Experts warn that Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip could be an effective recruiting tool for Hamas

In Israel, Tania Hary, the executive director of the nonprofit Gisha, which aims to protect Palestinians’ freedom of movement, says Gaza is like “any place in the world” in that “you have such a situation of injustice, poverty etc. “Trauma, it’s a recipe for instability.”

The bombing and humanitarian crisis in Gaza are so terrible that “there is no longer any post-trauma,” Hary said. “It’s just an ongoing trauma that people live with.”

In addition to the violence, the lack of a political solution to the Palestinians’ wishes – from the creation of an independent state to the establishment of a capital in East Jerusalem – has strengthened Hamas’s power base, experts warn.

“You’re dealing with a population that has very, very few options,” said Raffaello Pantucci, senior fellow at the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, a think tank in Singapore.

He is among those who believe that any solution to the cycle of violence would require a “tremendous renewal of leadership on both sides” and the election of “a group of people who decide that a perpetual cycle of violence is actually not the right path.” is.” forward.”

“Seeing your family exterminated.”

It’s a well-established idea in radicalization studies: a state seeks to wipe out a militant group, only to make the resulting civilian collateral damage the best recruiting tool for that organization or ideal.

A recent example is the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which experts say ultimately gave birth to the Islamic State (ISIS).

ISIS was a different group from Hamas, although Israel has tried to equate them. ISIS rejected politics and nation-statehood in favor of a global, apocalyptic war against “apostates.” Hamas is a terrorist group and calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, but it also has roots in international political Islam and has participated in elections.

Last month’s brutal terrorist attacks by Hamas, an even more barbaric departure from its previous tactics of anti-Semitic violence and rhetoric, surprised even those who know the group well. And these actions “will serve as an inspiration the likes of which we have not seen since ISIS launched its so-called caliphate years ago,” FBI Director Christopher Wray warned at a Senate hearing last week.

A man, surrounded by other people, carries a girl covered in construction rubble down a street
A man carries a wounded girl who was rescued from under construction rubble after Israeli airstrikes on the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Abed Khaled / AP

Fear of what might come next is also why the US is so worried about Israel’s apparent lack of a post-Hamas plan, said Peter Neumann, a professor of terrorism and radicalization at King’s College London.

“Americans know from their own experience in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and even Libya that whenever you remove a source of power and leave a vacuum, bad things often emerge from that vacuum,” Neumann said.

This threat presents Israel with a dilemma. Most people here, including many on the left, demand that Hamas be eradicated or at least defused to the point where it can never again commit an atrocity like the one on October 7th.

“I see what is happening in Gaza and it breaks my heart. “It’s like looking into the gates of hell,” said Naama Bar-Or, 37, a museum worker from Tel Aviv who wants a ceasefire but only to ensure the release of the hostages. After that, she doesn’t know “if there is another way” to defeat Hamas, apart from the type of military operation now taking place.

“I absolutely do not agree with the killing of civilians,” she said. But “these are my people, and I care about my people. If someone wants to kill me, I’d rather kill them first.”

It is difficult to find a Jewish Israeli here who strongly opposes the bombing of Gaza. And even proponents of such a position admit that their cause is marginal.

A poll by the Maariv newspaper last week found that 49% of Israelis favored holding off on a full-scale ground invasion, which the newspaper attributed to growing support for the release of the approximately 240 hostages held by Hamas. But support for the military campaign itself appears to be so pervasive that a question about it is rarely, if ever, asked in such opinion polls.

The problem with the current bombing and ground attacks in Gaza, radicalization experts argue, is that they could actually increase the risk to Israel and other countries in the long run.

“It’s a terrible, terrible predicament and, frankly, I just don’t know what the way out is,” said Pantucci of the Singapore think tank.

Some U.S. lawmakers and former military officers who witnessed U.S. missteps in Iraq and Afghanistan believe Israel should scale back its massive bombing campaign on Gaza and conduct a more targeted, surgical campaign to inflict civilian casualties rather than a massive ground invasion limit and reduce the risk. The conflict will expand.

A man in an orange life jacket kneels under construction rubble and talks to a person
A Palestinian rescuer finds a person trapped under the rubble of a collapsed building after the Israeli bombardment in Khan Younis. Mahmoud Hams/AFP via Getty Images

The idea of ​​defeating Hamas could be “emotionally satisfying,” said Lt. Col. Frederic Wehrey, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “We have to remember the current tenor. There is a desire for revenge.”

But Wehrey, who served as a U.S. Air Force officer for two decades before becoming an analyst, doesn’t believe that’s realistically achievable. “You’re talking about eradicating a deep-rooted movement,” he said, “a social entity, an entity that has control over Gaza.” In addition, militant groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have been able to continue the regular bombings and the 16- year-long blockade of their enclave as effective recruiting methods.

Pantucci said: “Seeing one’s own family exterminated or seeing close friends suddenly die at the hands of an enemy can all mobilize people and motivate them to violence.”

Palestinians’ peaceful options are being hampered by Hamas’s brutal, repressive rule in Gaza – where the last elections were held 18 years ago, before half the population was still alive – combined with the weakening of the Palestinian Authority’s loose control over parts of the Gaza Strip, further restricted the West Bank.

Until there is a significant change in political will on both sides, the people of Gaza have “very, very few options,” Pantucci said. So when a terrorist group says, “You want revenge? Here I can give you the answer: “The risk they take increases.”

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