Did Hamas Provoke Israeli Offensive for Political Gain?

The Palestinian terrorist group may hope to influence the upcoming Israeli election.

Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system in operation, August 21, 2011
Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system in operation, August 21, 2011 (IDF/Shay Vaknin)

Recent months have seen a dramatic increase in Palestinian rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip against southern Israel, prompting last week’s escalation in Israeli countermeasures and an expected ground offensive against militants in the territory. The situation is reminiscent of the 2008-2009 Gaza war which devastated the civilian and military infrastructure of the coastal enclave and claimed the lives of hundreds of Palestinians. Given Israel’s military superiority and proven willingness to deploy force to suppress Palestinian militant activity, whatever the international response, why did Hamas, the terrorist group that has governed Gaza since 2007, provoke the latest Israeli offensive with a missile barrage?

Daniel R. DePetris observed at the Atlantic Sentinel in October that Hamas’ authority in the Gaza Strip was challenged by smaller and more hardline Islamist groups, including Tawhid and Jihad, two of whose former leaders were killed in an Israeli drone strike that month. The group is supposed to be part of an umbrella organization that calls itself the Mujahedeen Shura Council, “an indication that Salafi groups in Gaza are increasing their numbers and trying to coordinate their activities,” according to DePetris. Some disgruntled Hamas members had even joined the movement.

What concerns Hamas, of course, is not that these small organizations have a disdain for Israel but that its own authority is challenged.

One of the explanations for Hamas’ recent actions offered by Wikistrat’s Steven Aiello at the geostrategic consultancy’s blog on Sunday suggests a similar rationale but takes into account the upcoming Israeli elections which weren’t yet scheduled in October.

Aiello notes that attacks on Israel tend to shift public opinion in favor of conservative and nationalist parties which are currently in government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition can expect to do well in January’s vote if its reaction to the violence from Gaza is perceived as decisive.

As such, a logical conclusion is that Hamas leadership may prefer to have an Israeli right-wing bloc in power, a not unsurprising conclusion given that this advances Hamas interests by promoting the belief that Fatah is unequipped to represent Palestinians and the more militant nationalist party of Hamas is better poised to address a situation of political intransigence.

The logic may apply not just to President Mahmoud Abbas’ more moderate Fatah movement, which controls Palestinian territory in the West Bank and competes with Hamas for political leadership of the Palestinians, but opposition groups in Gaza as well. Just as Israelis rally ’round the incumbent prime minister and his party, Gaza militants and residents may be less inclined to throw in their lot with smaller parties now the area is under threat of invasion.

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