Until last week I assessed Hamas to be one of the most effective insurgencies currently operating.  Apart from Hizballah it is difficult to think of one more effective.  The question now is whether they’ve gone crazy, or crazy as a fox.

Hamas was born in the days of the original Intifadah, when the PLO were living well in Arab capitals and Gaza Strip residents lived in grim UNRWA-sponsored conditions.   Mirroring Maoist practice they combined basic health and education services for their supporters with ruthless violence against their enemies.

They represented piety where Arafat’s crew were secular.  They displayed integrity where Arafat’s crew were bent.  Their competence at providing basic services contrasted starkly with the Palestinian Authority’s difficulty with rubbish collection and mobile phone contracts.

They represented piety where Arafat’s crew were secular.  They displayed integrity where Arafat’s crew were bent.

Most important, they consistently confronted Israel.  The more the PA tried and visibly failed to create a credible state-in-waiting, the more Hamas killed Israelis.  The more the PA co-operated with the international community, and even with Israel, the more Hamas killed Israelis.  As Fatah changed the English edition of its charter, Hamas kept its unchanged.  Fatah even tried to create its own Islamist suicide bombers in search of some of the Hamas mojo.

But the mojo proved elusive.  Nobody, not even Hizballah, could show hands as bloody as Hamas’s.

For a long while leaders of Hamas stood little chance of making old bones.  The precise targeted killing of their leadership by booby trap and rocket was an ongoing attempt to decapitate the organisation, but Hamas was resilient, bigger than any of its leaders.

So effective was Hamas that the democratic West accepted Abu Amar’s bizarrely charismatic dictatorship and Abu Mazen’s shambolic, uncharismatic dictatorship long past their mandates had and have expired.  Once the Palestinians across Gaza and the West Bank were allowed ballots they made it clear that they’d rather have competent bloodthirsty Islamists than Fatah.  Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office had to create the concept of a “Hamas political wing” just in order to permit British officials to talk with Hamas mayors.

Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office had to create the concept of a “Hamas political wing” just in order to permit British officials to talk with Hamas mayors.

The most recent blow to Hamas has been their loss of Damascus as a base.  The Assad regime had been a good host to Hamas, but the Sunni Arab blood running in Syria’s streets and the second liquidation of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood made the connection toxic.

To retain their position as the premier Palestinian opposition to Israel, Hamas has to continually confront Israel.  Talk in recent years of a long-term hudna or truce, considered by some Islamists to be permissible, offered some kind of normalisation of conditions in Gaza.  The talk also threatened to relegate Hamas to the position of just another Palestinian faction.

There’s no hudna in the offing now.  A series of escalations ensured that the Israeli government had to intervene, and longstanding Hamas integration into its base population ensured that there were innocents in the path of Israel’s counterbattery fire.

Should Israel conduct a joint operation against Hamas more Palestinians with no close affiliation to Hamas will die (given the years Hamas has had to prepare the Strip since the last major Israeli incursion many Israelis would die too).  Many in Gaza who have grown up with Hamas education and Hamas television are perhaps happy to die as martyrs to the cause of extirpating Israel; and so long as Hamas remains combat-effective perhaps the terrorist group is prepared to fight to the last innocent Palestinian passerby.

So long as Hamas remains combat-effective perhaps the terrorist group is prepared to fight to the last innocent Palestinian passerby.

None of this seems to justify the rocketing of Beersheba that prompted Israel’s response in recent days.  Yes, Hamas wants to confront Israel and, ultimately, destroy Israel.  But why this November?

Some, including the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, suggested that Hamas is doing Iran a favour.  Others that, whether they intend to or not, they are doing Assad a favour.  Those who hate Barack Obama have suggested that his re-election emboldened Hamas.

This confrontation has been no favour for Mohammed Morsi.  Rather than finesse his responsibilities as head of the most populous Arab state alongside his Salafi sympathies for fellow Muslim Brothers; he has been forced to keep the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip closed and keep the Camp David Accords intact.

Perhaps this operation is meant to forestall any Arab Spring in Gaza.  The iron fist of Hamas’s Islamist reactionary rule must inspire some antipathy in the population.  Perhaps the streets of Gaza have been rumbling with discontent at the oppression of Hamas, the blockade provoked by Hamas and the feeling that if people can stand up to Bashar Assad they can stand up to Ismail Haniya.

None of these seems to justify the malleting that Hamas is taking, and knew they would take.  Grudgingly accepting some money from Shi’ite heretics, yes; but letting themselves be pounded to mincemeat for them? Or for Assad? It just seems mad.

accepting some money from Shi’ite heretics, yes; but letting themselves be pounded to mincemeat for them?

It is, of course, possible that Hamas is led by people with no rational appreciation of the results of their actions.  It is certainly tempting to believe that people who conduct suicide bombings or fire unguided rockets towards population centres are insane.  In a certain social sense they are, but are they mentall ill in the clinical sense?

The sheer effectiveness of Hamas suggests otherwise.  The ridiculous crew we Europeans support in Syria dream of Hamas’s level of resilience and effectiveness.  To last for 23 years against tough opposition, to fill senior posts during the years when leading Hamas was an appointment with death by Apache, to rocket Israel and manipulate the infosphere so cleverly that Israel yet again appears to be the aggressor; seems far more clever, cruel and ruthless than mad.

To make war without any realistic prospect of success is, in Western terms, a war crime.  I understand that Hamas operates in a different context, that even though destroying Israel might be impossible they feel they have a responsibility to kill as many as possible in the attempt.  It’s criminal nihilism masquerading as nationalism.

It is a grim reality that Israelis have good shelters, good early warning and what appears to be an effective anti-missile system; while the Palestinian population of Gaza appears not to have even rudimentary shelters.  This ensures that the death toll among Palestinians in Gaza will be high whatever Israel does.  If Hamas is as resilient as they have been in the past, there will be ample anger and discontent to reward their actions.

It is patent that Hamas seeks to draw Israel into a joint operation in the Gaza Strip.  That they wish to do it in order to continue to confront Israel is plain.  Why they are willing to pay such a price to do so this month where they didn’t bother last month is a troubling question.

Hamas has survived, and has succeeded in establishing a Palestinian (failed, pariah) state in Gaza, however miserable.  Is Hamas one of the effective modern insurgencies, alongside Hizballah, the Viet Cong and Mao Zedong’s Eighth Route Army? Will their November attacks create an effect that justifies their latest bloodshed and provocation of bloodshed? Or have they turned into ideological misrulers who make war to distract their masses and focus them on martyrdom and the hereafter? Is Hamas just another failed violent “army” of crazy idealists with a taste for killing?

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