Can Hamas win militarily against Israel? Of course not, and while Hamas’ leaders are certifiably bad men, they are not obviously stupid. But their aim isn’t to win, it’s to be relevant in the modern Middle East.
Look at what’s happening in Gaza from Hamas’ perspective. If you don’t care about human life, governance, or infrastructure – and that was manifest well before the outbreak of current hostilities – then Hamas’ decision to launch a war on Israel might look like a winner. Think about it this way: Hamas split from Iran and Syria after Bashar al Assad began killing his own people with abandon. A period of coolness between Hamas and Tehran, once an ardent sponsor, began. The Iranian leadership didn’t appreciate Hamas’ moralizing over Assad. That meant finding a new political sponsor; Iran was still ok with arming the Palestinian terrorist group. Et voila, a new sponsor has emerged in Cairo. Turkey too. And Qatar, which had been there all along, but quietly.
Now let’s look at Egypt. We can spare a little pity for Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s new president. Sure, Hamas is an offspring of the Brotherhood that now governs, and we should have little doubt that Morsi and all his Brotherhood, er, brothers would love to join in and rain missiles on the Zionist enemy. But… he can’t do it. He can lend rhetorical support, but even there, not so much. Because the Brotherhood is now dancing to the tune of international donors, the US among them. And so he must choose between governing an Egypt in economic collapse responsibly or going with his heart. And unless he’s crazy, the heart’s going to have to lose.
What about Turkey? At the head of the vast realignment of the Sunni Arab world away from secular dictators toward an Islamist model, Turkey has been playing hardball with Israel for some time. Surely the Turks will champion Hamas and Gaza? Not so fast. Like Morsi, we have a good idea where Turkish leader Erdogan’s heart is. But he’s busy with the Syrian war on his border and isn’t going to do much for Hamas other than send love and kisses.
Then Qatar. Qatar has always been the loose woman of the Middle East. Flirting with Iran. Flirting with the US. Flirting with Israel. Flirting with Hamas. The problem for Hamas? You can never count on women like that for sustained support or lots of cash.
Circling back to Hamas and how this could have looked like a good moment to start a war with Israel… On second thought, bad idea.
A few more footnotes to think about: Many believe this war began because Hamas thought a) the new Middle East order would be congenial; and b) because Fatah, which leads the other Palestinian government in the West Bank, was getting an unfair share of attention with its bid for Palestinian recognition at the United Nations.
So what’s going to happen next? Israel has called up tens of thousands of reserves; a ground incursion into Gaza looks likely. Many more Palestinians will perish. And the vanguard of the new Sunni order? They’re going to betray the Palestinians of Gaza, because they always do. Worse still, all those angry and impotent members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference are going to head for the United Nations and support Fatah’s foolhardy quest for recognition.
Cui bono? No one. And what of Barack Obama? That’s another story for later today.