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Their Strategy? Recruit the Masses for Permanent War
Nothing is clearer than Hamas' strategy. It gives Israel the choice between rockets and media, while Hamas thinks it is a situation of "We win or you lose."
Option A: The Cease-Fire.
Hamas agrees to a cease-fire, giving it the peace and quiet needed to build up its army and consolidate its rule over the Gaza Strip. Israel would deliver supplies as long as there weren't attacks. From a Western-style pragmatic standpoint, this is a great situation.
But Hamas isn't a Western-style pragmatic organization. Peace and quiet is its enemy, not only because of its ideology -- the deity commands it to destroy Israel, and do so as heroic martyrs -- but also because battle is needed to recruit the masses for permanent war and unite the population around this idea.
Hamas has no program of improving the well-being of the people or educating children to be doctors, teachers and engineers. Its platform has but one plank: war, war, endless war, sacrifice, heroism and martyrdom until total victory is achieved.
Thus, it ends the cease-fire.
Option B: The Rockets.
Hamas then rains rockets down on Israel, accompanied by mortars and the occasional attempt at a cross-border ground attack. Israel does nothing.
Hamas crows: You are weak, you are confused, you are helpless. Come, people, arise and destroy the paper tiger! And so more people are recruited. West Bank Palestinians look on with admiration at those fighting the enemy, and the Arabic-speaking world is impressed.
Remember 2006, they say. It is just like Hezbollah. Israel is helpless against the rockets. Why don't our governments fight Israel? Let's overthrow them and bring brave Islamist governments to power.
Option C: The Media.
But Israel does fight back. Its planes bomb military targets, which have been deliberately put amidst civilians. If there is a high danger of hitting civilians, Israel doesn't attack. But there is a line below which risks will be taken, and rightly so.
The smiles are wiped off the faces of Hamas leaders. Yet they have one more weapon -- they call up the media.
Those arrogant, heroic, macho Hamas victors of yesterday are transformed into pitiful victims. Casualty figures are announced by Hamas, and accepted by reporters who are not on the spot. Everyone hit is, of course, declared a civilian.
And the casualties are disproportionate: Hamas has arranged it that way. If necessary, sympathetic photographers take pictures of children who pretend to be injured. Once they are published in the West, these claims become fact.
Still, there is a problem here. Rockets and mortars may win wars; newspaper articles really don't. Of course, too, material damage is inflicted that sets back Gaza's material development.
Conclusion: The Problem With No Solution.
Of course, Israel does not win a complete victory. Hamas does not fall. The problem is not gone since Hamas will define survival as victory. Hamas, like the Palestine Liberation Organization before it, wins one "victory" after another, and always ends up worse off.
The conflict will be back, no matter how it ends this round. Quiet will return, and the supplies will flow back into Gaza. And so, the process will be repeated.
There is, however, an important difference. Israel uses its time not only for military preparations but to educate its children, build its infrastructure, raise its living standards. Hamas doesn't.
"We believe in death," says Hamas. "You believe in life."
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center.