January 3, 2008
Khaled Hroub, author of several books on Hamas, including Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide, talked with Al Jazeera about Hamas and why he believes the IDF ground invasion — now underway — will be a failure.
|“Mixing an organized political movement with decentralized armed cells employing adaptive tactics in ungoverned zones, Hezbollah affirms an emerging trend. Highly disciplined, well trained, distributed cells can contest modern conventional forces with an admixture of guerrilla tactics and technology in densely packed urban centers.”|
Hroub believes Israel’s much trumpeted assassination of Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, co-founder of Hamas, and Ahmed Yassin, the the spiritual leader of Hamas, does not effectively weaken the organization. This is likely the case as well with the recent assassination of Nizar Rayyan, a senior Hamas leader. “I can’t see Hamas being weakened by killing one or two or three or even more leaders in the Gaza Strip,” said Hroub. “Hamas’ leaders are very used to hiding and escaping Israeli attacks. I can’t see this affecting Hamas much.”
Hamas’ strength, according to the expert, is derived from its broad social and political base in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Its leadership is decentralized between Gaza, the West Bank, and beyond. “This kind of power of decentralization of Hamas makes the whole movement stronger in terms of not caging the leadership in one single area, and because of this they keep producing leaders from the third and second rankings to the highest echelons of the movement,” the author explains.
Israel will fail to break the back of Hamas by targeting its leadership. It appears Hamas has taken a few lessons from Lebanon’s Hezbollah in this regard. “Hezbollah uses a decentralized command structure that allows its subordinate leaders to exercise a high degree of initiative on the battlefield,” notes the Middle East Strategy at Harvard. “Similarly, if other guerrilla groups successfully emulate Hezbollah’s model, they too will be much more difficult adversaries on the battlefield.”
“The amorphous Hezbollah, led by Hassan Nasrallah represents a rising threat,” explains Frank Hoffman, a retired Marine infantry officer and a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, George Mason University, and the U.S. Naval War College. “Mixing an organized political movement with decentralized armed cells employing adaptive tactics in ungoverned zones, Hezbollah affirms an emerging trend. Highly disciplined, well trained, distributed cells can contest modern conventional forces with an admixture of guerrilla tactics and technology in densely packed urban centers.”
It appears Hamas has adopted this new posture and is anxious to confront the IDF on the ground on its own terrain. In Syria, Hamas leader-in-exile, Khaled Meshaal, warned Israel that it would face a “black destiny” if it launched a ground offensive on Gaza. “Speaking publicly for the first time since Israeli air strikes started a week ago, he said Hamas resistance and infrastructure were intact,” the BBC reports.
“I can’t see any success, strategically speaking, on the side of the Israeli aggression,” Mr. Hroub continues. “That is because Israel declared that their one main objective is to disarm Hamas and stop rockets from being launched from the Gaza Strip. Even after one month of this aggression, if one single rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip this means the whole Israeli strategy has failed.”
Hroub says the Israeli ground offensive, now underway, will not accomplish its objectives. “If any land incursion takes place into the Gaza Strip, I think this makes the whole Israeli strategy even more difficult. Everybody knows that Hamas is well-entrenched now in the Gaza Strip because they have a network of tunnels — they hide very well. And maybe even they hope that at one point this Israeli land invasion takes place so that they can deal the Israeli army some strong defensive attacks.”
Israel understands the importance of Hamas’ tunnel system and has attempted to destroy it. “Israel has bombed supply tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip in a second day of intense air raids aimed at forcing Hamas militants to halt rocket fire,” the BBC reported on December 28. “A major tunnel bringing fuel into Gaza from Egypt was among three destroyed, Palestinians say. But Israel says its jets bombed more than 40 tunnels.”
“One can tell of so many lessons Hamas has learned from the experience of Hezbollah in the summer of 2006,” Khaled Hroub continues. “First of all, this tunnel strategy that has taken place in the Gaza Strip, secondly even the sloganeering and rhetoric — rather than producing threats that they can’t match, what they are doing and what they are saying is something they can achieve.”
Hroub told Al Jazeera that Hamas’ “unseen and unknown capabilities within the Gaza Strip” have made Israel reluctant to launch a ground invasion. Obviously, Israel’s military establishment has swept these considerations aside, as it did when Israel invaded Lebanon, suffering a defeat at the hands of Hezbollah. In that campaign, Israel failed in its stated objective — to destroy Hezbollah and eliminate its arsenal or rockets.
“In my view, Hamas will most likely emerge victorious out of this because on the one hand, it’s akin to impossible to eradicate Hamas from the Gaza Strip,” notes Hroub. “I can’t imagine any way of finishing this movement in the Gaza Strip. Even if it was finished, what we’d end up with is a more radical Palestinian organization, an al-Qaeda-like organization coming out of the rubble of Hamas’s destruction.”
Israel wants to impose “a clean and quiet occupation like they achieved in the West Bank,” but this now impossible in Gaza, especially with Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians. In the Gaza Strip, the radicalization of the Palestinians is especially acute after months of an imposed blockade on food and medical supplies compounding decades of iron-fisted occupation.
According to Hroub, the developing war in Gaza is partly designed to restore the invincibility image of Israel, an image badly tarnished during the invasion of Lebanon in 2006. “So it’s a war of image on the side of the Israeli army, their image was destroyed in summer 2006 and now they want to restore that image and that name.”
If Hamas has indeed adopted the tactics of Hezbollah, this restoration of image may be impossible. It appears Israel will be forced to eventually negotiate with Hamas, an organization elected as the representative of the Palestinians.