A lot of Gaza lies in ruins, with its folks pushed from their houses by Israeli bombardment and the dying toll climbing ever larger. On the bottom, Hamas, which has dominated Gaza for 16 years, has largely vanished, apart from when its fighters pop as much as assault Israeli tanks or hearth rockets at Israel.
However the group continues to be reaping rewards from its shock assault on Israel on Oct. 7. It’s thought to be the one Palestinian faction to squeeze concessions from Israel in a few years. It has thrown a bloody wrench into Israel’s plans to enhance relations with its Arab neighbors and compelled the Palestinian concern again onto the agendas of world leaders.
Two months into the conflict, regardless of vows by Israeli officers to destroy Hamas, Israel has but to kill its high leaders, free the remaining 137 hostages Hamas holds or present convincing proof that it could possibly obtain its purpose of eliminating Hamas with out an astronomical human value.
In Hamas’s cynical calculation, the loftiness of Israel’s goals is a plus. Whereas sticking to its long-term purpose of destroying the Jewish state, Hamas can declare victory merely by surviving to struggle one other day.
“There may be at all times going to be a bonus that an unconventional drive may have, notably whether it is as ruthless as Hamas and doesn’t actually care in regards to the harm to the native civilians,” stated Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, a Center East coverage analyst who grew up in Gaza. “Israel goes to be caught on this unwinnable conflict, inflicting huge dying and destruction.”
What precisely Israel can obtain stays an open query. However merely prosecuting the conflict can, over time, harm Israel’s economic system and worldwide standing, whereas encouraging a brand new era of Palestinians to hate Israel — all advantages for Hamas.
The Hamas-led shock assault on Oct. 7 was the deadliest day in Israel’s historical past, with about 1,200 folks, principally civilians, killed and 240 taken captive. Israel responded with a army ferocity not seen anywhere in decades, dropping 1000’s of bombs on Gaza and launching a floor invasion geared toward destroying Hamas’s army and governing constructions.
The conflict has been catastrophic for Gaza’s 2.2 million folks. About 85 p.c have fled their houses and now face a rising problem to seek out meals, water, shelter and medical care. Greater than 15,000 folks have been killed, greater than two-thirds of them ladies and youngsters, based on the territory’s well being authorities, who don’t report how lots of the lifeless had been combatants.
The conflict has taken a toll on Hamas, too. The group has largely deserted governance in Gaza, though remnants of its police drive nonetheless work within the south, and medics in hospitals overseen by the Well being Ministry battle to deal with floods of wounded sufferers. In any other case, it’s more and more leaving the strip’s folks to fend for themselves.
Israel has blown up lots of the tunnels that Hamas has constructed through the years to covertly transfer across the territory, maintain captives, manufacture weapons and plan assaults.
Hamas is estimated to have 25,000 fighters, and Israeli officers assess that a number of thousand of them have been killed in Gaza, along with about 1,000 inside Israel on Oct. 7. Each Israel and Hamas have introduced the names of Hamas army figures killed within the conflict. On Thursday, Israel published a photograph it stated confirmed 11 Hamas commanders assembly in a bunker. 5 of them had been marked with purple circles that learn, “Eradicated.”
However fighters from Hamas and different armed factions proceed to assault Israeli forces inside Gaza and have killed greater than 90 troopers for the reason that begin of Israel’s floor invasion, together with the son of Israel’s former chief of staff.
Israel has but to seek out and kill Hamas’s high leaders in Gaza, together with Yahya Sinwar, the best rating Hamas official within the territory, and Mohammed Deif, who leads the group’s armed wing. Israel considers each males architects of the Oct. 7 assault and of the combating in Gaza since.
Mr. Sinwar has not appeared publicly for the reason that conflict started. However one hostage, Yocheved Lifshitz, an 85-year-old peace activist, told an Israeli newspaper after her launch final month that Mr. Sinwar had come to the tunnel the place she was being held. She stated she requested him if he was ashamed to have carried out such a factor to individuals who had supported peace. Mr. Sinwar didn’t reply, she stated.
Coordination continues between Hamas members in and outdoors of Gaza, which allowed leaders based mostly in Qatar to barter exchanges of hostages for prisoners that Hamas in Gaza then carried out. The group’s media groups churn out information updates, statements from leaders and movies of assaults and civilians killed in Israeli strikes. Hamas officers in Turkey and Lebanon talk their views to journalists and diplomats, and the group’s leaders in Qatar communicate recurrently with mediators from Qatar and Egypt about potential cease-fires and exchanges of captives.
At a restaurant in Beirut this previous week, Hamas hosted a public seminar to evaluate the “accomplishments and challenges” of the conflict to date.
Ahmad Abdul-Hadi, a Hamas consultant, advised the handfuls of attendees that the battle represented a “qualitative shift” within the battle towards Israel, and that Hamas and the Palestinians had accepted the sacrifices essential to hold the Palestinian trigger alive.
“The Palestinian folks and their resistance needed to take a expensive strategic resolution as a result of the prices of liquidating the Palestinian trigger and squandering Palestinian rights can be a lot larger,” he stated.
In fact, Gaza’s civilians had no say in Hamas’s resolution to assault Israel, and a few have complained that they’re paying the worth, regardless of the good danger of talking out towards the group.
“Why are they hiding among the many folks?” an unidentified man coated in mud in a hospital stated throughout an interview with Al Jazeera. “Why don’t they go to hell and conceal there?”
However gauging the size of such criticism is difficult, and it pales compared to Palestinian anger at how Israel is combating.
“There may be lots of horror across the response, however regardless of that, Hamas is now undoubtedly the chief of Palestinian nationalism,” stated Abdaljawad Hamayel, a lecturer at Birzeit College within the occupied West Financial institution. “It’s now the one holding the playing cards.”
By finishing up such a dramatic assault and freeing 240 Palestinians from Israeli jails in change for 105 folks kidnapped on Oct. 7, Hamas had overshadowed the internationally acknowledged Palestinian Authority, Mr. Hamayel stated.
Whereas Hamas is taken into account a terrorist group by Israel, the US and different international locations, the Palestinian Authority acknowledges Israel’s proper to exist and has restricted authority in elements of the West Financial institution. Nevertheless it has come beneath rising criticism from Palestinians who see the physique as corrupt, undemocratic and compromised as a result of its safety forces coordinate with Israel to arrest Palestinian fighters.
President Biden and different United States officers have absolutely backed Israel all through the conflict. However in current weeks, they’ve paired that support with concern that the huge destruction and excessive dying toll may undermine Israel’s broader targets. They’ve additionally renewed calls for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians as the one path to long-term peace. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel heads a right-wing authorities with members who brazenly disdain the thought.
Different observers have urged that leaders in Israel and the West have been too fast to imagine Israel can really destroy Hamas.
One month into the conflict, Jon Alterman, senior vp on the Heart for Strategic and Worldwide Research in Washington, printed an evaluation entitled “Israel Could Lose.” He argued not that Hamas would flip the tables and destroy Israel, however that the conflict may serve Hamas’s long-term goals by siphoning assist from the Palestinian Authority and to Hamas. That, in flip, would improve Israel’s isolation from international locations within the Arab and creating worlds and complicate its relationships with the US and Europe.
That final result was nonetheless a danger, Mr. Alterman stated in an interview this previous week.
In Hamas’s view, he stated, “That is the required first step to reverse the power that Israel will get from being built-in into the area and the world.”
There are additionally scant historic examples of Israel efficiently utilizing overwhelming drive to destroy its enemies.
In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon to destroy the Palestine Liberation Group, which it thought-about a terrorist group. The conflict was lengthy and lethal and did not destroy the P.L.O., whereas getting ready the bottom for the rise of Hezbollah. (Israel signed peace accords with the P.L.O. in 1993).
In 2006, Israel once more went to conflict in Lebanon towards Hezbollah, which has come back stronger within the years since.
Israel has additionally fought three main wars towards Hamas in Gaza since 2008, none of which prevented the group from rearming and getting ready for the Oct. 7 assault.
Mr. Alkhatib, the coverage analyst from Gaza, recalled the string of Hamas leaders that Israel killed across the time he left Gaza in 2004.
“All of those large, large leaders had been assassinated, so I used to be beneath the impression that Hamas was a weakened group,” he stated.
He was fallacious, Mr. Alkhatib added, having discovered within the years since that Hamas considers its commanders replaceable and sees a resentful inhabitants in Gaza as a approach of guaranteeing future recruits.
“I very a lot would by no means have thought that Hamas would rise to this stage of energy,” Mr. Alkhatib stated. “Nevertheless it factors to how they’re resilient, they’re adaptive and a method or one other they are going to discover a technique to reconstitute, even outdoors of Gaza.”
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.