Op-ed: Hamas’ lousy strategists again paying heavy price for their pitiable miscalculations
Yigal Walt Published: 04.10.11
Hamas terrorists may excel in the art of suicide bombings and executing Fatah rivals, but have shown a penchant for making terrible strategic calls – and paying heavily for their erroneous judgment.
This was clear at the end of 2008, when Hamas’ arrogance and failure to gauge Israel’s mood prompted Operation Cast Lead. The devastating military blow delivered by a well-trained and highly capable IDF left hundreds of terrorists dead and forced Hamas to largely curb its attacks on southern Israel residents.
Now, after a relative lull punctured by infrequent rocket attacks, Hamas again chose to up the ante vis-à-vis Israel – at a terrible timing for the despondent terror group. And so, Gaza’s terrorists are again finding themselves dumbfounded, confused and outmatched as the house of cards they attempted to build collapses right before their very eyes.
Hamas’ first miscalculation was the failure to estimate Israel’s response to the missile attack on an Israeli school bus Thursday. Past governments may have been inclined to maintain a business-as-usual attitude following such strike, but not the Netanyahu-Lieberman duo. Israel quickly made it clear to Hamas that it won’t shy away from hitting it hard, among other things by bombing terror targets deliberately set up right next to a Gaza hospital.
The message delivered was unequivocal: We’ll hunt you down wherever you are. Sadly for Hamas, this was least of the blunders it had to worry about.
Counting on Goldstone
Gaza terrorists were counting on the “Goldstone effect” to tamper any Israeli intentions for punishing strikes on the Strip, yet when the moment of truth arrived Hamas discovered that it was fooled, again. Judge Goldstone’s retraction several weeks ago, even without being officially adopted by the international community, deeply undermined the report’s anti-Israel and pro-terror findings and conclusions.
What’s worse for Hamas, the current round of fighting in the south coincided with the West’s campaign against Gaddafi. More specifically, NATO forces have been bombing a foreign country, Libya, in order to prevent murderous attacks on civilians – the same logic behind Israel’s strikes against Gaza terrorists. In this respect, the Arab League’s call to impose a no-fly zone over Gaza is particularly ludicrous. If the West wishes to adopt the Libya logic in Gaza as well, it will be bombing Hamas, not Israel.
Hamas was slow to grasp the significance of current realities, but terror leaders are likely getting it by now. Indeed, Israel’s incessant strikes on Gaza targets were met with a rather deafening global silence. Instead of the global embrace it expected, Hamas now must contend with the realization that it is more isolated than ever, somewhat resembling a bride with no suitors (with the exception of that dashing fellow, Ahmadinejad.)
The terrorists are finding it hard to elicit support even among their own Arab brethren. As Arab affairs expert Guy Bechor noted recently, the turmoil sweeping through the Middle East is keeping both regional leaders and the Arab masses preoccupied with their local, more pressing issues. Who has the time for the Palestinians when Syria is burning and Egypt is contending with the aftershocks of Mubarak’s political demise?
Arab League declarations in Hamas’ favor are no more than empty lip service, same as the insincere statements issued by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who still Hamas’ bitter rival.
Iron Dome surprise
Yet if all that wasn’t enough, Hamas was in for some strategic surprises on the battlefield as well. The Iron Dome anti-rocket system had been deployed earlier than expected, scoring impressive achievements and shooting down virtually every Gaza missile threatening Israeli population centers.
And so, after firing dozens of rockets and mortar shells at Israeli communities by Sunday evening, Hamas has a grand total of zero achievements to show for it. To put it bluntly, its missiles have largely hit nothing, landing in empty fields or being blown to pieces in midair. During the same time, some 20 terrorists were killed in Gaza, dozens of others were wounded, and assorted targets across the Strip had been destroyed.
Even if Hamas eventually manages to cause more damage or kill Israelis, heaven forbid, the balance will still be heavily tilting in Israel’s favor. What’s worse for Hamas, military correspondent Alex Fishman estimated that the scope of the IDF’s operations thus far marked only the 2nd phase, out of 10, in Israel’s arsenal. In short, things can still get much worse for the terrorists, if so they choose.
Finally, should tensions in the south further escalate, prompting Israel to launch a ground incursion, Hamas will be facing an advanced anti-rocket system installed on Israel’s tanks as well. In fact, this system had already shot down incoming rockets in recent months, with some experts suggesting that Hamas undertook the courageous act of firing at a school bus after realizing it can no longer threaten Israeli armor.
Notably, Hamas was not always so terrible at reading the strategic map; in fact, in the past it often outwitted Israel, to a large extent under the guidance of its founder and spiritual leader, Ahmed Yassin. The cold-blooded sheikh, who combined sound vision with cool-headedness, was assassinated by Israel in an operation we should all be thankful for today; after all, his successors (or at least the ones who survived later IDF strikes) have proven far less capable.
At this time, the beaten Hamas seems to be in deep trouble, while Israel appears to be readier than ever to face it. While most Israelis hope for the current round of fighting to end soon, further escalation – while relatively painful for Israel – may prove devastating for Gaza terrorists, who must be sitting in their bunkers now, not quite understanding how they got there.
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