December 12, 2008.
The crisis in Gaza is related to the fundamental problem Hamas has faced since
it took power in Gaza: It is very difficult to rule over a territory
simultaneously as a resistance group and as a political party. Each ambition
interferes with the other, and for Hamas, resistance has always been the
The cease-fire with Israel required Hamas to stop its
offensive, which it only did partially – throughout the calm there were sporadic
mortar and rocket attacks on Israel – and to cease weapons smuggling and
negotiate the release of Gilad Shalit.
The first requirement was workable
because it took external pressure off Hamas, allowing it to focus on solidifying
its control over Gaza. But the latter two were tantamount to Hamas repudiating
the reason for its existence and the ideological platform on which it rose to
For Hamas, the absence of open conflict could not continue for long, because
living conditions in Gaza have been worsening and Hamas has never been
interested in or capable of governing outside the context of war. At various
times over the past six months, Hamas attacked transfer points between Israel
and Gaza. This was done in order to force their closure and exacerbate the food
and fuel shortages that encourage the narrative, so popular in international
quarters and among journalists covering the crisis, of Gaza’s victimization not
at Hamas’ hands, but at Israel’s.
The cultivation of this narrative is doubly
useful, because victimhood also justifies resuming open war against Israel.
The paradoxical bottom line for Hamas is that crisis, both humanitarian and
military, is necessary for legitimacy and survival. So far, Hamas has survived
on this razor’s edge. Should an Israeli invasion or major air campaign seem
likely, Hamas will probably accede quickly to another hudna. Israel should not
take the bait. Instead, a sustained campaign of targeted killings of Hamas
leaders and the destruction of Hamas assets, such as smuggling tunnels, should
The national elections in Israel (among other reasons) make this
a bad time to commence a ground campaign. If the IDF can make Hamas fear for its
ability to maintain institutional cohesion and governing power while limiting
civilian casualties – dead Gazans are a major international lifeline for Hamas –
Israel could push Hamas into a position in which it would either have to resume
the hudna on unfavorable, even humiliating, terms, or go down in a blaze of
This is a dilemma Hamas hopes it won’t have to face.