How Hamas expects to defeat Israel

Hamas knows it cannot defeat Israel, so why does it launch seven rockets into Jerusalem knowing that Israel will retaliate?

The answer lies in the notion of asymmetric warfare or insurgency — a phenomenon heavily studied in military academies and universities, but largely misunderstood outside the groves of academia.  

Conventional warfare is about capturing land and inflicting massive losses on the enemy.  Victory is achieved by the accumulation of decisive battles and with them more territory.  Conventional battles result in the infliction of human losses on the enemy to the point where soldiers cannot be replaced by the next age cohort.  Witness Nazi Germany sending old men and boys into the field toward the end of World War II.

For the insurgent, neither holding land nor engaging in large-scale battles is relevant.  Only one commodity is of concern: time.  Whether the peasant wars of Southeast Asia, Vietnam, and China or the insurgencies against dictators in Cuba and Central America, for the insurgent, time is the most precious of commodities and, for counter-insurgency, the most misunderstood.

The insurgent seeks to draw the enemy into a protracted fight of attrition.  The insurgent dismisses winning or losing a single battle as irrelevant.  What truly matters is that the insurgent has inflicted damage on the enemy and that the insurgent lives to fight another day.

With rare exceptions (Cuba and Nicaragua), insurgents fighting an indigenous enemy need to evolve to the point where they can fight conventional warfare.  Vietnam — one of the West's most misunderstood insurgencies — did not fall to the Viet Cong.

The Tet Offensive was one of the greatest military disasters in the history of warfare — for the Viet Cong.  Its losses were so dramatic that it never again operated as a meaningful military force.  Its role was superseded by the North Vietnamese Army.  Only on the American televised media did Tet become a loss for America.

Mao's insurgency in China ended when the Chinese communists were able to fight conventional battles, as the Vietnamese also ultimately did.  

So what does this say about Hamas?

Hamas cannot destroy Israel.  It has no air force and no navy.  Even with armaments from its Iranian sponsor, it lacks Israel's demonstrable qualitative military edge.  In contrast to most insurgencies, it does not swim in the sea of a peasant people distributed over mountainous terrain and jungle.  Hamas is bottled up in one of the most densely populated areas in the Middle East.

Its infrastructure is well known to the Israelis, as witnessed by Israel's devastating toll on Hamas's tunnels and buildings.  Moreover, unlike most insurgencies, which took place against a foreign regime, the Israelis are not — contrary to propaganda — a foreign power.  In contrast to the French and British, the Israelis are not going to pack up their tents and leave.  As Golda Meir once said, Israel's great advantage is that it has no place to go.

With the shifting sands of alliances in the Middle East, no foreign power, except Iran, is likely to come to Hamas's aid, and Iran in Gaza would precipitate a major war, not just with Israel, for it would threaten the balance of power in the entire region.

So, apart from a cycle of war punctuated by a temporary cessation of hostilities, with Gaza taking on the appearance of Berlin in 1945 and Israel mourning its innocent dead — Arabs and Jews — what does Hamas hope to achieve?

The answer resides in its eschatology.  We in the secular West do not comprehend motivations driven by faith.  For believers, especially non-Western believers, religious eschatology is not imminent.  To have faith is to have patience.  The revelation will occur.  It is preordained.  The expectation is that it will be revealed in its own time.  One must prepare for it, but one cannot hasten it.

So Hamas inflicts misery and attrition on Israel as it stands ready to embrace the time when holy land that once belonged to Islam will be returned to Islam.  That is inherent in fundamentalist Islam.  All land that was once Muslim will once again be Muslim.  There is no compromise with this principle.

Hamas can depend on the Western powers to rebuild Gaza and on Iran to restock its weapons.  Its propaganda mill will feed pictures of women and children who fell victims to Israeli airstrikes to a Western media establishment that gorges itself on sensationalism and dramatic visuals and is predisposed to see the people of Gaza as victims of Israel and not of Hamas's instigation by firing rockets into Jerusalem.  

With naïve Western assistance, Hamas has bought the strongest of insurgency commodities: time.  It lives to fight another day and to await the fulfillment of an eschatology that guarantees the return of sacred land.  We in the West should comprehend that there is no way to placate a fundamentalist faith.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.

Image via Max Pixel.

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