Eradicating Hamas Is a Deadly Delusion

Eradicating Hamas Is a Deadly Delusion
Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends a rally of supporters in Gaza City, the Gaza Strip, May 24, 2021 (AP photo by John Minchillo).

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to the U.S. airwaves to make his case for carrying out his threat to attack the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. Experts have condemned the proposed operation as a catastrophe waiting to happen, endangering the lives of the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in the city. But in his interview, Netanyahu painted a rosier picture, saying that “total victory” over Hamas is “within reach” and indeed only “weeks away” if the attack on Rafah goes forward. His claim that Israel’s military operations will eradicate the organization responsible for the horrific attacks of Oct. 7 has been the animating logic of the Israeli government’s brutal campaign in Gaza from the start. Five months into that campaign, it is less believable today than it has ever been.

Netanyahu has been clear since October that he sees wiping Hamas “off the face of the earth” and attaining the “eternal disarmament of Gaza” as achievable war aims. The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has backed that assertion, in both rhetoric and policy. Early in the conflict, Biden himself called for the elimination of Hamas. His support for the Israeli military campaign has become more measured as the human toll of the conflict has grown, but recent White House policy proposals demonstrate his administration’s stubborn faith in the idea that the Israeli military can in fact destroy the group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. And the administration’s vision for a postwar Gaza shares the premise that the Palestinian Authority and its security forces will be able to step into a power vacuum left behind by a suddenly absent Hamas.

Yet assumptions that Hamas is on the brink of total destruction don’t stand up to even cursory scrutiny. To the contrary, there is greater evidence by the day that the Israeli military campaign has failed to eliminate the group’s capacity for violence. By some metrics, the group’s strength has grown over the course of Israel’s war in Gaza. It is vital for policymakers to internalize this reality and understand that, despite Netanyahu’s claims, the unspeakable human cost of this war is not producing any sort of grand strategic victory for Israel. Instead, the violence is as senseless as it is brutal. A cease-fire is the only way forward.

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