...Unfortunately, our mistakes result from continuing to look at the enemy through our own cultural lenses: we need money, a strong army, protection from rockets, friends in the region and international approval, and we think that if Hamas has none of these, it will be as weak as we would be if we lacked them. There is no greater error than that line of thought, because Hamas is the product of a vastly different culture where the strength and weakness factors are totally different from ours.
31 July '14..
Before the start of Operation Protective Edge, an entire bevy of so-called "experts" appeared on Israeli media informing us of the weak state of Hamas, how its oxygen supply is cut off because the smuggling tunnels from the Sinai are closed and Egypt has turned against it, as has Saudi Arabia; it cannot pay salaries, it wants to preserve the state it has created in Gaza at all costs - and so one and so forth.
Because of that, they concluded, its power of resistance is limited and since we have the Iron Dome to protect us, our decision makers can act judiciously, using our military power – particularly from the air – which is immeasurably more massive than that of Hamas. Even the world is on our side, they said, and surprisingly, supports us.
Now, after four weeks of air attacks and two weeks of a ground operation, Gaza has seen over 1,200 of its people killed and 7,000 wounded, and has not capitulated, has not raised a white flag, continues to launch rockets to Tel Aviv and the south, and the Gazan population has not rebelled. Just imagine what would happen to Israel's government if something like that, G-d forbid, happened here. It has suddenly become clear that all the "weakness factors" attributed to Hamas – the closed smuggling tunnels that Sisi sealed, Saudi Arabia, money and state – do not have the effect the "experts" predicted for the organization. Perhaps Hamas is not exactly the organization these "experts" painted for us.
Unfortunately, our mistakes result from continuing to look at the enemy through our own cultural lenses: we need money, a strong army, protection from rockets, friends in the region and international approval, and we think that if Hamas has none of these, it will be as weak as we would be if we lacked them. There is no greater error than that line of thought, because Hamas is the product of a vastly different culture where the strength and weakness factors are totally different from ours.
1. The Spiritual Element
The basic and most deep-seated difference between us is that Hamas depends on a "power player" in the form of Allah, who dwells on high. The organization's raison d'etre is a plan whose end goal is Allah's reign over the entire world and Hamas' activity is aimed at succeeding in that Jihad for Allah. Hamas fighters are filled with fervor and the bandanna on their heads says the "Shahada", the testimony that there is no deity besides Allah and that Mohammed is his prophet.
Our army is fighting valiantly for our nation, people and land, all of which are human and tangible, and if a commander dares to write his soldiers something with an allusion to religion, he is attacked by the thought police of Haaretz, and defamed along with the Jewish message he was trying to put forward. (An allusion to IDF Brigadier General Winter, who wrote his soldiers a letter of encouragement using biblical expressions from the fight of David and Goliath and was attacked by anti-religious coercion advocates). Many of us have distanced ourselves from the "Power Player" who dwells on high and have erased the concept from our cultural experience. Hamas continues to stick to spiritual goals and in this regard, has the advantage.
2. Culture and Ethos
Our culture sanctifies life, health, education, progress and economic, scientific and civil success. Death negates all of these and therefore, naturally, we try to prevent it when it comes to our lives and also those of our enemies. The terror organizations in our region, on the other hand, sanctify death for Allah, and even mothers rejoice when their sons go out to die.
This difference explains the fact that the over 1200 dead do not bring Hamas to ask for a ceasefire. As long as the dead are called "shaheeds", they are considered not dead, according to the Koran: "Do not think that those who have been killed for Allah are dead; they are alive and nourished by the hand of Allah (Chap. 3, v. `69).
Hamas terrorists are proud of their often-used slogan: "The Jews wish for life and we wish for death."
This is the reason for their using human shields, for even if those "shields" are killed, they are not really dead, so their death is not seen as something bad. In general, in the Middle East there is no dividing line between citizens and combatants, everyone is considered "the enemy".
3. Attitude to the Media
The media has a critical role to play in wartime, as it has direct influence on large audiences worldwide and determines the public's opinion of the operation.
Public opinion has immediate influence on politicians, who try to act in accordance with their voter's inclinations. Israel adheres to journalistic ethics and limits its announcements to the media, refraining from showing bodies, body parts and other horrors that can influence viewers. Hamas, on the other hand, does not care about causing people to be shocked by horrible pictures of the dead and wounded, and supplies photographs that are intended to create a sympathetic audience.
4. Legal Restrictions
Israel is a country based on law, it limits military actions to the strictures of international law. Soldiers and officers can find themselves facing the Israeli courts or international ones. Hamas is not a state, does not act like one and does not limit its activities to the accepted laws of warfare.
The obvious example: Israel attempts to prevent harm to non-involved citizens, while Hamas intentionally launches deadly rockets to heavily populated Israeli areas.
5. International Support
We have been hearing that "the world understands us" from the beginning of hostilities and therefore, that it supports our actions. However, this is a highly fragile support, easily shaken by one picture of a rocket – even a Hamas rocket – hitting a school.
The change in America's position is a gigantic plug for Hamas' steadfastness, for even the US president has adopted Hamas conditions for ceasefire, first among them removing the sea blockade of Gaza, although at the beginning of the operation he supported Israel and its right to defend itself.
Hamas enjoys unlimited and unquestioning outside support from Qatar and Turkey. Despite the losses and destruction in Gaza, those two countries will stream material and financial aid to Gaza, including building materials that will allow it to rehabilitate the organization, its weapons arsenals and rockets, enlist new soldiers, train and equip them as well as dig more tunnels so as to infiltrate Israel and sow death.
6. Consensus from Within
There was wall-to-wall consensus in Israel at the beginning of the ground operation aimed at destroying the tunnels Hamas had built in order to attack civilian targets in Israel. As the number of losses grows, support is declining somewhat and criticism – almost non existent at first – is being voiced. Hamas has no internal critics, as anyone who has lived in Gaza for the seven years during which Hamas has ruled the area, knows well what will happen to he who dares to criticize Hamas.
In conclusion, these six differences create an asymmetrical combat reality. We will say that we have won, but Hamas will say the same. Even if most of its people are dead or taken prisoner, all its weapons confiscated and all its tunnels blown up, the organization's leader will come up out of his underground shelter wearing a blood-soaked bandage, stand on the ruins of a home and raise his fingers in a "V" salute. The rest of us may find it infuriating, delusional, weird and grotesque, but he knows the truth: within a year at most, he will enlist thousands and train them, within three years, he will rearm and resupply his rockets and missiles arsenal completely and therefore, he sees the victory as his.
He feels that the future is his because he is fighting the battle of Allah and Allah has come to his aid. He is not afraid to die and the lives of citizens mean nothing to him. He takes cynical advantage of international and national law, manipulates world opinion using a compliant media.
Hamas leaders have a new goal and it is to have the war continue for 33 days, the number of days of the Second Lebanon War. It wants to prove that it can hold on longer than Hezbollah. This is part of the Sunni (Hamas) vs. Shiite (Hezbollah) rivalry played on the backdrop of the war in Syria. The competition also explains the fact that Hezbollah has not launched rockets from the north. It has no desire to help Hamas, which did not come to Assad's aid against Syrian rebel forces. It is hard to predict if the schism between them will continue to hold fast.
That's the situation in Gaza. These are the reasons for it. Let us hope for the best.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel.
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