Commentary Magazine


Hamas Knows It Is Losing

Is Hamas on the ropes? The terrorist group certainly seems to think so. That’s one takeaway from the tragic news that Hamas terrorists infiltrated the Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz, fired an anti-tank missile, and killed five Israeli soldiers. According to Haaretz, it marks the fourth such infiltration by Hamas fighters via cross-border tunnels. Such events–especially the deadly assault at Nahal Oz–might appear to fall into one of two categories: a successful attack on Israel (Nahal Oz) or a disquieting signal of Hamas’s plans to invade undetected (the attacks that failed). But I think there’s a third explanation.

The network of tunnels Hamas has built underground has been at the center of the conflict’s escalation. The discovery of the planned Rosh Hashanah mass terror attack utilizing those tunnels has only reinforced to Israel’s leaders that the tunnels must be destroyed or rendered inoperative. Israel has also shown its determination to get a full picture of those tunnels, and has resisted efforts to let Hamas cover its tracks. The rockets are certainly a threat against which Israel has the right to self-defense. But because of Iron Dome, the rockets pale in comparison to the tunnels in terms of sophistication and the danger to Israel’s civilians. So why would Hamas fighters use the tunnels now?

According to what we’ve learned about the tunnels during Operation Protective Edge, they were a grand accomplishment–a city under the sand in the 21st century. They were also to be used for the kind of concerted terror attack that would, to Hamas and its backers, make them worth the investment. The Rosh Hashanah attack certainly would appear to fit that bill. It’s unclear whether the goal would be to take entire kibbutzim hostage, to kill everyone in range and all at once, or to kidnap large numbers of Israelis from all over the country and take them back to Gaza. It could, I suppose, have been a combination of the three.

But there are no indications the tunnels were constructed for desperate jihadis to lure Israel into playing whack-a-mole. It certainly doesn’t make much sense to do so now, anyway. Israel and Hamas are currently at war. Israel is taking this fight very seriously–too seriously for the chuckleheads in Turtle Bay and Foggy Bottom, in fact. The nation is at high alert, the reserves have been called up, and the IDF knows the tunnels are there and are intended to be used for an attack on Israeli territory.

This is, then, easily the worst time for Hamas to start using those tunnels in relatively ad-hoc attacks. Doing so now puts them at a distinct disadvantage, with the IDF ready for them to pop out of the ground. It risks exposing the existence of tunnels the IDF may not have found, and thus expanding the mental map the IDF is piecing together of this underground city.

It reduces if not completely erases the element of surprise, and it ensures the IDF is staffed up enough to respond immediately and forcefully to any breach of its territory. One isolated attack may or may not be considered a casus belli–Hamas is surely aware of just how hesitant Benjamin Netanyahu was in committing ground troops at all–but an attack during a war guarantees a response.

There is always some risk in trying to explain the behavior of a barbaric terrorist organization with logic and reasoning. So maybe Hamas looks like it doesn’t know what it’s doing because it doesn’t know what it’s doing. But even if that’s the case, Hamas’s recent behavior is a tell. Hamas believes Israel means it this time. The Israeli leadership is united, as is much of the Israeli public, and they have resisted pressure from the U.S. to let Hamas off the ropes. Hamas, then, is in “use it or lose it” mode with the tunnels. They expect Israel to leave them no avenue of cross-border attack, so they’re utilizing them while they can.

The U.S. even stepped aside this week to let the UN take a swing at Israel. According to Foreign Policy’s Column Lynch, one expert, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Robert Danin, even “suggested that the United States may be seeking to leverage its position by playing on Israeli fears of being left to fend for itself at a United Nations that appears to be universally opposed to the current offensive.”

Israel is at war, and the American president wants to send a message by playing on Israel’s fears of being abandoned. How nice. And yet, Israel still insists on protecting its civilians instead of begging forgiveness for insulting the magnificent stupidity of the American secretary of state’s attempt to force Israel to appease the terrorists currently popping out of the ground in Israeli territory firing anti-tank shells.

Hamas was expecting the Jews to tie themselves to the tracks and save them the work. When that failed, they expected John Kerry to take care of it, preferably with sturdy Qatari rope. But they are now realizing that Israel intends to win, and that it is well on its way to doing so. And they are acting with evident recklessness, because it might be all they have left.

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7 Responses to “Hamas Knows It Is Losing”


    Imagine a Hamas analyst came out with a piece after a successful IDF commando raid determining that it meant Israel was on the ropes. It would be laughable. This analysis is wrong because: 1) Hamas has been attacking through tunnels since the fighting began, just not with much success–this time they succeeded 2) the IDF knew about the tunnel, the soldiers attacked were “guarding” it, but were surprised anyway 3) the IDF did not react at all to this attack as if it were a sign of Hamas weakness, instead striking obvious and easy targets (like the power grid) that they could have hit from day one–a sign of frustration, not impending victory. I support Israel and the IDF, and am a longtime Commentary reader, but wishful thinking is not good analysis.

  2. PETER GOLDMAN says:

    I agree that Hamas is desperate and that the recent tunnel attack is an act of desperation; but I disagree that this represents any change in Hamas’ situation. Terrorism is by definition an act of desperation. Given Hamas strategy, it makes perfect sense for them to use the tunnel now; after all, if they don’t use it now, it would probably be discovered and destroyed; it’s use it or lose it. While they might like to maximize the violence inflicted upon Israel, they don’t the capacity to win any kind of conventional war, so all they can do is inflict terror; and they need to do something now since they are being attacked. As for retaliations, they welcome all the violence that Israel can inflict upon Palestinian civilians, since their strategy is to play for world sympathy.

  3. ROBERT ENNIS says:

    Victor Davis Hanson’e article in National Review Online today “Winning a Lose-Lose War” is spot on. The dust will settle and CNN and MSNBC and all the other biased organs will go on to the next story. They have a very short attention span and the fuss made about disproportionality and civilian casualties will fade away. What will remain is Israel’s victory if carried to to a successful conclusion. In the end, the world admires the winners.


      Great column by VHD, which only underscores my comment to this article. Thanks for noting it.

      No matter Western hypocrites, Israel must still win the war in a way that is actually meaningful to Hamas and Iran. It has not done that. And I would also caution that it is not clear, contra VHD, that Israel did that in Lebanon in 2006 either, despite the relative quiet on that border since. There are other reasons that explain that quiet other than Israeli military sucesses.

      On the other hand, Israeli military victories in 1973 and 1982, won at great human cost to Israel, which are rather popularly seen internationally and in Israel as defeats, actually were far more meaningful and had far more deterrent effect than the later campaigns in Lebanon and Gaza. In fact, had Israel not undermined the 1982 victory with the Olso Accords, it would not be in the situation it is today vis a vis Hamas and the PA.

  4. DAVID MARKS says:

    They need to dog a moat around Gaza.

  5. LOUIS OFFEN says:

    “Use it or lose it”?!

    If one is confined to bed for a long period of time, and thus unable to exercise even minimally, their muscles will almost certainly atrophy, and meaning they will literally “lose” muscle mass. If they are able to exercise, though, they will be using their muscles and not lose them. Hamas does not face anything like that, that is a “use or lose” situation with the tunnels. If they use them, they may give away their locations, so that would be “use AND lose” them. But their calculation might be to make use of them to inflict whatever harm they can, the more spectacular the better, before they are discovered and destroyed.

    Now, does anyone have any insight as to how Israel goes about discovery the location of the tunnels. Supposedly the US has satellite photos that point to the locations of a number of their entrances, have we shared that intelligence and has it proved useful? Has Israel obtained many tips through interrogations or perhaps bribes? Are there effective means for discovering them like companies go about exploration for oil or other underground resources? Is Hamas kill Palestinians they believe have given Israel intelligence?

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