The evolution of the movement, from the hypothesis of openings to the offensive of 7 October
A deadly mistake to bet on a “pragmatic” Hamas. Last Saturday’s attack in Israelthe atrocities inflicted on civilians, it marked the end of the period that was considered the “pragmatic era” of Hamas and the beginning of a new dark chapter. Observers discuss how the group has truly evolved over the past decade, as they trace the history of Hamas to understand the motivations for such a brutal attack that the group says was a response to Israel’s policies against the Palestinians. But for analysts, a series of other factors influenced the times and methods.
Since it took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, firm in its rejection of Israel’s right to exist as a state, Hamas – according to analysts – has taken apparently conciliatory steps, from signs of support for a lasting ceasefire to openness of informal contacts. So over the years some have started to talk about Hamas – which emerged in 1987 at the time of the First Intifada – as a “contained” system, while maintaining skepticism. They started betting on a “pragmatic” face.
“It is difficult to reconcile this pragmatic version of Hamas of the last 15 years and more with what has just happened, which will close the door to any kind of international acceptance”, summarized Khaled Elgindy, former advisor to the Palestinian peace negotiators and now at Middle East Institute in Washington. AND analysts warn of a situation that remains ‘fluid’ with little verified information on the origin of the attackwith doubts as to whether Hamas had help from Iran or others in the region after months of escalating violence that had already made 2023 the bloodiest year for Palestinians in the West Bank (227 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces or settlers among January and September and at least 29 Israeli victims) since the UN began keeping the death toll twenty years ago.
The factors that made Hamas mobilize
The violence alone would have been enough, according to analysts, to ‘mobilize’ Hamas. But there are also other considerations, starting with the state – “decrepit” – of Palestinian politics and the frustration with the corruption of the Palestinian Authority, the lack of a clear plan to take up the legacy of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The internal Israeli political crisis is the other factor: Hamas, according to analysts, may have perceived a vulnerable Israel under the Netanyahu government which continued apace with construction in the settlements, while promoting a controversial judicial reform that brought tens of thousands of people to the streets.
And another factor may have been the process, supported by the USA, for the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab countries of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia in the lead. In the Atlantic, terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman wrote that Saturday’s attack was “the realization of the true ambitions of Hamas” with a charter that in 1988 revealed “clearly Hamas’ genocidal intent.”
“Hamas has never been the answer – cut short Michael Singh, responsible for the Middle East of the National Security Council at the time of the George W. Bush Administration and now at the Washington Institute – Pragmatic involvement and so on has always been an illusion and now everyone sees it.”
Strategy and patience
Two elements of the original Hamas story, strategy and patience have become part of what over the years has transformed into a group capable of massacres in Israel, with a multi-pronged attack, years have passed since Hamas gained popularity among the Palestinians – also with health and education programs – until it came to political power in 2006. In that year, the Hamas bloc – ‘Change and Reform’ – won the legislative elections. Then taking control of the Gaza Strip at the height of a power struggle with Fatah. Since then there has been no shortage of Hamas attacks against Israel with rockets, mortars (and Israel’s responses).
“They never gave up on their military objectives” said Gina Ligon, who from 2008 to 2013 studied the movement’s leadership and now heads a terrorism research center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Hamas, she stressed, stands out in the region because its leaders placed importance on enlisting recruits with military skills and technological expertise, so “not just guys willing to fight and die for the cause.”
And the leaders of Hamasobservers say, they also learned from policy and operational missteps. Starting from theEgypt where he overestimated the ability of the Muslim Brotherhood to remain in power after the end of the Mubarak era and underestimated the capabilities of Egyptian public opinion. And in Syria Hamas lost its ‘refuge’ in Damascus and, analysts point out, its funding from Iran when it sided with the demonstrators who took to the streets against Bashar al-Assad at the time of the so-called Arab Spring. Over time, relations with theIran which today is one of the main sponsors of Hamas. A “failed containment” also because, according to analysts, even American officials had embraced the idea that Hamas was in a “pragmatic” phase and also because “most of the time Israeli policy has been to treat the Palestinian Authority as a burden and Hamas as an asset,” as Tal Schneider wrote in an editorial in the Times of Israel. And Hamas played along. “And hundreds of Israelis paid with their lives.”