Security, Middle East
Destroying Hamas’ control would lead to either an open-ended Israeli presence that governs Gaza or to chaos.
In a June 2017 article in the National Interest, I asserted that while Israel is militarily capable of destroying Hamas, in the absence of a viable alternative to the group’s control of Gaza, strategically it could not afford to do so. The recent flare-up along the border with Gaza, which escalated on May 29 into the most intense day since the large-scale fighting in the summer of 2014, makes this an opportune moment to revisit the issue. It is a reminder that another major engagement is a constant possibility and that there are those in Israel who would support retaking the Gaza strip and getting rid of Hamas.
In the original article, I put forward three categories of recommendations— military, civilian, and strategic. While militarily Israel has made impressive progress in countering the main threats emanating from Gaza, the civilian dimension has continued to deteriorate, and the search for a viable alternative to Hamas has remained stagnated. Consequently, growing economic and social frustration in Gaza increases the likelihood of another conflict flaring up. While Israel will be militarily in a better position to manage such a conflict, in the absence of a workable exit strategy, no long-lasting positive change in Gaza is achievable following another round of hostilities.
Israel’s inability to develop a purposive alternative to Hamas’ control of Gaza, dictates that a limited military option is still the best choice. Specifically, a military rationale based on attrition, denial, and deterrence, should remain the dominant logic for the next round of hostilities rather than a strategic-political one dictating an end to Hamas’ rule.
The Strategic Picture