is its enemy not only because of its ideology–the deity commands it to destroy Israel–or its self-image–as heroic martyrs–but also because battle is needed to recruit the masses for permanent war and unite the population around it.
Hamas has no program of improving the well-being of the people or educating children to be doctors, teachers, and engineers. Its platform has but one plank: war, war, endless war, sacrifice, heroism, and martyrdom until total victory is achieved. Thus, it ends the ceasefire.
Option B: The Rockets
And so Hamas ends the ceasefire and rains rockets down on Israel, accompanied by mortars and the occasional attempt at a cross-border ground attack. Israel does nothing.
Hamas crows: you are weak, you are confused, your are helpless. Come, people, arise and destroy the paper tiger! And so more people are recruited, West Bank Palestinians look on with admiration at those fighting the enemy, and the Arabic-speaking world is impressed. Remember 2006, they say. It is just like Hizballah. Israel is helpless against the rockets. Why don’t our governments fight Israel? Let’s overthrow them and bring brave, fighting Islamist governments to power.
Option C: The Media
But then Israel does fight back. Its planes bomb military targets which have been deliberately put amidst civilians. If there is a high danger of hitting civilians, Israel doesn’t attack. But there is a line below which risk that will be taken, and rightly so. The smug smiles are wiped off the faces of Hamas leaders. Yet they have one more weapon, their reserves, they call up the media.
Those arrogant, heroic, macho victors of yesterday–literally yesterday as the process takes only a few hours–are transformed into pitiful victims. Casualty figures are announced by Hamas, and accepted by reporters who are not on the spot. Everyone hit is, of course, a civilian. No soldiers here.
And the casualties are disproportionate: Hamas has arranged it that way. If necessary, sympathetic photographers take pictures of children who pretend to be injured, and once they are published in Western newspapers these claims become fact. Yet there is a problem here. Rockets and mortars may win wars; newspaper articles really don’t.
Of course, too, material damage is inflicted that sets back Gaza’s material development. Hamas doesn’t care about that, but by acting in a way to ensure the destruction of their material base, Hamas does weaken itself. Precisely because Israeli attacks are focussed on military targets, Hamas is weakened.
Conclusion: The problem with no solution Of course, Israel does not win a complete victory. Hamas does not fall. The problem is not gone. For Hamas will define survival as victory. Hamas, like the PLO before it, wins one “victory” after another and always ends up worse off. The conflict will be back, however it ends this round, on whatever day it ends. Quiet will return, the supplies will flow back into Gaza. And so many months in the future the process will be repeated.
There is, however, an important difference. Israel uses its time not only for military preparations but to educate its children, build its infrastructure, raise its living standards. Hamas doesn’t. “We believe in death,” Hamas says, “You believe in life.”
Be careful what you wish for, you will get it.