NYT: Hamas is still reaping benefits from its surprise attack on Israel

11:53 13.12.2023 •

Destroyed buildings this month in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip.
Photo: The New York Times

Much of Gaza lies in ruins, with its people pushed from their homes by Israeli bombardment and the death toll climbing ever higher. On the ground, Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for 16 years, has largely vanished, other than when its fighters pop up to attack Israeli tanks or fire rockets at Israel, writes The New York Times.

But the group is still reaping benefits from its surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7. It is regarded as the only Palestinian faction to squeeze concessions from Israel in many years. It has thrown a bloody wrench into Israel’s plans to improve relations with its Arab neighbors and forced the Palestinian issue back onto the agendas of world leaders.

What exactly Israel can achieve remains an open question. But simply prosecuting the war can, over time, damage Israel’s economy and international standing, while encouraging a new generation of Palestinians to hate Israel — all benefits for Hamas.

The war has been catastrophic for Gaza’s 2.2 million people. About 85 percent have fled their homes and now face a growing challenge to find food, water, shelter and medical care. More than 15,000 people have been killed, more than two-thirds of them women and children, according to the territory’s health authorities, who do not report how many of the dead were combatants.

But fighters from Hamas and other armed factions continue to attack Israeli forces inside Gaza and have killed more than 90 soldiers since the start of Israel’s ground invasion, including the son of Israel’s former chief of staff.

Israel has yet to find and kill Hamas’s top leaders in Gaza, including Yahya Sinwar, the highest ranking Hamas official in the territory, and Mohammed Deif, who leads the group’s armed wing. Israel considers both men architects of the Oct. 7 assault and of the fighting in Gaza since.

Coordination continues between Hamas members in and outside of Gaza, which allowed leaders based in Qatar to negotiate exchanges of hostages for prisoners that Hamas in Gaza then carried out. The group’s media teams churn out news updates, statements from leaders and videos of attacks and civilians killed in Israeli strikes. Hamas officials in Turkey and Lebanon communicate their views to journalists and diplomats, and the group’s leaders in Qatar speak regularly with mediators from Qatar and Egypt about potential cease-fires and exchanges of captives.

President Biden and other United States officials have fully backed Israel throughout the war. But in recent weeks, they have paired that support with concern that the vast destruction and high death toll could undermine Israel’s broader goals. They have also renewed calls for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians as the only path to long-term peace. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel heads a right-wing government with members who openly disdain the idea.

Other observers have suggested that leaders in Israel and the West have been too quick to assume Israel can actually destroy Hamas.

Mr. Alkhatib, the policy analyst from Gaza, recalled the string of Hamas leaders whom Israel killed around the time he left Gaza in 2004.

“All of these big, big leaders were assassinated, so I was under the impression that Hamas was a weakened organization,” he said.

He was wrong, Mr. Alkhatib added, having learned in the years since that Hamas considers its commanders replaceable and sees a resentful population in Gaza as a way of ensuring future recruits.

“I very much would never have thought that Hamas would rise to this level of power,” Mr. Alkhatib said. “But it points to how they are resilient, they are adaptive and one way or another they will find a way to reconstitute, even outside of Gaza.”


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