The latest, just-ended battle between Israel and Hamas demonstrates once again that the Palestinian extremist group holds nearly all the cards—even though it’s an obdurate, unredeemable terrorist organization.
“From our ideological point of view, it is not allowed to recognize that Israel controls one square meter of historic Palestine,” Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, told me when I visited him 10 years ago. Then, just a few days ago, Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, said: “We are sending a short and simple message: There is no security for any Zionist on any single inch of Palestine.”
In other words, unlike most terrorist groups, Hamas exists for only one reason: to destroy Israel. This presents Israel with an unresolvable dilemma. Its military has killed a dozen or more Hamas leaders over the years, and yet new ones sprout up almost right away. And in the last five years, all of them have learned that the price can be high, but they can get what they want from Israel.
Think back a year. That’s when Hamas released Gilad Shalit, an Israeli solider they were holding. Five years earlier, they’d abducted him as he was on patrol outside the border fence. Hamas kept him safe but incommunicado—realizing they were holding a great bargaining chip.
So what finally happened? Israeli traded him for 1,027 Palestinians being held in Israeli jails. Hamas was jubilant, and no wonder.
This time, Hamas fired hundreds of missiles into Israel, provoking airstrikes that killed at least 160 Palestinians and leveled scores of buildings. But in the end, Hamas made demands in exchange for ending its rocket attacks—and appears to be getting more or less what it wants. Israel agreed to ease restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza and allow Palestinians more access to a buffer zones that Israel had imposed on the Gaza side of the border and at sea.
What did Israel get in exchange? Nothing except the return to the status quo—meaning no more rocket fire for now but the near certainty that the next time Hamas wants something, it will send more missiles across the fence line.
One reason Hamas does not seem more hesitant is that the world seems to be on their side, regardless of the facts on the ground. Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian president who negotiated the cease-fire, like so many other world leaders, offered not even glancing acknowledgment of the rocket volleys Hamas fired into Israel. That’s what ignited this current crisis, not anything Israel did—other than exist.
Morsi and others blamed Israel instead. The Egyptian leader castigated Israel for what he called “wanton aggression on the Gaza Strip” and sent his prime minister to Gaza City. There, Prime Minister Hesham Qandil theatrically broke into tears at the sight of a boy injured in Israel’s retaliatory bombing and said, “What I am witnessing in Gaza is a disaster, and I can’t keep quiet. The Israeli aggression must stop.”
And so it goes for Israel and Hamas. The rockets have stopped for now. But you can be sure that, for Hamas, the cease-fire is nothing more a temporary stratagem.
Photo Credit: Israel Defense Force