December 15, 2022
Hamas Plans on its 35th Anniversary Could Backfire Once Again
On its 35th anniversary, Hamas is once again calculating that the perfect storm for it to achieve its goal of annihilating Israel. is on the horizon. The formation of a right-wing government in Israel, the deepening inner-Palestinian crisis and escalating power struggle over Mahmoud Abbas’ successor, and the increasing criticism of Fatah and the PA on the Palestinian street.
Hamas forecasts that the confluence of these two events will further deepen violence and instability in the West Bank, creating a vacuum that Hamas could take advantage of to deepen its influence and power in the West Bank.
Hamas’ plan to is to leverage this opportunity by fanning the flames of the conflict in the areas controlled by the PA – and leave the Gaza Strip – ruled by Hamas – out of the circle of escalation. As Hamas’ leader Yahya Sinwar said, “Gaza needs to catch its breath and recover.”
One of Hamas’ core ideological and political values and operational objectives is to violently eliminate Israel. This is an ideology known in Arabic as Al-Muqawamah al-Musallah – “The Armed Resistance.” Under this slogan, Hamas has initiated military round after military round with Israel. Hamas’ extremism and its unwavering pursuit of this objective have brought death and destruction to Gaza and have created a bleak future for the Palestinians who live in Gaza. An increasing number of Palestinians, as well as growing circles in the Arab world, hold Hamas accountable for its actions and for the dismal reality in Gaza. With each round of Hamas-initiated violent escalation, Gaza sinks further into despair, and the recovery time takes longer. Its people suffer economic hardships, and Israel has stepped in to provide work visas to thousands of Gazans so that they can work in Israel and support their families. Hamas knows that a new military round with Israel will be another significant setback for the people of Gaza – and, therefore for Hamas itself. Hamas knows very well that another war with Israel will be counterproductive to its two political strategic objectives: to secure itself as the unquestionable leader of the Palestinians and to position itself as a reliable regional player.
But Hamas has a history of miscalculation when it comes to broader strategies like this. In May 2021, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, fired rockets at Jerusalem, launching a ten-day war with Israel. At the time, Hamas calculated that the potential benefits, dividends, and rewards they may harvest outweighed the risk. Hamas’s risk-reward analysis was wrong.
So if history is any indicator, Hamas’ plan to instigate violence in the West Bank will backfire yet again. By fueling the flames in the West Bank, Hamas could find itself in a serious dilemma that could drag it directly into a military collision with Israel and might even bring it directly into a serious domestic conflict in Gaza. Playing with fire – Hamas might get burned.
If violence escalates in the West Bank, Hamas’ military establishment, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, will put pressure on Hamas’ political leadership to open a military front against Israel. This will put Hamas in a very difficult position. On the one hand, if Hamas stays neutral, Palestinians and the Arab world will slam Hamas for being a cynical, opportunistic manipulator who when push comes to shove stays on the sidelines. This will severely compromise Hamas’ position as the defender of the Palestinians. On the other hand, launching attacks against Israel to preserve its image as the defender of the Palestinians, will prove that Hamas’ military wing is the power center within Hamas, significantly undermining Hamas’ effort to market itself as a reasonable regional player. No less significant, Hamas initiating another military round with Israel will doom Gaza Strip to another devastating war, resulting in public rage that could jeopardize Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas could face another serious dilemma. Hamas isn’t the only militant group with significant assets operating in the Gaza Strip. The Islamic Jihad in Palestine (IJIP) is the second-largest military power in Gaza. Like Hamas, the IJIP vows to eliminate Israel violently. IJIP militants in the West Bank are a part of IJIP’s core infrastructure and are a critical element of the organization. If Hamas-stoked violence in the PA-controlled areas results in Israel killing members of IJIP, the IJIP Gaza-based militants will likely join in the fight, attacking Israeli cities which could snowball into another war between Gaza and Israel. To prevent that scenario, Hamas might be forced to use its own military might to restrain IJIP. A military collision with IJIP is one of Hamas’ worst nightmares. It will severely damage Hamas’ aspiration to be recognized as the unquestionable, legitimate leader of the Palestinians and as a reliable regional player.
Hamas’ current posturing would seemingly indicate that its strategists estimate that the movement can avoid these dilemmas. In its view, the potential benefits outweigh the risk. Yet, it is very possible that Hamas once again – like in May 2021 – is miscalculating the risk. It can set the fire, but it’s unlikely it can control the flames. Hamas’ latest strategic blunder might lead to the escalation of violence that neither Israel nor Hamas want.
Avi Melamed, the author of “Inside The Middle East | Entering A New Era,” is a former Israeli intelligence official and the former senior Arab affairs advisor to Jerusalem mayors Teddy Kollek and Ehud Olmert. Fluent in the languages and cultures of the Middle East, and an expert on current regional affairs and their impact on the geopolitics of the Middle East. He is the founder and chief education officer of Inside the Middle East, a nonprofit devoted to providing professional knowledge about the Middle East and empowering critical thinking by way of non-partisan and innovative education.
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