The perspectives presented in this article reflect the conclusions of the author after having spent the last several weeks reading and watching the press from multiple Mid-East sources, including: Israeli left, right and centrist publications; Israeli television; Egyptian English language press; Egyptian television; Saudi English language press; Lebanese English language press; Palestinian English language press.  This article reflects a holistic view of a vast landscape of information.

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Hamas has an endgame.  It is the destruction of Israel.

Hamas achieved unparalleled military and political strength, as relates to its own history, when it staged a brutal and bloody coup and overthrew the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.  Its military power, and the international government respect given to Hamas, has increased exponentially every year since then.

From its relatively protected haven in Gaza, Hamas has gone from building primitive pipe-bomb type mortars to lob over the fence at Israeli farmers, to having a vast and well-trained terrorist army, long-range missile manufacturing plants, UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or “Drones”) manufacturing plants (yes, they are made right in Gaza, and are fully weaponized), and an underground war-city that spans literal miles.

Yet Hamas reached a dead-end.  For it realized that while it can cause Israel serious harm, pain, and the death of innocent civilians and farmers from Gaza, it will never be able to pose a true existential threat to Israel from Gaza or be able to wage a war to destroy Israel from Gaza.

For that, Hamas would need to control the West Bank (aka: Judea and Samaria), too.  With control of both the West Bank (which chokes Israel from a width of 40 miles to a width of 9 miles) and Gaza, a well-armed and well-staffed Hamas army could conceivably mount an existential threat to Israel.  Hamas’s Endgame.

To get out of Gaza, Hamas has been searching for the right formula that would enable it to earn the trust of the Palestinian Authority enough to begin operating again in the West Bank.  The fig-leaf has been: “Hey, let’s work for Palestinian unity and form a unity government <3!”.  

And then, perhaps a year or so into “working together in a unity government”, Hamas would overthrow the PA in the West Bank – just like they did in Gaza.

Until a few months ago, Abbas (aka: Abu Mazen) wasn’t falling for Hamas’s “Unity Government” overtures.  ‘Fool me once..’ and all that.  But then Israel cornered Abbas diplomatically in the peace-talks.  Abbas couldn’t get the deal he wanted from Bibi in a Peace Accord.  And for reasons that are well-hidden behind thick curtains of an international diplomatic chess game, Abbas was also unable to continue making unilateral moves to sign ‘Palestine’ up with more UN bodies.

So he took a chance with the Hamas card, hoping it would scare Israel into a compromise.  He reasoned that once Israel saw that he was really ready to make a deal with the devil, Israel would have no choice but to soften it’s position in order to pull him back from the Dark Side.  Because Israel has much to fear from a Hamas unleashed in the West Bank.

And so Abbas signed some unity documents with Hamas, and ordered his police force in the West Bank, which until then did not allow ANY known Hamas agents to move around the West Bank freely, to relax the restrictions of movement on the close to 500 Hamas agents within PA territories.

What Abbas didn’t expect, (and sources indicate that neither did the Hamas leadership in Gaza and abroad), was that the long-cooped-up Hamas operatives of the West Bank would not be able to contain their bloodlust with their new-found freedom of movement.

And so a Hamas cell from Hevron struck out to kidnap and murder three Israeli teens, very proud to hang the Hamas shingle-of-terror back out: “We’re back!  And none of your children are safe anymore!”

(note: It has been well-proven that it was indeed a Hamas cell that staged the kidnapping/murder of the three Jewish teens, and not the random act of a few crazed Palestinians in a spontaneous rage.  There were car-drops and switches, escape routes, and multiple hiding spaces that were well-prepared, and which entailed the assistance and precision-coordination of many, many operatives.  See: http://www.timesofisrael.com/with-accomplices-kidnappers-evade-the-shin-bet-for-now/)

But Hamas miscalculated in its assessment of how much the world has changed since Hamas has been holed up in its own fantasy world in Gaza.  It miscalculated how clearly both Israel and the Palestinian Authority understood what Hamas’s goals were for the West Bank.  And it grossly miscalculated how ready and determined Israel was to make sure that would never, ever happen.  Finally, Hamas misunderstood that Abbas was only using them as a bluff for Israel, and upon seeing how quickly Hamas was prepared to engage in violence, Abbas would instruct his security forces to work hand-and-hand with Israeli security forces as they tracked down and arrested nearly every Hamas operative in the West Bank in a matter of weeks.

A month after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens, Hamas’ entire West Bank infrastructure was completely dismantled by Israel, and all of its essential operatives were in Israeli and Palestinian jails.  And just like that, Hamas’s endgame – an endgame it had been patiently planning and working towards for decades – an endgame that was finally within its grasp – was completely destroyed.

Without its West Bank army, Hamas will never be anything more than an ugly and dangerous regime contained within the left-hand corner of Israel.  Without its West Bank army, Hamas’ dreams of destroying Israel faded into oblivion.

There was only one thing Hamas could do.  Kidnap an Israeli soldier, dead or alive.  After all, Israel released 1,000 Hamas operatives for Gilad Shalit.  “If we capture just one soldier”, reasoned Hamas’s leadership, “we can get all 450 of our holy warriors from the West Bank released and put back in place.”

But since Hamas is well contained in Gaza (and since they didn’t want to call attention to their underground terror-city, since they were saving it for a massive Rosh Hashana terror attack [http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/4516/hamas-mega-attack]), the best way to get an Israeli soldier was to draw some Israeli troops into Gaza.  So Hamas started firing volleys of missiles at Israeli cities, with the hope of drawing a few Israeli military units into Gaza so that Hamas could ambush them and get themselves a soldier for trading.

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The background above summarizes the dynamics that have fed into the current conflict between Hamas and Israel, now known as “Operation Protective Edge”.

The following is a succinct summary of each side’s goals and positions vis-a-vis the current war, including a clear explanation of why Hamas has thus-far refused every ceasefire offer:

Hamas:

  1. Hamas wants its West Bank infrastructure and personnel put back.  And capturing an Israeli soldier is the only sure way Hamas knows it can get what it wants.  So Hamas wants an Israeli soldier, dead or alive.
    1. Hamas does not care how many Palestinians die as it seeks to achieve this goal.  At worst, the Palestinian peasant-class are a cheap and expendable commodity to Hamas, who are “blessed to die as martyrs for a good cause”.  At best, the bodies get blamed on Israel, and Hamas’s international stature continues to rise as Israel’s continues to fall.
    2. Hamas will be very happy to achieve the release of its West Bank operatives via diplomacy instead of kidnapping.  That is why, buried in its cease-fire demands is the condition that all recently arrested prisoners of the West Bank round-up be released.  In fact, all other demands Hamas is making for a ceasefire are smoke-and-mirrors.  At the right time, Hamas will reduce its demands to be only the release “of our Palestinian brothers in Israeli jails”.  Hamas has its eye on the prize.
    3. The reason that Hamas will not agree to “a ceasefire as a first step that leads into negotiations”, as the world has repeatedly proposed, and will only agree to stop the war if its demands are met, is because Hamas does not seek a deescalation.  The deeper it can draw Israel into Gaza and the maze-like narrow streets of its inner-urban centers, the greater its chances for a kidnapping.  The Israeli aerial bombings and tanks and cannon-fire have all been part of the foreplay that Hamas expected and knew would come.  They are pushing Israel with everything they can to ‘come-and-get-them’.  They want Israeli soldiers on the ground in the heart of Gaza.

Israel: 

  1. Israel is satisfied that it has been able to vanquish the threat of Hamas in the West Bank; it wants to put that victory “in the bank” and call it a day.
    1. Israel has achieved unprecedented security by having finally uprooted the Hamas threat from the West Bank.
      1. The capture of these terrorist operatives essentially ‘kneecaps’ the existential threat of Hamas towards Israel. 
      2. It also neutralizes the leverage of the Palestinian Authority in threatening a unity government with Hamas.  Sure, such a unity government is still ‘offensive on paper’.  But it no longer carries a security risk, and here in the Middle East that’s all that really matters.
  2. Israel understands perfectly well that Hamas is looking for a soldier to capture, and that falling into Hamas’s hands with a ground-war risks the kidnapping of soldiers (which in turn would mean surrendering many of the major gains on the West Bank).
    1. This is why Israel rushed to a ceasefire the second Egypt put one on the table.  Israel was keenly determined to avoid a ground-war.
    2. This changed when the Hamas terrorists came through a terror-tunnel into Israel last week.  Because it revealed that the kidnapping threat is a clear-and-present-danger, regardless of whether or not Israel sends ground-troops into Gaza.
    3. Therefore, Israel revised the essential goals of the current engagement with Hamas to include a limited ground-incursion in order to eliminate the terror tunnels
    4. However, the terror-tunnels have been exposed to be a much larger underground city (and a much more serious terror-threat) than Israel was aware of, forcing Israel deeper and deeper into Gazan territory in order to eliminate the tunnels.  This plays into Hamas’ hands as it increases the risk to Israeli soldiers

The Conflict:

  1. Israel would like nothing more that to simply ignore Hamas’s rocket fire.  But that is not possible, when the entire country is running into bomb-shelters as missiles rain down day and night.  Ever-optimistic (or desperately wishful), Israel keeps grabbing onto every cease-fire offer that does not include freeing Hamas prisoners or creating unfettered weapons-smuggling routes.  Because Israel wants to avoid an extensive ground-war with Hamas in Gaza at this time.
  2. Hamas wants a soldier, and is scrambling to get this through one of three ways:
    1. Capture one via the terror-tunnels, before the tunnels are all destroyed
    2. Create as much Palestinian bloodshed as possible, and humiliate Israel on the world stage to such a degree that Israel is forced to capitulate to Hamas’s demands (as almost happened last week when Kerry went to Qatar and Turkey)
      1. http://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-and-us-openly-at-odds-over-gaza-ceasefire-terms/
      2. http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/4365.htm
    3. Keep the rain of missiles falling on Israeli cities, forcing Israel’s hand on a full invasion of Gaza

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Israel will do everything in its power to avoid a full invasion of Gaza and to avoid toppling of Hamas, even if it means ‘waiting out’ Hamas as it exhausts its missile supplies by firing on Israel.  Without it’s West Bank Operatives, and with the horrible death and destruction Hamas has brought on the Palestinians of Gaza, Hamas’s days are numbered.

Egyptian and Saudi media are decimating Hamas (http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/4344.htm), and Palestinians read those newspapers and watch those news channels.  And the loss of electricity in Gaza due to the power-plant being hit and so many main power-feed lines from Israel coming down (10 out of 12) will leave millions of Gazans sweltering in the summer heat with rotting food for many weeks after Israel is long-gone from Gaza.  That frustration and discomfort will ultimately direct itself to the natural local scapegoat – the government that is failing to quickly restore power and which “brought the problems on the people” for no worthwhile gains.

Hamas will fall, if Israel can avoid being drawn into a full ground-war.

In the meantime, Hamas will do everything in its power to capture a soldier or steal a body.  And Hamas will do everything in its power (and with the deliberate intent to cost of the lives of its people) to draw Israel into a full ground invasion.  They will break every ceasefire, fire larger and larger missiles, and stack up as many bodies on both side of the border as possible.

In tragic irony, however, is that should Hamas God-forbid manage to capture an Israeli soldier, it would eliminate the single reason that Israel is avoiding a ground-invasion to topple Hamas.  With a soldier in Hamas custody, an ground-invasion and the toppling of Hamas would actually make the most sense.  Because in a scenario where Hamas captures a prisoner-of-war, the only way for Israel to avoid selling out its safety would be to eliminate Hamas completely.

Either way, Hamas loses.  

Hamas thought getting a foothold in the West Bank would lead towards its endgame.  Instead, it has lead to its game-over.