Emanuel Shahaf

Saving Hamas

After the sad and not entirely unexpected tragic ending of the kidnapping of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali we can withdraw, once again, into our total victim position, the one we always assume when tragedies like this one hit home, to ponder what to do. And then we lash out, strongly. This has been our preferred response for decades and it has become a habit we cannot do without. Having incurred damages or losses we will quickly identify the perpetrator, more or less exactly, will state with firmness that those found guilty will be punished severely, that our deterrence against terror must be strengthened and that we must inflict heavy damage on the identified enemy. More often than not, many of those hit as part of the collateral damage caused by our response (there always is collateral damage), are not necessarily guilty but we convince ourselves that among our Palestinian adversaries, everybody is always guilty of something.  Oh, and then we immediately call for the appropriate “Zionist response”, usually expressed in terms of building another neighborhood or settlement in the West Bank areas where the enemy actions were perpetrated. This time we may even see an annexation of some appropriate area, who knows. Needless to say, 47 years of occupation have nothing to do with all this and cannot possibly be considered the underlying cause of this recurring mayhem…

None of our Pavlovian knee-jerk reactions vis-a-vis the Palestinians have ever achieved any lasting period of quiet and quite a few have achieved just the opposite, often in the form of a lasting escalation. Not to talk about the many dead and injured. But alas, we are not easily deterrred because inflicting damage on our adversaries feels damn good, especially after suffering such tragic losses. It helps that we are very good at it. Our forces are always ready, our intelligence is pretty good, our munitions are precision guided, we have total control of the operational area (well, almost) and when we want to, we can really kick ass. And now we want to. Again.

Let’s use this tragic moment and reflect on what we have been doing in the last year: Our partners in the last negotiating round, President Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have been thoroughly discredited by the Government of Israel. No agreement has been reached or even been discussed in earnest and Abbas has been unable to bring the Palestinians the hoped for benefits, not even the full extent of the limited prisoner release that had been agreed upon. Abbas’ consistently non-violent approach has hit a brick wall – the Netanyahu government.

Not being able to provide any benefits through negotiations with Israel, President Abbas decided to try his luck at promoting Palestinian unity, a very popular aim in the eyes of the Palestinian public. The timing was good since Hamas was on the ropes having lost Egypt’s support with the advent of Mursi’s replacement, President Sisi and with Hizbollah busy in Syria’s civil war.

The unity government formed by Abbas with the conditional support of the US and the EU, supported by Hamas but without Hamas members, had barely gotten of the starting block when Israel started blasting it full force, disregarding all evidence that Hamas’ role was indeed marginal. Instead of giving the unity government a chance, empowering Abbas and encouraging him by restarting the negotiations, Netanyahu shut down the talks for good after effectively having scuttled them earlier by not keeping Israel’s commitments.

Sadly enough the breakdown of the talks was used by what apparently is a rogue Hamas cell (nobody knows how rogue..) to execute a deadly kidnapping operation that put Hamas back squarely into the crosshairs for some renewed in-depth bashing by Israel.

Hitting Hamas now as hard as we seem to intend to will only do one thing: Strengthen the organization in the eyes of the Palestinian public. Abbas and his PA have achieved nothing, while Hamas has at least done what many Palestinians view as a daring operation against the occupation. Our strong reaction against Hamas operatives, justified as it may be,  will only increase the support for Hamas, on account of President Abbas who is now clamoring to world leaders to prevent Israel from cracking down too hard on the Palestinians. We are unlikely to be impressed.

Hamas was down for the count and empowering Abbas by renewing the negotiations in earnest could have sealed the political fate of this radical organization or at least disabled it substantially by clearly pointing to the benefits of the PA’s non-violent approach. Our violent reaction to the tragic kidnapping may just be what Hamas needs to put it back on track for the upcoming Palestinian elections. Not exactly what we should aim for.



About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Israeli-German Society (IDG), Co-Chair of the Federation Movement (, member of the council at and author of "Identity: The Quest for Israel's Future".