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OpinionIsrael at War

What will happen to Hamas?

Hamas the military force will never be the same after this Israeli campaign. But Hamas the movement, Hamas the idea, will surely survive.

Hamas supporters wave the terror group's flag during a rally at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, on May 19, 2022. Credit: Flash90.
Hamas supporters wave the terror group's flag during a rally at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, on May 19, 2022. Credit: Flash90.
Michael Oren
Michael Oren

Israelis may have been shocked by the recent Israel Defense Forces military intelligence report that Hamas will survive the war in Gaza. Leaked to the press in an apparent attempt to shame Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials, the internal report belies their repeated pledges to destroy Hamas completely.

“The bottom line,” said Israeli investigative reporter Ilana Dayan, an outspoken critic of the government, about the report’s findings, is that “Hamas will survive this campaign as a terror group and a guerrilla group.”

As jarring as the army’s predictions are in their opposition to Netanyahu’s claims, they should neither surprise nor embarrass anyone. Of course Hamas will survive the war. The only question is: in what form?

If we’re talking about an organization with nearly 30,000 active terrorists arrayed into an estimated 24 battalions, massively armed and positioned in as many as 450 miles of tunnels—all under the command of Yahya Sinwar and other military leaders, the answer is no, Hamas will not survive the war.

Israel has already killed 10,000 terrorists and wounded or arrested several thousand more. This means that up to 60% of Hamas’s forces have been neutralized.

Hamas the military force will never be the same after this Israeli campaign. But Hamas the movement, Hamas the idea, will surely survive.

While armed forces can destroy a terrorist army and its bases, no amount of firepower can annihilate a concept. The United States spent trillions in the fight against Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, yet both organizations still exist and occasionally mount attacks. In its theology, Hamas is identical to other Islamist groups that seek to recreate the medieval Islamic caliphate in the Middle East and then expand it globally. It differs only in seeking Israel’s destruction as the first stage in that quest.

That threat can only be eliminated by long term efforts to combat radicalization, especially among children. Such campaigns have been initiated in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and are already registering success.

Absent a similar effort among Palestinian youth, Hamas the idea will continue to inspire numbers of them to launch terrorist attacks against Israelis. Hamas cells will form in the West Bank and elsewhere and strive to act, sometimes with agonizing effect. But deprived of the backing of an independent state, the ability of these groups to cause major damage will be greatly diminished.

But even the most ambitious reeducation program will prove insufficient without providing Palestinians with a diplomatic horizon, as well as a detailed “day after” scenario for Gaza.

Neither, unfortunately, has been provided by the Israeli government, beholden to its most radical factions. The result has been a vacuum in which the United States, together with Arab and Palestinian leaders, are drawing up plans for a future Palestinian state which most Israelis will likely reject. More acceptable would be federated and expanded autonomy plans that would pose far less of a threat to Israelis.

Hamas, by contrast, may welcome the creation of a state where it enjoys overwhelming popular support. That backing, Hamas might conclude, will enable it to rise, once again, from Gaza’s rubble, and re-emerge as more than a mere idea.

In light of its egregious failures on Oct. 7, Israelis have little reason to trust in the IDF’s intelligence estimates. This one must nevertheless be taken seriously. The government can reduce the threat of a resurgent Hamas, but only by taking bold diplomatic decisions that include the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip and efforts to deradicalize its population.

Originally published in The Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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