The Risk of Catastrophic Success In Gaza

It seems that Hamas was hoping to bait Israel into launching a ground operation in Gaza, operating on the belief that they’d be able to fight a successful insurgent campaign against the Israelis along the lines of what Hezbollah’s been able to do in Southern Lebanon. My guess is that history will show that calculation to be folly — the geography’s not the same, Hamas is a much more raggedy outfit, and if there’s anything the past 30 years have shown it’s that Israel can, in fact, exert effective (albeit imperfect) control over the Palestinian territories when it wants to. The human cost of land fighting will be large, but I think it’s fairly likely that Israel will be able to create a situation whereby Hamas is dislodged from formal control over Gaza.

Of course, Hamas running Gaza is a relatively recent phenomenon and it’s not as if Israel was completely unconcerned with Hamas back then. On the contrary.

But as I wrote back on the 29th, something you need to look at here is the risk that weakening Hamas will only lead to the rise of more extreme groups. The high level of power that Hamas had achieved as of last week was, after all, precisely the result of a deliberate Israeli campaign to weaken Fatah. The hope was that this would bring some more accommodationist Palestinians to the fore, but instead the reverse happened. And now that Israel is going about trying the same thing with Hamas, one needs to worry that Hamas will be displaced by Salafist groups who think Hamas is too weak-kneed. Matt Duss goes into detail on this but suffice it to say that the years of fighting in Iraq have seeded the Middle East with Salfists possessing battlefield experience who are looking for new causes that people will rally behind.