By: The Editorial Board – wsj.com – December 27, 2023
After the terrorist group brushed aside an Egyptian proposal over Christmas weekend, Hamas Politburo member Izzat al Rishq explained, “There can be no negotiations without a complete stop to the aggression”—an end to the war. On Dec. 20, in rejecting an Israeli offer, Politburo member Ghazi Hamad said Hamas is no longer interested in “a pause here and there, for one week, two weeks, three weeks,” even though Israel was ready to release senior Hamas terrorists as well.
A sobering explanation is offered by Meir Ben Shabbat, Israel’s national security adviser from 2017 to 2021. He writes that Hamas now “feels confident enough” to reject any deal that doesn’t deliver it victory outright. That confidence may be misguided, but it isn’t unfounded.
“While the conditions under which our forces operate are more difficult than in the past,” Mr. Ben Shabbat explains, “for Hamas fighters, things have improved.” Under Biden Administration pressure, Israel is now using less firepower to prepare its advances on the ground. This leaves more opportunities for Hamas to ambush Israeli soldiers.
In between hit-and-run attacks, the terrorists hide in well-stocked tunnels. “Hamas gets to have de facto control over most of the aid entering the strip,” Mr. Ben Shabbat writes. Again under Biden Administration pressure, Israel has allowed an increase in the flow of fuel to Gaza, which Hamas needs to stay underground.
Three political trends may also encourage Hamas. One is a growing campaign by Israeli journalists to free the hostages at any cost, even leaving Hamas in power. The accidental killing of three hostages dealt a political blow to the belief that Israel’s war effort will bring its people home.
Second, U.S. behavior reveals an overriding desire to de-escalate the larger fight with Iran’s proxies. Attacks by Yemen’s Houthis go unanswered. Iraqi militias get away with hitting U.S. bases. While Hezbollah’s daily barrage has displaced about 100,000 Israelis from their homes, Washington urges Jerusalem to keep its response to a minimum.
Third, while the White House supports the Israeli counteroffensive in Gaza, its focus is now on scaling it back. Reports emerge almost daily of senior U.S. officials urging Israel to “transition to the next phase of operations”—low-intensity fighting with raids from the border. Israel says it needs more time to flush out Hamas, but rising military casualties take a toll.
This is Hamas’s path to survival and victory: a premature shift of Israel’s war effort to meet Mr. Biden’s political timetable. Why give up your hostage bargaining chips if you need only hold out for another few weeks?
The flaw in this Hamas analysis may be that it assumes Israel will follow Mr. Biden’s advice all the way to defeat. After Oct. 7, don’t count on it. Israeli troops are still advancing, expanding operations in some areas and focusing them in others. Israel has no choice but to press on until it destroys Hamas.
To see this article in its entirety and to subscribe to others like it, please choose to read more.