Hamas may be trying to goad Israel into a costly and very bloody urban conflict in Gaza.
As a U.S. Army intelligence officer, I was trained to brief the commander on the most likely course of action and the most dangerous course of action. How might that disciplined way of thinking be applied to the conflict between Gaza’s Hamas terrorists and Israel?
In this case, the rationale – or lack of it – in Hamas’ video record of its orgy of torture, rape and murder. And its threat to publicly execute some of the hundreds of hostages it grabbed and are keeping in its underground labyrinth, may provide insight.
Civilian casualties are often, but not always, collateral damage, meaning that civilian deaths aren’t necessarily the object of a war.
During the medieval period, the end of a successful siege of a city would often see the descent into an orgy of killing, rape and plunder. Because the unnecessary destruction diminished the value of the seized city, it was eventually determined that appointing officers over the mass levies could prevent a slaughter and make it more likely to gain compliance from the conquered population. Thus, Hamas’ barbaric actions may signal a lack of command and control and discipline.
But Hamas purports to be a governing entity. It won an election against the corrupt elements of Fatah in January 2006 and for the next year-and-a-half, Hamas proceeded to purge rival elements, sometimes throwing its domestic enemies to their deaths off of high-rises. Hamas receives billions in foreign aid, some official, some clandestine. And Hamas built an army. Thus, we can presume that the televised tortures, beheadings, immolations and hostage killing is intentional.
If Hamas’ outrageous killings are intentional and for public consumption, the question that needs to be asked is why? What do they hope to accomplish by using tactics that serve to harden opinion of most the world against their cause?
The most likely course of action is that this is what Hamas has always done. That it expects to force Israel to negotiate to save more than 100 hostages by showing Israel that it is willing to murder them in the most horrific ways possible. That Israel should not commit the 300,000 reservists it mobilized to conquer Gaza. And to play for time while it expects the international community, led by the U.N., will urge a cease-fire.
This most likely course of action for Hamas also poses a dangerous long-term threat for Israel, as it will leave Hamas in Gaza to lash out again at some time of its own choosing while tying down Israeli resources and international goodwill.
The most dangerous course of action is truly chilling.
If Hamas’ brutality is calculated, what is it calculated to do? By torturing and killing Israelis and then posting gruesome images to social media for the world to see, Hamas may be trying to goad Israel into a costly and very bloody urban conflict in Gaza, home to about 2 million people.
Gaza is a dense urban jungle with countless tunnels and underground bunkers. Fighting there in the age of drones will be more difficult than anything Israel has done in decades – likely going back 50 years to the Yom Kippur War when Israel suffered a surprise attack from Egypt in the south and Syria to the north with supporting forces from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and six other Arab nations, plus Cuba and North Korea.
Why would Hamas willingly try to invite Israel to attack Gaza?
To provide context, the city of Fallujah in Iraq has a population of about 275,000 – Gaza is more than seven times that. It took 10,500 American, 850 British, and some 2,000 Iraqi personnel more than six weeks to eliminate insurgent forces in the city.
By the time the operation was completed, 107 U.S. and coalition partners were dead and more than 600 were wounded as compared to 1,200 to 2,000 enemy dead. A full-scale attack on Gaza may well result in several times that toll.
Further, once the bulk of Israel’s attention is focused on Gaza, might that be cause for the militant Shiite terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon to strike Israel with some of the 100,000 missiles they’ve accumulated with Iran’s support? These missiles, many of which are dug into tunnels on the north slopes of mountains and hillsides near Israel, are very difficult to destroy – inviting a second, costly Israeli operation to clear out.
And, gathering offshore in an attempt to deter Hezbollah, is a U.S. Navy strike group based around the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier. Wouldn’t Hezbollah, its sponsor Iran, and its allies in Moscow and Beijing just love to have an excuse to try to damage an American nuclear-powered super carrier with some of the new weapons being used to great effect in Ukraine – or some other weaponry as yet unseen in the Middle East?
We cannot dismiss the possibility that the most dangerous course of action might be executed at the strategic direction of China in support of its own plans against Taiwan.
The scale of Hamas’ attack and the outrageousness of their atrocities might be in the service of a larger purpose we don’t yet see.