No doubt about the unity of the Arab public opinion behind Hamas. However, with the current bombardment of the Gaza strip this attitude might be questionable. Rob’s thoughts about the military dimension of Hamas vs. Israel were good but lets put them in a bigger picture.
First, while Hamas leaders knew that Israel was looking for a chance to hit, noone expected this scale for sure. Its important to notice that for several years now Gaza represented a headache for Israel, weapons smuggled easily there, adjacent to Egypt, suicide bombers…and so forth. So my point here is that Israel wanted to destroy the infrastructure of Gaza. In my opinion the operation is not crushing Hamas, its more about crushing Gaza which every now and then begets a problem that disturbed Israel. The only problem Israel faced was the timing, it was necessarily that the attack be justified internationally, and what’s bettter than the expiration of the ceasefire?
Second, its very important to define what victory means in this war? Again, this is not a traditional warfare, Israel here is setting an intangible target: to eliminate Hamas from the political and the diplomatic landscape. However, its very difficult to believe that for 2 reasons:
1-The nature of the campaign is too immense to believe that it just wants to eliminate Hamas. For instance; how would one explain the use of the Air Force to destroy a group of street fighters basically, or a militia? I think a logical decision would be using a group of the Special forces to kill the top leaders (of this group that seems to be the chief impediment to the peace talks) . Wouldn’t this be enough to make Hamas disappear from the landscape for a couple of years minimum? Israel already has enough intelligence to perform such an operation.
2- I think Hamas could claim victory (after all the fighting stops ) if it had one member holding the organization together, even if the Israeli attack lasted for 2 months which I highly doubt. If one member of Hamas afterwards said that Hamas government still stands and it is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, what do we call that?
Third, although the ground operation seems highly expected, the IDF has to take into account many considerations about how it should proceed, because “The Gazan mud will make it harder for tanks and armored personnel carriers to maneuver, and Hamas has clearly been preparing its defense for months. Thus any ground operation will entail many casualties” something that worries the Israeli government. The main point why Israel would risk failure there is that it adopts the same strategy it adopted against Hezbollah; an all-out-war and final-battle. The bottom line here is that many Palestinians find such a war acceptable, so even if Israel eradicated Hamas, reestablishing the movement or the emergence of an even more extreme replacement would not take much time.
On the regional level, the scene shows a huge resentment against the Arab regimes: my friend at the National was right when he differentiated between the line of negotiators and rejectionists in Arab world. The main point would never be Hamas’ victory or loss, but the tendency for more use of force. I think crushing Hamas is more critical to the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia than Israel. Regardless of who is in power, Israel depends mainly on military superiority against the Arab regimes whether Fatah is in power or Hamas is. So creating a security situation and bolstering its deterrence is a decisive elements in its relationship with any regional party. As for the Arab regimes it is critical to point out that Hamas did not only pose a new preferable alternative in dealing with Israel, but also poses a pattern for defying authority and this was reflected on the kind of rage that existed in Egypt in specific. What’s happening now brought the conflict between Hamas and Egypt into the open which could influence the developments in Egypt. Strikingly, what’s happening now is that Hamas is enjoying” across-the-border support from Palestinian factions and gains electoral popularity at Fatah’s expense” which means that the moderate voices in Fatah are leaning towards joining their counterparts. When that happens Hamas would so popular that Abbas would not be able to refuse a unity government.
Inside the Arab states it seems that the ability to channel and quench the crowd’s rage is declining, the demonstrations that took place in Egypt were not seen for long ago, and the populist discourse contains speech of mockery and disdain, the government used to confront it violently.
Rob jumping in here:
Mr Egypt mentioned above that “if Israel eradicated Hamas, reestablishing the movement or the emergence of an even more extreme replacement would not take much time.” This is an important point- this might sound shocking to some in the US, but Hamas, in the big picture of Islamist movements, is actually moderate. Put it this way, it would take you hours, if not days, to find ten normal people in Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, or for that matter maybe anywhere in the Islamic world who don’t agree, in principle, with Hamas’ right to use violence against Israel, including the use of suicide bombers. In fact, every single major Islamic religous scholar would agree that their use of suicide bombers is Islamically acceptabe given the military power inbalance between Israel and the Palestinians. And on pure theology , Hamas is moderate, basically adhering to Qaradawi-style Islamic Centralism. So what’s my point here? I want to highlight a good post by Matt at the Wonk Room:
A number of writers have noted the possibility of Hamas being politically strengthened by Israel’s bombing of Gaza, just as Hezbollah were strengthened by Israel’s 2006 bombing of Lebanon. This would obviously be a bad outcome, but it’s important to understand that it would not be the worst. A much worse outcome would be that the bombings weaken Hamas while strengthening Salafist elements in Gaza, who consider Hamas a bunch of timid, half-stepping sellouts.
I highly recomend reading the rest of the post. Matt is correct: there are worse outcomes than a strengthened Hamas.