Inside The Mind Of Hamas

In an interview with Zack Beauchamp, Hussein Ibish offers his take on what the Gaza crisis means for the militant group’s strategic position:

Hamas has been desperately trying to get out of this morass that it’s found itself in; it really feels trapped and desperate. And they tried to foment trouble in the West Bank, and it didn’t succeed. They didn’t get anything out of the unity agreement, so it’s falling back on what it knows sometimes gets results — which is rocket attacks. What they are hoping for, this time, is concessions not from Ramallah or from Tel Aviv, but from Cairo, Egypt. I don’t think that most people understand that — it’s all about Egypt.

What Hamas can get can only come from Egypt. From Israel, they’re demanding the release of prisoners that were part of the shahid squad [a Hamas military group] that was arrested when Israel was pretending they didn’t know the teenagers were dead. Israel tracked them down and dealt Hamas a serious blow. Which is why Netanyahu isn’t so interested in getting into an artillery/aerial exchange with Hamas — the Israelis frontloaded their retribution. It was all done in the West Bank, before the bodies were found.

Allison Beth Hodgkins also views Hamas as having been backed “into a corner where it had to chose between the Russian roulette of escalation and irrelevance”:

It chose the former — a high stakes gamble to reclaim the mantle of resistor in chief on behalf of the struggle and shore up its tenuous stake in the Palestinian marketplace.

To a large degree, Shlomi Eldar gets it mostly right here when he says that Hamas’ main objective is to avoid looking like a defeated movement. What it really can’t afford to look like is a religiously conservative version of Fatah: weak, ineffective and seen as trading a continued hold on power for continued occupation. While the business of governing the fractious Gaza Strip has forced Hamas to make compromises in order to pay the bills and keep the sewage from overflowing, these compromises have required enforcing the November 2012 ceasefire on all the resistance factions in the strip. This is no easy task in good times (or not so bad times), but with the popular mood turning from generally irritated to downright irate, groups like Islamic Jihad, the PFLP and other new challengers smell blood in the water.

In light of this weakened position, Mitchell Plitnick advises the militants to cut their losses:

There simply isn’t an endgame that represents progress for Hamas. In 2012, when then-Egyptian President Morsi brokered an agreement, Hamas could claim a few minor concessions from Israel (which never really materialized once there was no pressure on Israel to follow through with them). There will be nothing of that sort here, but Hamas seems to be desperately clinging to the hope that it can extract something to base a claim of victory on.

That’s a terrible gamble. It is much more likely that the refusal to agree to a ceasefire is giving Netanyahu exactly what he wants: the chance to deliver a blow to a weakened Hamas regime in Gaza. Hamas has given Netanyahu the means to do this without having to overcome the global opposition that was apparent at the beginning of the current fighting.