David Rose

Hamas is getting dangerously close to achieving its war aims

Wednesday’s chaos inside and outside Parliament shows the terror group is winning the global propaganda war


Demonstrators wave Palestinian flags and hold placards as they protest in Parliament Square in London on February 21, 2024 (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

February 23, 2024 16:42

Wednesday’s chaotic scenes in the House of Commons during the debate on a Gaza ceasefire were something of a landmark. The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, may yet be forced to resign over his decision to breach normal protocol by allowing a debate on a Labour amendment to a motion moved by another opposition party, the SNP.

The reason he advanced for doing so, the threats being made to MPs, is deeply worrying. Remember that while the debate was in progress, a mob was calling for Israel’s destruction and projecting the infamous “river to the sea” slogan on to the tower that houses Big Ben.

However, there is a third aspect to these events that has greater long-term significance. They were part of a broader pattern now being seen internationally: the ebbing of support for Israel.

The Labour ceasefire motion that passed, unlike the SNP’s, did at least recognise that Hamas must stop fighting too, condemned its terrorist acts and did not include the claim that Israel is inflicting collective punishment, which would constitute a war crime.

But little by little, the pressure on the government of Benjamin Netanyahu is ratcheting up. Labour, the British government, Prince William and the Biden administration all want a lasting ceasefire, although they may use slightly differing language, and a swift resumption of long-stalled final status peace talks. I don’t need to remind you that Netanyahu does not share these objectives.

In this context, it’s useful to consider questions that have been too seldom posed: what did Hamas want when it launched this war – and how close is it to achieving it?

I’ve already written in this space that it seemed clear to me on October 7 that Israel would respond by launching an all-out assault on Hamas, and that the days of small-scale wars that lasted for a few weeks were over. By directing mass murder, hostage-taking and organised sexual violence on such a scale, the Hamas leadership must have realised that Israel’s military response would bring inevitable consequences: the deaths of many thousands of Palestinians, both fighters and civilians, along with the reduction of much of the Gaza Strip to rubble.

Yet while Hamas is a fanatical, jihadist death cult, its leaders are not irrational. Since it is impossible to see how Israel could have responded differently, we must assume that these outcomes were exactly what Hamas wanted. Why would a terrorist group with a secure grip on power seek to have its enemy inflict death and destruction on such a scale? In my opinion, it had four principal objectives.

The first Hamas war aim was to explode the often-stated claim that Israel is “the world’s safest country” for Jews. Of course, Israel has always faced security threats, yet it seemed to me on the numerous visits I made before October 2023 that its relative success in dealing with them had only increased Israelis’ confidence and exuberant creativity.

However, on my visit last month, I found a country that was traumatised, and in deep shock. The result is that Israelis no longer feel safe at all. The internal wounds inflicted by last year’s attempted judicial reforms have been healed, but unity has come at a staggering price. Israelis are determined, but it isn’t going to be easy for them to put their fears aside. This Hamas war aim has been achieved.

The terror group’s second aim was to make a lasting, stable peace between Israel and the Palestinians impossible. Of course, the immediate trigger for the attacks was the likelihood that Saudi Arabia would soon sign up to a version of the Abraham Accords and become Israel’s partner. Needless to say, Hamas’s sponsor, Iran, regarded this as an outcome that threatened its interests.

Less often noted is that this “normalisation” was being echoed at local level. In the West Bank, Palestinians and Israelis, including those living in settlements, had been developing mutually beneficial economic and social relationships. In Gaza, the number of permits issued to Palestinians who crossed the border to commute to work was steadily being increased: as of October 7, it stood at 18,000. Some of these workers supplied the terrorists with intelligence that facilitated the attacks, and the enormity of this betrayal of trust has done incalculable damage, rendering talks of the kind being demanded by Biden and David Cameron currently impossible for Israelis to contemplate.

Meanwhile, the scale of the casualties that Hamas must have foreseen make the trust required to build peace just as difficult for Palestinians. In the period 1999 - 2008, first Yasser Arafat and then Mahmoud Abbas rejected generous Israeli peace offers because they feared that if they accepted them, they would face fierce internal opposition and might well be assassinated. After a war as bloody and destructive as that now being waged in Gaza, building an internal consensus for peace would be an even greater challenge for any Palestinian leadership. Here too, Hamas has got what it sought.

The third Hamas war aim is something the JC has to deal with day after day: the surge in antisemitism in the diaspora. Hamas knew from previous rounds of the conflict that whenever hostilities escalate between Israel and Gaza, diaspora Jews come under attack. It is truly depressing to be constantly reporting the myriad expressions of Jew-hatred, on the streets and in institutions including universities, mosques, trade unions and the professions. The situation is as bad or worse in the United States. This Hamas war aim has also been achieved.

This brings us back to the House of Commons and the broader pressure being brought to bear on Israel – and Hamas’s fourth war aim: to isolate the Jewish state internationally.

This hasn’t yet been fully achieved, and its realisation can still be avoided. But beyond the calls for a ceasefire and the demand that the IDF does not launch a major operation in Rafah, the pressure on Israel to try to make a lasting peace is increasing at precisely the time – see above - when the prospects of a settlement are more distant than ever.

It is no surprise that Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s UK ambassador Tzipi Hotovely and others have said they cannot support the elusive “two state solution”. But we need to be aware that if there are not one day to be two states, that means there will be only one, in which Palestinians would not have the same rights as Israelis.

In the eyes of many in the West, a long-term refusal by Israel to enter final status peace talks would be seen as evidence that that it really does practise “apartheid”. It remains to be seen how far this will gain further traction. But it is a pitfall of which Israel’s friends need to be aware – and it also represents a key Hamas objective.

February 23, 2024 16:42

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