Hamas’s Asymmetric War against Israel

by Benjamin Weinthal

The Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas today refused an Egyptian-backed ceasefire to end its war against the Jewish state. The hallmark of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas rocket fire is the asymmetric nature of its response to Hamas’s attack. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, neatly captured his country’s dilemma: “We use missiles to protect civilians; Hamas use civilians to protect their missiles.”

Hamas is a kind of Palestinian version of the bloodthirsty al-Qaeda spinoff ISIS. The same anti-Western radical-Islamic nihilism animates Hamas combatants. In a highly illuminating article, Major-General Ed Fitch, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces from 1966–2009, explains the challenges faced by Israel: “Counter-terrorism has reached a level of complexity, speed, and moral dilemmas the likes of which were unimaginable a century ago. Post-9/11, Western forces operate in highly complex environments, with plain-clothed terrorists embedding themselves among and exploiting their civilian populations.”

The inner workings of Hamas will likely never allow it to internalize—and respond with radically changed behavior to — former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir’s famous comment in 1957 to the National Press Club in Washington: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”

Where does Israel go from here? Israel will continue to use its military prowess in the region to retain its deterrence strategy against Hamas and that group’s mirror image in Lebanon—the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

Mini-wars and full-blown wars will likely continue with Hamas in the future. Netanyahu has thus far carefully calibrated Israel’s counter-attacks. He has avoided a large-scale Israeli boots-on-the-ground operation in Gaza. But he might, just might, be compelled to send in ground troops because of Hamas’s embrace of self-murder for its civilians by using them as human shields.

If the Palestinians in Gaza decide to free themselves from Hamas, the chances for stability on Israel’s southern border (and in the Gaza Strip) will increase dramatically.

Compounding the enormously complex challenges that Israel—the Middle East’s only flourishing democracy — faces is America’s recoiling from engaging in the region.  

My FDD colleague Jonathan Schanzer outlined in Politico today the mushrooming problems for Israel and U.S. allies in the Middle East. He noted, “U.S. credibility took a nose dive after President Obama’s Syria ‘red line’ reversal last September—and it plummeted further in May as Kerry’s ill-timed attempt to broker a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israelis predictably collapsed.”

Where the U.S before held together a certain balance in the region, the vacuum has now been filled by the world’s leading authoritarian and totalitarian regimes and movements: Iran, Russia, ISIS, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

— Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal.