Thursday, June 01, 2023

TEL AVIV—After nearly three weeks of fight­ing…it is time to revisit some basic assumptions about Hamas. Until now, Israel assumed Hamas was the “devil we know,” capable of attacks that were mostly a nuisance; accepting its rule over the Gaza Strip was preferable to risking a vac­uum of governance like what we see in Somalia and Libya. But Hamas’s reckless violence in the current round of fighting severely undermined this thinking.

First, Hamas has proved a bad ruler. By plac­ing many of its military assets—tunnels to in­filtrate Israel, bunkers for its fighters, rocket launchers to terrorize Israeli civilians—under or among mosques, hospitals and schools, Hamas turned Gaza’s civilians into a shield for its mili­tary assets, in effect daring Israel to attack them. Then it cynically turned the predictable casual­ties that ensued into propaganda, and reject­ed cease-fire proposals, notably an Egyptian plan accepted by Israel, the Arab League and the international community. Last week, Mo­hammed al-Arabi, a former Egyptian foreign minister, accused it of “shedding the blood of in­nocent Palestinians.”

The latest round of warfare showed that Hamas had become more dangerous, and its offensive capacity stronger, than we had known. Its ability to threaten Israeli towns through its tunnels and to rain rockets on Israeli cities raised what had been a nui­sance to a challenge of strategic propor­tions.

For these reasons, Hamas’s rule over Gaza must be brought to an end, its military wing dis­armed, and Gaza’s people given the chance to elect new leaders.

This can be done in three stages:

First, Israel has every right to intensify its campaign until Hamas’s leaders agree to a cease-fire. Israel’s forces must step up the pressure on Hamas, so that its leaders feel the encirclement tightening. (So far, Israel’s incursion has destroyed more than two doz­en offensive tunnels, reduced rocket fire at Israeli civilians and collected important in­telligence.) Second, any cease-fire must car­ry the condition that Hamas cannot rearm. Third, the Palestinian Authority must regain a share of power in Gaza, so that new elec­tions can be held.

These measures could clear the way for Gaza’s reopening to the world, so that its peo­ple could at last prosper in peace.

All of this can be achieved because of a fundamental change in Middle East politics: For perhaps the first time, there is a true convergence of interest among Egypt, Sau­di Arabia, the Palestinian Authority and Is­rael in limiting the spread of Islamist ex­tremism.

Remember that it was the Palestini­an Authority, not Hamas, that governed Gaza following Israel’s complete with­drawal from the territory in 2005. After a di­visive election a year later, Hamas seized sole power in Gaza in 2007. For an endur­ing peace, Israel should quietly promote a resumption of control in Gaza by the Pal­estinian unity government, with interna­tional support. If Israel succeeds in tying a cease-fire to an immutable ban on rearma­ment by Hamas, government by a unified leadership of technocrats— as the Palestin­ian Authority and Hamas agreed to on July 3—should be encouraged for Gaza.

Such a government could, at minimum, govern the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, and provide basic rule of law. With continued support from Arab coun­tries, this would allow for more economic growth in Gaza and for a gradual lifting of the Israeli- Egyptian blockades. It could even open the way for a long-term, post-con­flict “Marshall Plan” for Gaza, led by moder­ate Arab states and supported by Israel.

Unrealistic? Perhaps. But the alterna­tive—continued rule by Hamas, with its propensity for periodic warfare against Is­raeli civilians—is far worse. Would an un­governed Gaza be able to produce and launch thousands of rockets that could cov­er the length of Israel? We can’t be certain. Similarly dire predictions of Israeli vulner­ability to jihadist “tidal waves” from Syria and from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula have been proved wrong in the past. The original sin that led to this outbreak was a willingness, in previous cease-fire agreements, to let Ha­mas rebuild its offensive capabilities. This reality must not be repeated.

Before this round of fighting, Hamas had been weakened by two years of politi­cal and economic setbacks for its support­ers in the Middle East. It had to leave its base in Syria because of the civil war there. Its Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egypt were ousted. Its popularity among Palestin­ians was declining. A June poll showed that 70 percent of Gazans wanted to continue the cease-fire with Israel then in effect; 57 percent wanted the newly established unity government with Fatah, the Palestinian par­ty that governs the West Bank, to renounce violence against Israel; 65 percent said the Palestinian Authority should send officials to administer Gaza.

Opinions have no doubt changed, giv­en the heat of battle and the anguish of Pal­estinians over the hundreds of civilian cas­ualties. But Gazans know that Hamas is to blame for their staying in neighborhoods about to be bombarded, for hiding rock­et depots in their children’s schoolyards, for digging tunnels under mosques. Gazans may hate Israelis, but I suspect that a simi­lar poll, if taken today, would show even less support for Hamas than in June.

Israeli military officials know there is no simple solution—but that a political solu­tion is always better than a military one. But to achieve that political solution, Israel must first arrive at cease-fire negotiations from a position of strength. For that, a significant price must be extracted from Hamas.

Amos Yadlin, the chief of Israeli military intelligence from 2006 to 2010, is director of the Institute for Na­tional Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. A version of this op-ed appears in print on July 26, 2014, on page A21 of the New York Times. The Institute for National Security Studies launches and engages in innovative, relevant, high-quality research that shapes the public discourse of issues on Israel’s national security agenda, and provides policy analysis and recommendations to decision makers, public leaders, and the strategic com­munity, both in Israel and abroad. Visit http://www. inss.org.il/

By Amos Yadlin /www.inss.org.il (reprintedwithpermissionfromINSS. Thisarticleappeared firstinthe InternationalEditionoftheNew York Times)

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