Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Will Hamas Choose War?

by Elliott Abrams
July 4, 2014


As the United States enters the July Fourth weekend, the Hamas leadership in Gaza faces a difficult and potentially important decision.

The last couple of years have hurt Hamas. The level of support it receives from Iran has declined, so it is short of cash. The Egyptian Army has closed the smuggling tunnels between Sinai and Gaza, further hurting the Gaza economy and Hamas’s tax revenues. The kidnappings in the West Bank last month turned into a disaster for Hamas: instead of having captives to trade for Israeli prisoners, Hamas was condemned universally for the crimes and suffered severe blows to its organization in both the West Bank and Gaza.

In response Hamas has started attacking Israel with rockets and missiles, something it had kept to a minimum and had prevented other terrorist groups from doing. Indeed the weeks when Israeli troops were searching desperately for the three young kidnap victims was precisely the moment when Hamas rocket attacks began to increase each day. Israel has now warned Hamas that the rockets must stop this weekend–or there will be a severe Israeli response. For Hamas, each option has costs and benefits. An Israeli attack could deprive Hamas of most of its stores of rockets and missiles, which are harder to replace now that the tunnels are largely closed. And at least some of the Hamas high command would likely fall to Israeli targeted attacks.

But for Hamas there is, we must be aware, an “up side” for provoking an Israeli response. Once again Hamas would play the victim, and the condemnations of last month for the kidnappings and murders of three Israeli teens would quickly turn into cries of solidarity with the poor targets of Israeli assaults. This is the dynamic that produced the wretched “Goldstone Report” of 2009. The Arab League and the EU –and the White House– would start demanding Israeli “restraint” (indeed they already are), and more important for Hamas it would once again have support in the Palestinian “street.”

As of now, Israel has threatened Hamas but held back–sending clear messages that the rocketing must end. Hamas knows the price it will pay (and it seems unconcerned about the price the Gazan economy will pay), but the terrorist group’s own interests may lead it to keep going and ensure an Israeli attack. Portrayals on Al Jazeera of damage to people or structures in Gaza (where Hamas can easily pose fraudulent cameos of children, hospitals, schools under attack) to elicit the world’s pity, pictures of damage in Israel to stir the blood of their own terrorist ranks–the Hamas high command may be unable to resist. In which case Israel’s messages asking for restraint will be ignored, and next week will be a time of war.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Tyler P. Harwell

    Good question. Here is another. Will the leaders of Israel oblige them ? They may be sorely tempted to reinvade Gaza in order to deliver a knock out blow and clean the place up for the last time.

    The Egyptians would go along with that. But sad to say, Gaza is a minor problem compared to the troubles now brewing for Israel to its north. Recently, a retired Israeli general has been quoted as saying that another war with Hezbollah is a matter of when, not if. That is a prospect that poses real danger for Israel.

    I am persuaded by your argument. But if Israel were to invade Gaza, as it now shows signs of preparing to do, it may advance the time table for its day of reckoning with Hezbollah.

    Now is not the time for that. Never would be a good time for it. Let us hope and pray that both Hamas and Israel come to the realization that their enmity and the violence that goes along with can do nothing good for any of their citizens and members.


  • Posted by Frank Adam

    So far Israel has allowed a lot of supplies into Gaza or it would have starved a long time ago. Ask what happens if Israel is now avoids photogenic retaliation but turns off the electricity and water to destabilise Hamas for which the PA in general and Gaza in particular has not paid the full bill.
    More importantly the Fourth Geneva Convention is against forcible population movements but the US and many others are built on voluntary population movements.
    Also consider the equally hypocritical whinges about “collective punishment” as if Gaza rockets and Arab kidnappings -which go back to British Mandate times – are not collective punishments?

  • Posted by EMT

    The Hamas is in a desperate position because the Iranians no longer send supplies, and Egypt closed all the access tunnels from the Sinai, while Israel is blocking the access from the sea. It is now pounding Israel with rockets to provoke an Israeli retaliation attack, so that it may attract the pity of some Arabs countries and maybe the Palestinians and convince them to come to its rescue. As usual Hamas tries to activate the Israeli Arab street to create as much disturbance as possible. In any event, it is not in Hamas’s interest to wish for war, but it is counting on the Arab masses and maybe on any other organization like the Hezbollah to save it. Major Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have declared that they are not going to help Hamas. Maybe Hamas is counting on the United States, as they are eager to unite the Hamas with the Palestinian Authority to make a so-called peace with Israel. But it is clear that the time is not ripe for peace. Now Israel has no interest to start another negotiation after the debacle of the last round .

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