Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hamas Reascendant

“Brothers and sisters, we will not be satisfied with Gaza. Hamas looks toward the whole of Palestine.”

So said Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh on Monday as he addressed a rally in Gaza City to mark the 22nd anniversary of Hamas’s founding as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

As one report describes it,

“Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters thronged downtown Gaza City…. Gaza was decked out in Islamic green, with Hamas flags fluttering from roofs, lampposts and cars. Some parents dressed small children in combat fatigues and green Hamas headbands.

“The crowd packed an outdoor square where a huge banner draped over the wall of a building showed a picture of Jerusalem’s main Islamic shrine and photos of senior Hamas figures.

“Leaders made fiery speeches, bands played and scout troops marched in processions….”

At a time when both the United States and the European Union treat Palestinian statehood as one of the cardinal goals of international politics, seemingly these lines are worth pausing over.

When one speaks of “the Palestinians”—the allegedly deprived group that receives more attention and assistance than all others—one is speaking in large part of supporters of an Islamic-fundamentalist movement whose proclaimed goal is the destruction of Israel pure and simple. The people willing to “dress small children in combat fatigues and green Hamas headbands” are—in considerable part—“the Palestinians.”

Hamas also reportedly released a statement on Monday that said it was still willing to reconcile with the rival Fatah movement, and that abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit would not be freed until Israel acceded to all of Hamas’s demands for the freeing of major terrorists.

Is Hamas’s confidence and bravado justified? According to the Israel Defense Forces, the answer is, yes. The IDF believes that “a new round with Hamas could be just around the corner” and that “this future conflict will be far different than its predecessor, and likely more lethal.”

With the rocket and mortar fire from Gaza having, indeed, gone way down since Israel’s war on Hamas last December and January—from about 3,000 rockets and mortars in all of 2008 to about one-tenth that number so far this year—why the pessimism?

One reason is that since that time Hamas has been engaging in an “unprecedented rearmament process.” Despite all the talk after the war about a concerted international effort to stop the smuggling into Gaza, Hamas has actually increased the smuggling and brought in long-range Iranian missiles, advanced Russian-made antitank missiles, and much else.

But apart from all that brawn, Hamas is also applying brains. Next time around it

“plans to use more civilian infrastructure; for example, the group has already taken control of over 80 percent of Gaza’s mosques, which it uses to store weapons and shelter command-and-control centers.

“Hamas believes it can overcome Israel’s qualitative edge by either forcing the IDF to penetrate deep into the residential areas to target its command centers and bases that are being ‘padded’ with civilians, or by provoking the IAF to attack by air, an act which runs the risk of major international condemnation.”

You could call it the Goldstone effect. Hamas knows that since last winter’s war, the side that has come in for moral censure—epitomized by the UN Human Rights Council’s Goldstone Report that accused the Jewish state of war crimes on the basis of spoon-fed Hamas propaganda—is Israel. The side that turns places of worship into weapons storerooms, uses civilians as military fodder, and dresses up children as holy warriors is, after all, “the Palestinians.”

On the military side, the IDF is reportedly “preparing accordingly and…already training its forces based on future operational models. To date, several brigade-level exercises have been held.” On the moral side, Israel knows it will face the usual uphill struggle to establish that it has the right to defend itself.


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