In seeking to dissuade Israel from putting an end to Hamas’s reign of terror in Gaza, the head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, warned on Saturday that, “If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse.”
Referring to the radical Salafist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which last month declared that it had reestablished the caliphate in territories it controls in Iraq, Flynn predicted “something like ISIS” would fill the power vacuum created in the event of Hamas’s downfall.
Worse than Hamas? Really? While Salafi jihadists like ISIS and militant offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood like Hamas differ on questions such as the speed and methods by which Islamic law (sharia) should be imposed on Muslims, there is absolutely no daylight between them about the treatment of Jews. In their eyes all are deserving of death and must, as a matter of religious commandment, be annihilated.
If anything, it is ISIS’s attitude that is less fanatical, in that the Salafists are equal opportunity murderers – targeting Christians, Jews, Shi’ites and any Sunni who does not buy into their particular vision of Islamic utopia – whereas Hamas and its sister organization, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), are singularly obsessed with killing Jews.
Hamas has proven itself to be as implacable as the most radical Salafist armed groups operating in Syria and Iraq, and far more capable than they are at mobilizing for war. After taking control of the Gaza Strip through a violent coup in 2007, Hamas became responsible for governing 1.8 million Palestinians. Yet power has not moderated Hamas, as many had hoped.
On the contrary, Hamas governs to kill. Every state-like asset seized by Hamas has since been applied to the cause of jihad. Every kindergarten, school, university and summer camp has been turned into a hub of hatred and radicalization of future generations.
Every truckload of Israeli-supplied steel and cement has gone to construct missiles, rocket launchers, underground bunkers, and tunnels.
Every dollar, euro, Iranian or Qatari riyal received in aid has been ploughed into building military capabilities and using them. Groups like ISIS have demonstrated nothing like these mobilization capabilities, and it would take them decades of uninterrupted activity to attain them.
Hamas and PIJ are far more dangerous than any of the alternative governors that could realistically emerge in post-Hamas Gaza, in that they have, for over two decades now, been systematically armed, trained and funded by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and most recently Qatar. Even if these or other sponsors were to overcome their aversion for aiding and abetting ISIS-like jihadists, it would again take a highly disciplined organization many years of undisturbed activity to attain a fraction of Hamas’s current know-how and capabilities.
Those, like Flynn, who seek to preserve Hamas’s rule in Gaza under the false guise that it is somehow the lesser evil, understate Hamas’s perniciousness and effectively condemn millions of Israelis and Palestinians to a future of perpetual conflict and misery.
There are other, far better political scenarios for a post-Hamas Gaza. Israelis, Egyptians, Saudis and moderate Palestinians are united as never before in their desire to see Gaza freed from Hamas’s rule. It is high time the leaders of the free world stood with them.
The author is head of the Governance and Political Violence Program and Marc and Anita Abramowitz Senior Researcher at the International Institute for Counter- Terrorism of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at IDC, Herzliya, as well as Visiting Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.