Hamas murderous attack on Southern Israel was a suicide mission, not just for the individual terrorist but for the whole organization. It took its tactic of suicide bombing and magnified it many times, with the same aim of spreading chaos and fear but on a far wider scale than ever before. In short, Hamas itself has become the suicide bomber.
Like the individual suicide bomber, its existence is just a chapter in its longer struggle to destroy Israel.
Hamas has been building to the moment of its attack last Saturday for decades.
My journalistic career in Israel began in December 1995 just weeks prior to a suicide bombing campaign that killed numerous people in Israel. My first major story was covering the attacks on the number 18 bus route in Jerusalem, when Hamas hit two buses a week apart killing 45 people.
It was my professional baptism of fire. I vividly recall standing close to the twisted shell of the bus at one of the attacks and seeing pools of motor oil and blood mingling on the tarmac at my feet.
Hamas’s tactic succeeded then in helping to destroy the Oslo Process, which directly contravened its ideology. Its actions helped to usher in a right-wing government in Israel (with Bibi Netanyahu as Prime Minister) and weakened the Palestinian Authority.
Now it is hoping for a similar measure of success in upending the current reality and pushing its ideology to the fore. The leaders of Hamas in Gaza knew that undertaking such a murderous attack last Saturday upon so many Israeli civilians with such singular cruelty would invite and probably ensure its own destruction along with the destruction of much of Gaza itself.
But to the outsider Hamas’s actions in launching such a suicidal attack appear irrational. Why would it do such a thing when it was sitting in a commanding position of power in Gaza? It had funds flowing in from Qatar, and from the increasing number of day laborers allowed to work in Israel. It was also winning support in the West Bank as the PA became ever more irrelevant by the day.
But that was all a distraction from its overarching strategy of destroying Israel. Its updated (and moderated) charter of 2017 clearly states, ‘Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.’
Everyone underestimated and misread Hamas, thinking its words were distant aspirations, rather than a direct plan of action. Many in the West thought it could be moderated, and Israel believed it could be contained so long as it allowed Hamas to maintain power in Gaza. Both calculations were fatally flawed. Hamas outwitted everyone, and has succeeded in sowing chaos and death in many multiples beyond the action of a single suicide bomber.
The question now is what comes next? Even if (and when) Hamas’s leadership is killed and its infrastructure in Gaza destroyed, the organization believes its message and ideology will live on, and flourish, in its wake, in the minds of millions throughout the Middle East.
As such, Hamas is using the atrocity in Southern Israel as an attempt to light a fuse and detonate a larger explosion of violence, potentially with the involvement of Hezbollah. Its hope is to ignite the whole Middle East, convulsing restive populations in Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere.
Hezbollah along with its masters in Iran shares Hamas’s ideology of death and destruction towards Israel. The calculation in Tehran and in the southern suburbs of Beirut is not – if to attack – but when. They will be carefully weighing their options if this is the time to use Hezbollah’s hidden arsenal of missiles. The arrival of American warships in the Eastern Mediterranean is an effort to warn Iran and try to ensure the conflict does not spread.
But at this moment all the possibilities remain open, and they all point to considerable danger for Israel.
Last week Hamas exploded its suicide vest throughout Southern Israel, and that action will bring about its physical demise. But the shrapnel that it has spread will continue to present an on-going threat now and into the future.