Opinion

We Have to Protect Hamas

Israel - and Egypt, too - needs a group to provide support for its defense policies, take the fall for violence and provide an out for diplomatic negotiations. Hamas fills that void

A Gazan woman wears the headband of Hamas' al-Qassam Brigades during Hamas' 31st anniversary rally, December 16, 2018.
Khalil Hamra / AP

The periodic violent dialogue between Israel and Hamas has made the organization, which Israel does not recognize, its most effective Palestinian partner. It was enough to watch the interviews that Benny Gantz gave from Washington to witness the unifying power of a single rocket.

“To restore deterrence,” the general proposed, to do what we did in Operation Protective Edge, he demanded, pledging his moral support to the prime minister and the IDF. The man who had remarked that Netanyahu wanted to hurt him, even kill him, suddenly became transformed into an obedient soldier saluting his “potential murderer.”

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“What would you do now if you were prime minister,” the former IDF chief of staff who aspires to become prime minister in two weeks was asked. Gantz had plenty to say for the cameras but failed to offer a single new insight. No proposal, no idea, no musings, not to mention any kind of real plan were on offer from the man who is challenging Mr. Security. For in a time of war – and this is a time of war, is it not? A homemade rocket destroyed an entire home – who would dare to question the failed security conception, to criticize the glorious Operation Protective Edge that gave us three and a half years of quiet “as a gift,” as Gantz put it? Who would be so brazen, even at the height of an election campaign, to take to task the top commander who battled the terrible enemy that threatens Israel’s existence?

But Hamas is not just a wonderful partner because it knows how to make the opposition fall at Netanyahu’s feet. Hamas, thanks to Israel and Egypt, has become a strategic asset to be protected and nurtured. This organization is vital to Israel as a way to halt any diplomatic process with the Palestinians. Even if Mahmoud Abbas dearly desired to negotiate with Israel, Hamas’ existence always enables Israel to say that as long as he doesn’t represent all the Palestinians – i.e., also Hamas and the other organizations – there’s nothing to talk about.

Hamas provides a firm support for Israel’s defense policy. It proudly carries the title of “the sole party responsible” for everything that happens in Gaza, a title given to it by Israel. As such, it bears responsibility for every cease-fire violation, for every incendiary balloon and every rocket, but it also gets the financial aid, the donations, management of the Rafah crossing on the Palestinian side, and it will manage the rebuilding project when the time comes.

In its weakness, Hamas has managed to establish deterrence against Israel without having to use a big military arsenal. Because of its necessity to Egypt, it has been able to turn President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi into its mediator and to create a triangle of interests in which it is a crucial player, to the point where fear of the organization has given way to fear of its collapse.

Israel cannot afford to eliminate the Hamas leadership, or even to weaken it. Seeking a Palestinian leadership that doesn’t require it to pay a diplomatic price for defending its borders, it finds it in Hamas. Its leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, can give as many speeches about armed resistance as he likes, but he knows that the Marches of Return are not an armed struggle even if Israel puts them on a par with the Iranian threat. The Hamas leadership is captive in its stance as a partner of two countries which would be more than happy to extinguish it if they didn’t need it as much as they do.

This is the equation that dictated the cease-fire that came less than 24 hours after the event that triggered the military offensive. Netanyahu knows well by now that there is no other formula. Gantz still believes in military fundamentalism, in shock and awe, as the tactic used by the American military in Iraq was known. When he really leaves the army behind one day, maybe he’ll also discover statesmanship.