Hamas has not swerved from its long-term goal of destroying and replacing Israel, and Israel’s long-term goal is to replace Hamas with another entity, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Sami Turgeman said Monday.
Turgeman, who will soon complete his term – which included the 50-day conflict with Hamas last year – spoke at the Terrorism’s Global Impact summit in Herzliya, organized by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism.
“We don’t see Hamas in Gaza as something that has to stay forever,” Turgeman said. “Hamas is first of all an enemy. Its ultimate goal hasn’t changed: to put an end to the State of Israel and control this whole territory. It wishes to achieve this through stages.”
In the short-term, he added, “On the one hand you want to strike Hamas very hard, militarily weaken it, and deter it. But you don’t want it to be so hard that you topple it, and then you become responsible for governing Hamas.”
Hamas employs a very flexible strategic approach, which differentiates between its short-term and long-term goals, Turgeman said. He named Hamas leaders, like political- wing chiefs Ismael Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal, as elements pulling in one direction, and military- wing figures like Muhammad Deif and Yahya Sinwar as pulling in another.
Today, Hamas is a state, a military, and a terrorist organization, all at the same time, Turgeman argued.
If Hamas provokes another major conflict with Israel, and assumes that Israel will refrain from toppling it as it did in the past, it will be making a mistake and “risk all that it has built in Gaza,” he warned.
“Hamas is in a government with Fatah, it represses the Salafists in Gaza but works with them in Sinai. It keeps all of its channels open. This is because Hamas is at a low point. In this situation, it safeguards every channel, looking for support and gains.”
Common short-term interests shared by Hamas and Israel include preventing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. “Hence, we enable all existential [humanitarian] goods to enter Gaza. A second shared interest is to prevent the growth of Salafist or ISIS-affiliated groups in Gaza.
"A third is to prevent chaos and a power vacuum,” Turgeman stated.
"On a daily basis, Hamas operates like a military in every sense, he continued. It is structured with territorial divisions and battalions, and is developing military capabilities."
But its mission targets are those of a terrorist organization, he stressed. Hamas is building up military defenses, attack capabilities, naval, ground-based, and aerial assets. This resembles a conventional military build-up, Turgeman said.
It also maintains research and development labs in Gaza, in places like the Islamic College, where chemists and engineers build up military capabilities. Defense industries in Gaza then go into production. “Most of the rockets in Hamas’s arsenal were developed and manufactured in Gaza,” Turgeman said.
“It has military installations and command rooms. The military wing is the biggest employer in Gaza – not the PA, or the Palestinian government. They direct these capabilities in a terrorist manner against our communities and civilians.
"Rockets are fired at our civilians. They plan raids into our territory to target our communities and civilians. This is terrorist conduct in every sense.”
Additionally, within Gaza, most of Hamas’s military activity is deliberately placed within crowded, sensitive areas, not out of any geographical need, but out of a premeditated aim to get Israel to kill Gazan noncombatants in order to win a propaganda war.
“Rockets are launched from hospitals, schools, and clinics,” Turgeman said. “We are seeing more and more military structure in Gaza, like patrols on border roads, and lookouts, to safeguard Hamas’s sovereignty. They know how to carry out daily security missions, in the same ways that a military operates.”
Turgeman underlined economic problems in Gaza that have no solution in sight, such as the 40 percent unemployment rate, the fact that 44% of Gazans are under age 14, and the lack of any economic growth catalysts. He also noted the ongoing water crisis in the coastal territory.
“Hamas depends on the street. Mashaal is looking for international support. They are keeping their channels open with the Iranians, Turks, Egyptians, and Saudis,” Turgeman said.
"Deif represents the military buildup. He invests a lot of resources in tunnels and in destruction. He looks at things through the military prism. He wants to win wars.”
Senior Hamas member Yayha Sinwar enjoys close links to the military wing, but also shares some views with the political wing, Turgeman said. “He combines both views.”
Both divisions reject the idea of mutiny, but in times of crises, their ability to avoid rebellions by the other is far from assured, according to Turgeman. Last year’s Operation Protective Edge deepened rifts between the two leaderships.
The political wing is not supportive of military offensives, and believes that if 50 days of warfare against Israel did not pull Gaza out of its corner, further rounds of conflict will not do so either. The military wing, Turgeman said, “sees things only though the use of force."
The real question is when will this question be decided, if at all.
“Hamas has been able to keep many channels open thus far, but it is not clear that this is something that will hold for a lengthy duration."
"We have to prepare for another reality, and that is what we are doing,” Turgeman concluded.