P. David Hornik

Hamas in its own accounting: We’re losing this war

Daniel Hagari, spokesperson of the Israel Defense Forces, recently created a flap when he said that “Hamas is an idea, Hamas is a party. It’s rooted in the hearts of the people – whoever thinks we can eliminate Hamas is wrong.”

Hagari added that Hamas would remain in control in Gaza unless Israel “develops something else to replace it.”

The statement was widely cast as an admission that Israel was not really winning, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to reply that the Israeli security cabinet “has defined as one of the war goals the destruction of Hamas’s military and governance capabilities…The Israel Defense Forces is of course committed to this.”

It was a sensible rejoinder, implying that Israel did not actually aspire to vaporize Hamas from the face of the earth, but to break it as an effective military and political entity.

Indeed, Nazi Germany was defeated, but almost 80 years since the war ended National Socialism certainly still exists as an idea, as do a plethora of neo-Nazi organizations. ISIS was militarily devastated in Iraq and Syria, but still exists not only as an idea but as a terror group that in 2024 has inflicted mass-casualty attacks in Russia and elsewhere. Both entities were defeated but not annihilated.

Is Hamas, then, on the way to defeat? This week Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi gave an upbeat assessment of the progress of the war:

“We have very significant achievements in the fighting in Rafah…. This is reflected in the number of terrorists killed, as well as in the destroyed infrastructure [and] tunnels,” he said.

Halevi said the IDF’s control of the so-called Philadelphi Route on the Gaza-Egypt border is “very, very significant.” He said it closes Hamas’s “oxygen pipeline for future smuggling.”

“We are clearly approaching the point where we [can] say we dismantled the Rafah Brigade. It is defeated not in the sense that there are no more terrorists in it, but in the sense that it can no longer function as a fighting framework,” he said.

Likewise, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks of a “Phase C” in the war involving “raids and other operations throughout Gaza aimed at preventing Hamas from regrouping” – after the more intensive first phase of aerial bombing, and the second phase of the ground maneuver, which by most assessments have succeeded in severely depleting Hamas.

In sharp contrast to that optimism is a prominent Israeli gadfly, Gen. (res.) Itzhak Brik. A harsh critic of the defense establishment, Brik has been insisting all along that the Gaza war is a fiasco, saying just two weeks ago that the war is “purposeless,” calling for Netanyahu’s, Gallant’s, and Halevi’s resignation, and portraying the war as a totally ill-conceived, inept, Sisyphean cycle in which Hamas always regroups effectively after pointless Israeli incursions to inflict heavy casualties.

Based on what Hamas itself has been saying on its own website, Lt. Col. (res.) Shaul Bartal, a senior researcher at Israel’s BESA Center think tank at Bar-Ilan University, takes a view much more in line with the optimists.

Bartal notes that, in the immediate aftermath of the October 7 massacre, Hamas publications were celebratory and likened the “success” to the Koranic battle of Badr, in which Muhammad and a small group of Muhammad’s followers routed a much larger force. The massacre was hailed as a “divine victory” and a “qualitative historical blow to the Zionist entity,” and “symbolized the realization of a divine promise to destroy Israel.”

Amid the exhilaration,

Hamas predicted that Israel would not enter the Gaza Strip for ground maneuvers and that the war that would break out as a result of its invasion of Israel would end swiftly. Surely, Hamas believed, the inevitable heavy international pressure on Israel would force it to stop fighting. Hamas also expected Israel to retreat to the October 6 lines while negotiating a wholesale release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the hundreds of Israeli hostages due to Israel’s high sensitivity to human life.

But as Bartal notes, more than eight months later the posts on the Hamas website reflect a different mood. Hamas is now well aware that

[a]ll these expectations were disappointed. The death toll in the Gaza Strip is rising, most Hamas battalions have been disbanded and stripped of their military and organizational capabilities, and the Gaza Strip, which until recently was considered a land liberated by jihad, is being recaptured….

At the same time, Hamas is aware of “growing criticism of [the group] among parts of Palestinian society” and that “the October 7 war is seen by some of the Palestinian public as a dangerous gamble that harmed the Palestinian cause.”

Accordingly, Hamas authors have been offering hollow assurances on the website – for instance, “cit[ing] economic data such as the decrease in the value of Israeli currency, a decrease in tourism revenue, the number of abandoned settlements, high numbers of Israeli internal evacuees, and a drop in immigration to Israel by at least 50% compared to the situation before the war.”

Many articles also “deal with Israel’s legal battles with international courts” or “encourage the public to take note of how many supporters they have in the world, and highlight the events at universities in the United States and support for the Palestinian cause in many other countries.”

All those are real problems for Israel, spawned in part by the war. But they can’t obscure a basic reality: “The Hamas organization understands and has reconciled itself to the fact that it has been defeated militarily and the citadel of resistance in the Gaza Strip (Kala’at al-Muqawama) has fallen.”

All this is not to deny that Israel has a difficult road ahead of it. Significant pockets of Hamas terrorists remain in Gaza and will keep trying to engage in guerrilla warfare. In the still-dangerous environment, replacing Hamas rule with that of local, pragmatic Gazans will not be easy. More than a hundred hostages, living and dead, are still in captivity. The conflict with Hezbollah at the northern border is not resolved and could still lead to a much larger conflict. Looming behind all of it is Iran’s rapidly progressing nuclear program.

Still, in Gaza itself, Israel is winning the war against the vicious, morally depraved outfit that tried to overwhelm it on October 7.

About the Author
P. David Hornik, a freelance writer, translator, and copyeditor in Be'er Sheva, has published novels, a story collection, an essay collection, poetry, and numerous articles. His memoir, Israel Odyssey: Coming of Age and Finding Peace in the Middle East, is forthcoming this year from God of the Desert Books. He regularly comments on Israeli affairs at Israel on My Mind with P. David Hornik (