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Hamas’s Primary Interest to Restore Its Gaza Rule

The only issue now central to the continuation of the Israel/ Gaza war from the perspective of Hamas is whether Hamas can reinstate its barbaric, Islamic fundamentalist, authoritarian, terrorist rule of Gaza upon the conclusion of hostilities or whether Hamas rule of Gaza is over. For Hamas leaders in Gaza, including Yahya Sinwar, a secondary issue relates to the possibility of surviving the war and if they do, whether they will be allowed remain in Gaza, given safe passage to join those leaders enjoying a life of luxury in Qatar, hunted down by Israel’s Mossad or prosecuted for war crimes before the International Criminal Court. Only they know whether the martyr’s death they teach others to welcome and to which they deliberately endanger Gaza’s civilians by their use as human shields is something they each would welcome or wish to avoid.

The temporary invasion of Israel on October 7 by Hamas operatives and the atrocities perpetrated were clearly well planned and targets pinpointed. The Hamas assault, not a spur of the moment event, was trained for in plain sight of Israel’s female IDF spotters on towers overlooking Gaza and regular drone surveillance. Israel’s catastrophic intelligence failure in the upper echelons of its military and intelligence service in attaching no importance to reports received of Hamas training activities and their being treated as nothing other than Hamas playing toy soldiers is currently the subject of an IDF internal inquiry and will, when the war is over, form part of a broader inquiry. Whether misogyny partially caused the reports of the unarmed female spotters slain on October 7 to be disregarded by male officers is also a question to be explored. 

The issues central to the continuation of the war from Israel’s perspective are to permanently end Hamas rule in Gaza and to rescue or have released the remaining 133 hostages held captive there, between 30 to 50 of whom are believed now dead. In achieving Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s promised “ total victory”, the elimination of Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza regarded as responsible for the atrocities of October 7, is a primary objective. Netanyahu’s “total victory” also originally envisaged not only dismantling Hamas rule in Gaza but also Hamas’s complete elimination but that is impossible.

 As was learnt during 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland terrorist operatives embedded in a population can never be entirely eliminated by military action. No matter how many are killed or jailed, whether leaders or followers, others always emerge to take their place and adopt their objectives. The catalyst to their doing so is frequently violence perpetrated by their adversaries. When the ultimate objectives derive wholly or partly from extremist religious belief with guaranteed heavenly benefits should death result, there is never any shortage of newly recruited fundamentalist believers. 

Past Hamas missile and terrorist assaults on Israel since it took over Gaza in 2007 have resulted in short term wars, Israel’s objective being to contain Hamas terrorism and restore security and stability to its Gaza border areas. This time the barbarism and extent of Hamas’s atrocities together with the thousands of missiles fired and the number of hostages abducted resulted in Israel concluding such a limited response could not restore necessary security and stability.

Contrary to Netanyahu’s performative political rhetoric, total Israeli victory is also impossible because of the many deaths and injuries on both sides resulting from the conflict. In Israel the atrocities of October 7, Palestinian celebration of them, the security failures on that day, the abduction of hostages, missile fire from Gaza and by Hezbollah from Southern Lebanon, deaths and injuries inflicted on members of the IDF, Hamas sexual violence perpetrated, dismemberment of bodies and Israel’s population disruption will leave permanent scars. In Gaza the devastating Israeli bombing, the deaths and injuries resulting, the destruction of infrastructure, population disruption, lack of food and essential services, permanent loss of homes and poverty inflicted, killing and imprisonment by Israel of Palestinians mistakenly believed to be terrorists will also leave permanent scars. So will the fear and terror felt by both Israelis and Palestinians. The long term impact on Gaza’s civilians of Hamas instigating the conflict and the resulting deaths, injuries and devastation, of being deprived of the shelter in tunnels enjoyed by Hamas leaders and operatives and of the death and devastation caused by terrorist missiles targeted at Israel falling short is unknown. Recent Palestinian polling shows majority Palestinian support for Hamas both in Gaza and the West Bank.

So where to now? Political rhetoric, UNSC, UN Assembly, UNHRC resolutions and those of other international bodies and national parliaments cannot end the conflict. Neither can international court proceedings initiated to promote a factually distorted or partisan political perspective and selective legal pleadings to advance the domestic or international agenda of litigating states or ruling political leaders and parties. Nor can marches or protests whose participants ignore truth, all complexity, captive hostages, Iranian complicity and atrocities perpetrated by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah and other terrorists and whose sole intent is to undermine Israel’s right to self defence and to demonise and delegitimise the Israeli state

The globally popularised slogan “Ceasefire Now” also offers neither a temporary or permanent solution. It ignores the fate of the hostages and while a ceasefire with nothing more intended would facilitate continuing humanitarian aid better reaching Palestinian victims of the conflict, something now occurring following the WCK deaths tragedy, it would also afford Hamas a respite to regroup, reignite conflict and carry out its publicly repetitively promised further atrocities.

 The reality is that after six months of war no Israeli government can or will agree a permanent ceasefire without practical arrangements in place to release all the hostages and without an end to Hamas rule of Gaza. A truth many ignore is that not only Israel but also the US, all EU member states, most Arab states and many others wish to see an end to Hamas extremist rule of Gaza as does Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party who control the Palestinian Authority which partially governs the West Bank. Iran, of course, like it’s terrorist proxies, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah, the Houthis and other smaller terrorist groups wishes Hamas rule restored. What China and Russia really want, other than continuing political instability and turmoil that upends the US who knows, save that Russia will do and say nothing that endangers Iran’s continuing supply of drones to fight its war against Ukraine. Meanwhile a confused Turkey, that also hosts Hamas operatives, vacillates between demonising and attempting to re-establish friendly diplomatic relationships with Israel but could, like Qatar and Egypt, play a constructive role in conflict resolution. How to get the three major powers to set aside self and competing interests and pragmatically engage to resolve the current conflict is part of the puzzle. 

Hamas has ruled Gaza for 17 years since its coup in 2007 and been the beneficiary of billions of dollars of aid. During that time there was also substantial private residential and commercial investment in Gaza. Behind the scenes various Israeli governments, when not engaged in Hamas initiated conflict, co-operated with Qatar, the Gulf States and Egypt to bring some economic stability and development to Gaza. While Hamas used moneys received to construct between 400 to 500 kilometres of labyrinthine tunnels under civilian, hospital and UN infrastructure from which to conduct its terrorist activities, UNRWA performed functions, normally performed by governments to benefit and support Gaza’s population, grown from 265,00 in 1960 to 2.1 million today. Hamas’s main focus since 2007 has been to instigate conflict and plan for Israel’s destruction, a repetitive, unsuccessful plan of Arabs states going back to Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948 long abandoned by most that visited nothing but tragedy on both Israelis and Palestinians.

Both Israelis and Palestinians need an end to wars and to live in permanent not temporary peace and security. For as long as Hamas and other terrorist groups aligned with Iran control the political fate of Gaza that is impossible. For as long as Hamas insists a ceasefire is dependant on all Israeli forces leaving Gaza to enable it restore its rule over Gaza, there will be no permanent ceasefire. For as long as Palestinians advocate Israel’s destruction, Hamas’s nihilistic engagement in Palestinian politics is facilitated and the Israeli government contains extremists intent on further expanding Israeli settlements on the West Bank and their restoration in Gaza there will be no permanent peace.

 In Israel, Netanyahu continuing as Israel’s premier only has minority popular support, on the West Bank and Gaza, Abbas continuing his 19 years as President has minimal support. Corrupt Fatah and Hamas leaders have used their positions to accumulate substantial wealth and have failed in their primary obligation to better their people’s lives and provide them with freedom, peace and security. Netanyahu has failed to ensure Israeli’s peace and security, his judgement is impaired by his addiction to power and has since 2019 been embroiled as a defendant in ongoing criminal proceedings alleging fraud, bribery and breach of trust. He is also accused of financially exploiting his position for his and his wife’s benefit which he denies. The West’s failure is its inability to come to terms with the fact that Hamas is a death cult whose strategy is to perpetuate violence, maximise not prevent the death of Palestinian civilians and to exploit their deaths and “ martyrdom” to undermine Israel’s international political and public support. 

Elections for both a new Israeli government and a new Palestinian leadership are essential but in the immediate aftermath of the current bloody conflict it is unknown will their outcome either entrench Israeli/Palestinian political division or offer hope for a peaceful future. Despite only currently being supported by a minority of Israelis and Palestinians, the only practical medium to long term course of action is structured graduated talks leading to implementation of a realistic two state solution that is ultimately supported by a majority on both sides and offers both sides a realistic hope of permanent peace and security . Continuing political stasis offers no hope of that at all.

About the Author
Alan Shatter is a former Irish Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence, a former chairperson of the Irish Parliaments Foreign Affairs Committee, a former member of the EU’s Council of Justice & Home Affairs Ministers & Council of Defence Ministers, a Fellow of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, Chairperson of Magen David Adom Ireland, a retired solicitor advocate, author of academic legal works, novels and occasional and an occasional lecturer and broadcaster on legal issues and contemporary Irish domestic and international politics. The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs is included amongst the publications for which he has written.
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