- Israel appears to be preparing for a ground invasion of Gaza where it hopes to wipe out Hamas.
- But experts on peace and terrorism said a strictly militaristic approach is unlikely to create change.
- “It is extremely rare for a terror group to be wiped out with violence,” one expert said.
Israel has declared a state of war and vowed to destroy Hamas after the Palestinian militant group executed a wave of unprecedented terror attacks throughout the country that killed more than 1,000.
But if Israel takes a strictly militaristic approach to the most recent provocation in the decades-long conflict, it may end up inadvertently strengthening Hamas’ power, three experts on terrorism and peace told Insider.
“It is extremely rare for a terror group to be wiped out with violence,” said Alon Burstein, a visiting professor and Israel Institute Fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine.
Hamas is the Islamist militant group that governs the more than two million Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip, a tiny sliver of land that is blockaded by Israel and Egypt. The US has designated Hamas a terrorist organization due to repeated armed attacks against Israel.
The group launched several surprise attacks on Israeli soil earlier this month, massacring civilians at kibbutzim near the Israel-Gaza border and taking Israeli hostages back into Gaza. The attacks prompted a swift and strong counter response from Israel which declared war on Hamas and vowed to lay siege to Gaza.
Israel said 1,300 people were killed in the attacks and more than 100 people taken hostage. On Friday, the Palestinian health ministry said more than 1,700 people were killed as a result of Israel’s retaliation.
“That scale obviously has psychological, humanitarian, and strategic implications,” said Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “It creates new realities that might be felt for years to come.”
Hamas’ attacks this month ended an almost 20-year stalemate that has been characterized by Israel’s tense occupation of the West Bank and blockade in Gaza, as well as occasional bouts of violence, Burstein said.
“The perception Israel had — that it could contain Hamas and live with it being a nuisance that sometimes fires missiles — will never return,” he told Insider.
Military action is not enough to drive out terrorism
Since Hamas won political power in Gaza in the 2006 local elections, Israel and Egypt have overseen a blockade of the small piece of land, restricting the flow of goods into Palestinian territory which has led to food and medicine shortages and wrecked the local economy.
The blockade also restricts Palestinians from leaving Gaza in most cases, and with more than half the population unemployed, Gaza is ripe for recruitment efforts by Hamas militants.
Eradicating Hamas entirely is likely to be logistically difficult for Israel, according to Kenneth Gray, a criminal justice professor at the University of New Haven and retired FBI agent who worked in counter-terrorism.
While the group’s military branch, the Al-Qassam Brigades, has been on the frontlines of terror actions in the region, Hamas is also the governing body in Gaza, overseeing civilian services for the millions of Palestinians who live there.
Israel has indicated it means to strip the group of its military and governing power in Gaza by means of a brutal house-to-house battle, though military experts have warned the urban environment will make for a nasty fight.
But even the total eradication of Hamas would fail to solve the tensions between Israel and Palestinians, Telhami said.
“There is no military solution to this conflict. You destroy Hamas and then what?” he said. “Other groups will take their place given the anger, the hurt, the damage, and despair.
Burstein, who studies terrorist groups, said repression has historically been an inadequate approach to fighting terrorism.
“If Israel wipes out Hamas and leaves Gaza, either Hamas resurges or a more violent option rises,” he said.
Terror groups only subside in totality when military repression efforts are combined with additional means of diplomacy, which typically must involve an actor from within the group’s own population, Burstein said.
He offered an example: If Israel were to wipe out Hamas and reoccupy the Gaza Strip for a period of time and then bring in the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the occupied West Bank, to also oversee Gaza, there could be a real chance at stamping out terrorism — through the Palestinian Authority has been accused of human rights abuses as well.
Violence historically precedes a radical change in this conflict
What happens next remains unclear. All signs point to a coming ground invasion by Israel, and experts are increasingly worried that the conflict could expand beyond Israel and Palestine’s borders, drawing Lebanon and other Arab nations into the fight.
On Thursday evening, Israel told more than a million civilians living in northern Gaza to evacuate their homes, suggesting an attack was imminent. All of Gaza’s border crossings, however, have been sealed off by Israel as hundreds of thousands of Israel Defense Forces troops gather near Gaza alongside armor and weaponry.
The near future almost certainly includes more civilian deaths and an escalation of violence in Gaza, according to experts.
That violence, however, could portend real changes in the coming months and years, Burstein said, adding that major changes in the status quo between Israel and Palestinians have historically been preceded by violent events.
“These watershed events in the past have produced surprising things,” he said. “That is unfortunately the pattern in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”