Hamas in Gaza — down but not out

Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab, is the West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post. He has written what looks like a balanced assessment of the impact of Israel’s assault, to date, on Hamas’ regime in Gaza.

On the minus side, he finds no evidence that the regime is even close to collapsing. In addition, although Hamas has probably lost several hundred fighters with another 2,500 or so wounded, the terrorist outfit is believed to have more than 25,000 militiamen and policemen in the Gaza Strip.

Furthermore, “hopes that the massive IDF operation would encourage Palestinians to revolt against a weakened Hamas have not materialized.” Indeed, it may be the case that the offensive has boosted the popularity of Hamas in Gaza.

On the other hand, Hamas “has lost all its government installations in the Gaza Strip, including police and security facilities, military training centers and ministry buildings.” And, because virtually the entire Hamas leadership in Gaza, including the Prime Minister, has gone into hiding out of concern for their personal safety, their prestige has been “severely undermined.” The same leaders who last month were mocking Israel for its lack of response to rocket attacks are themselves being mocked by some in Gaza now.

Finally, Israel may have succeeded in driving a wedge between the Hamas regime in Gaza and Hamas in Syria. The Gaza branch reportedly would like a cease fire in order to end the pounding. But the Syria branch, along with the Iranians, oppose the Egyptian cease fire plan. The Syrians and the Iranians are upset that Hamas in Gaza is looking for a way out; Hamas in Gaza is upset that the Syrians and the Iranians have not provided more material support. As a Hamas representative in Gaza City put it, “We feel that our brothers in Teheran and Damascus have betrayed us, as have the rest of the Arab and Islamic governments.”

If Hamas in Gaza survives, as seems probable, perhaps it will take this feeling of betrayal into account in its future approach to Israel. The Palestinians in Gaza are essentially alone and, as such, in no position to take on Israel.

As the pounding continues and perhaps intensifies, Hamas will have the opportunity to internalize the unpleasant lessons of the past weeks. If it does not take advantage of this opportunity once the hostilities end, Israel will be compelled to return. Nothing that’s happened this time is likely to deter Israel from doing so.

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