Why Hamas Never Wanted War — and Knows It Lost

Hamas is eager to have Mahmoud Abbas’s U.S.-trained Presidential Guard take control of the border crossings between Gaza and Israel. But the Islamist organization isn’t likely to give in to pressure from Abbas and the West to put its own military wing under Abbas’s control, nor to let officials of the proposed Fatah-Hamas unity government take the reins of civilian government in Gaza.

So says Colonel M., head of the Palestinian unit in the research department of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate, in a wide-ranging interview with Arab affairs correspondent Avi Issacharoff of the English-language Times of Israel website and the Hebrew-language Walla! News site.

Colonel M. (the Times of Israel incorrectly translates his title as lieutenant colonel) also describes the IDF intelligence reading of the events that led to the outbreak of this summer’s war in Gaza. He states flatly and firmly that Hamas neither wanted nor planned a war, but stumbled into it unintentionally as the end result of a series of missteps beginning with the kidnapping of three Israeli yeshiva students in the West Bank in early June. He says that published accounts of Hamas planning for a “July War” are “nonsense.” His account of the events is virtually identical to the scenario I laid out in a column in July.

The colonel emphasized, Issacharoff writes, that the views he expressed aren’t his own personal assessment or that of his unit but the consensus view of Israeli Military Intelligence as a whole. He says the assessment is shared by the Shin Bet security service. (This contradicts a recent news analysis in Yediot Ahronot by military correspondent Alex Fishman, who claimed the Shin Bet disagrees and believes Hamas planned the war).

No less intriguing than what the interview says is what it doesn’t say. Issacharoff writes that Colonel M. refused to discuss the situation on the West Bank or Abbas’s strategic thinking, “apparently out of fear of appearing to criticize the political echelon.” It’s yet another indication of the deep and growing divide between Israel’s security professionals and their politician bosses over Israel’s security needs.

Even more striking is the opening section of Issacharoff’s article, which appears in Hebrew in Walla! but not in the English version in the Times of Israel. In it Issacharoff describes the motives behind Abbas’s venomous attack on Israel at the United Nations in September and questions Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s response.

According to Issacharoff, Abbas had two reasons to attack Israel as sharply as he did. The first was his need to shore up his standing in Palestinian public opinion, which had plummeted during the summer war. Last spring Abbas’s favorability rating was double that of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. By the end of the war their positions were reversed as the Palestinian public responded to Hamas’s ability to stand up to Israel. Abbas’s numbers have improved since the war ended in August, but he’s still trailing Haniyeh.

Intriguingly, Issacharoff reports that Hamas’s popularity during and after the war was higher in the West Bank than in Gaza, however much it might “seem like a joke.”

The second reason for Abbas’s speech, Issacharoff writes, was his “disappointment with the Israeli government.”

Issacharoff writes that Abbas’s speech worked to Netanyahu’s political advantage. He was in an awkward position issuing warnings about Iran, because “he’s been talking about the Iranian threat for years and hasn’t done anything.” His concerns about the emergence of ISIS as the embodiment of Islamist terrorism had been thoroughly discussed by earlier speakers. And his effort to equate ISIS and Hamas fell flat because

According to Colonel M., Hamas views the summer war overall as a failure. Once it was at war, it decided to keep fighting until it could show something for it. Unfortunately for them, they set themselves highly unrealistic goals, and

The bottom line seems to be that Bibi would prefer to have Hamas rather than Abbas running Gaza, so the Palestinians remain divided and there’s nobody to talk to. But arguing against Abbas wasn’t easy — until Abbas addressed the General Assembly and did Bibi’s work for him.

The message from Jerusalem regarding Abbas now seems to be: Look at his words, not his deeds.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.


J.J. Goldberg

J.J. Goldberg

Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).

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Why Hamas Never Wanted War — and Knows It Lost

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