Evelyn Gordon

Analysis from Israel

It’s not every day that an organization feels compelled to insist it’s truly nothing like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Why Hamas leader Khaled Meshal felt this need is a mystery: He’s in no danger from the global anti-Israel crowd, which takes great care to avoid any information that might challenge its preconceived notions, whereas anyone who knows anything about Hamas knows the disclaimer is ridiculous. Still, since he raised the subject, it’s worth examining some of the common fallacies Meshal’s distinction relies on.

ISIS seeks a global caliphate, while Hamas just wants to end the Israeli “occupation.” Actually, Hamas also seeks a global caliphate, as its own interior minister, Fathi Hammad, reiterated on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV last November:

We shall liberate our Al-Aqsa Mosque, and our cities and villages, as a prelude to the establishment of the future Islamic Caliphate … we are at the threshold of a global Islamic civilization era. The fuel and spearhead of this era will be Gaza.”

Indeed, Hamas’s charter explicitly terms the movement a “universal” one and declares that Islam must ultimately regain “all lands conquered by Islam by force” in the past. It’s just that every global caliphate has to start somewhere, and Hamas started with Israel, whereas ISIS chose Syria and Iraq. This might prove that ISIS is shrewder; starting with a weaker enemy enabled it to progress much faster. But it doesn’t change the fact that the goal is the same.

ISIS kills “anyone who gets in their way: Sunnis, Shia Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Iraqis, Syrians,” while Hamas only kills Israelis. Actually, Hamas also kills anyone who gets in its way. That includes Palestinian civilians who dare to protest its decisions or belong to its main rival, Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party; its more memorable murder methods include throwing Fatah members off rooftops. It also includes Egyptians: According to Cairo, Hamas has cooperated with local terrorists on several attacks in Sinai; Egypt even sought to extradite three senior Hamas operatives for involvement in an August 2012 attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers.

Granted, ISIS has greater opportunities: It controls a huge territory seized from two collapsed states, Iraq and Syria, whereas Hamas is boxed in by two functioning states, Israel and Egypt. But within the limits of its opportunities, Hamas has been no less enthusiastic about killing “anyone who gets in their way.”

ISIS is exceptionally brutal; witness the snuff film it disseminated after executing journalist James Foley. I particularly like this claim, given that Hamas promptly followed suit with its own snuff films showing the executions of no fewer than 25 fellow Palestinians, including two women. A few weeks earlier, Hamas executed over 30 fellow Palestinians. Of course, Hamas claims all were collaborators with Israel, but it offered no evidence. Thus as the pro-Palestinian Amira Hass delicately put it in Haaretz, these executions primarily appeared to be a warning to the Gazan public “to be careful in anything it says and does” that might upset Hamas, because “The definition of ‘informing’ and ‘collaboration’ can become very murky in times of war.”

But Hamas brutality doesn’t stop at executions. How depraved do you have to be, for instance, to shell a border crossing while your own wounded civilians are passing through it, as Hamas did on Sunday, hitting four Arabs waiting on the Israeli side to drive them to the hospital? Meshal risibly claimed on Saturday that if Hamas had more accurate weapons, it would aim them exclusively at military targets. But Hamas has deployed the extremely accurate smart bombs known as suicide bombers for years, and it used them almost exclusively to kill civilians–from elderly people at a Passover seder to buses full of schoolchildren.

In short, there’s only one significant difference between Hamas and ISIS: Hamas has infinitely less power than ISIS to wreak global havoc, because Israel has managed to keep its capabilities in check. And for that service, needless to say, Israel has reaped nothing but global condemnation.

Originally published in Commentary 

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Can Hamas be deterred?

It’s rare for Israel’s left and right flanks to agree on anything. But last week, the party leaders of left-wing Meretz and right-wing Otzma LeYisrael were in full accord: Both declared that Hamas cannot be deterred.

Aryeh Eldad of Otzma LeYisrael devoted an entire op-ed to asserting that fanatic Jew-haters aren’t deterrable, so “The hope that our tremendous military power will deter our enemies … must be revised.” Zahava Gal-On of Meretz espoused the same conclusion for opposite reasons: Only diplomacy can solve problems, she opined, so force can’t deter Hamas; “Deterrence is an illusion held by the attacker, but it has no basis in the behavior of the attacked.”

Yet while Hamas is certainly undeterred right now, Israel has deterred other enemies in the past. Thus instead of dismissing deterrence as unworkable, it’s worth asking what conditions produced past successes and whether and how they could be reproduced against Hamas.

A good starting point is Eldad’s lament that even Israel’s “greatest victory ever,” the 1967 Six-Day War, didn’t prevent Egypt and Syria from launching the War of Attrition “just days after the fighting ended” or the Yom Kippur War six years later. “If a decisive defeat such as the Six-Day War did not deter them, what would?” he demanded.

The answer, as Eldad should know, is the Yom Kippur War. In its first 25 years of existence, Israel fought four full-scale conventional wars. But in the 40 years since 1973, no Arab country has launched or even seriously threatened Israel with a conventional war. And that isn’t because they suddenly stopped hating Israel. It’s because Egypt, Syria and Jordan all became convinced that a) they couldn’t beat it and b) trying would exact a painful price.

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