Analysis: Heavy losses haven't broken the Hamas regime

Despite criticism of leaders, terror group still has the support of the Palestinian street.

By
January 14, 2009 01:33
3 minute read.
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Despite the severe military blows that it has been dealt since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead, there were still no signs on Tuesday that the Hamas regime was even close to collapsing. Palestinian sources in the Gaza Strip said Hamas lost several hundred of its fighters in Israeli air and ground attacks over the past 18 days. At least 2,500 Hamas gunmen were wounded during the same period, the sources told The Jerusalem Post. But, the sources pointed out, these are only a tiny percentage of Hamas's armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, and other security organizations belonging to the Islamist movement. Altogether, Hamas is believed to have more than 25,000 militiamen and policemen in the Gaza Strip. And Hamas is not alone on the battlefront. Dozens of Fatah gunmen belonging to the faction's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, are reportedly participating in the fighting alongside Hamas gunmen. The Fatah group on Tuesday claimed that one of its members had launched a suicide attack against IDF soldiers in the northern Gaza Strip. The group has also claimed responsibility for firing several rockets at Israel in the past two weeks. Hamas is also being aided by other groups such as Islamic Jihad, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Popular Resistance Committees. These groups have also suffered heavy losses since the beginning of the military offensive. Palestinian reporters in the Gaza Strip estimated that at least 150 gunmen belonging to these groups had been killed by the IDF. In addition to the heavy casualties, Hamas has lost all its government installations in the Gaza Strip, including police and security facilities, military training centers and ministry buildings. Israel has also destroyed scores of Hamas-linked charities and organizations that were providing the Palestinians with a vast network of social, economic, health and education services. Moreover, the IDF operation has sent the entire Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip into hiding. When and if Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and senior leader Mahmoud Zahar emerge from their hiding places, they are likely to face criticism for abandoning their people during war. The fact that Haniyeh and Zahar chose to hide out of concern for their personal safety has severely undermined their prestige. Only days before the operation began, the two appeared in public to mock Israel's failure to respond to the rocket attacks. They also warned Israel against attacking the Gaza Strip, saying Hamas had prepared "surprises" for the IDF. The military offensive has not only sent Haniyeh and Zahar into hiding, but has also succeeded in driving a wedge between them and their Hamas colleagues in Syria. While the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip has been repeatedly signaling its readiness to accept an immediate cease-fire, Khaled Mashaal and other Hamas officials in Damascus believe that Hamas must continue to fight until it can claim achievements. This schism explains the contradictory statements that have been coming from Hamas leaders over the past few days. On the one hand, Haniyeh and his friends in the Gaza Strip are so desperate for a cease-fire that they have been sending messages to some Arab capitals to put pressure on Mashaal to accept the latest Egyptian truce proposal. On the other hand, the Iranians and Syrians are continuing to exert pressure on Mashaal not to accept the Egyptian initiative. Among the Hamas leaders in both the Gaza Strip and Damascus, there is a growing sense of disappointment with the Syrians and Iranians for failing to come to the movement's aid during the war. As a Hamas representative in Gaza City said on Tuesday night, "We feel that our brothers in Teheran and Damascus have betrayed us, as have the rest of the Arab and Islamic governments." The military and political setbacks, nevertheless, have thus far failed to bring Hamas to its knees. Buoyed by the support of the Arab and Muslim street, Hamas appears determined to cling to power regardless of the heavy price. Although Hamas has been hit hard, not a single Palestinian in the Gaza Strip has raised his voice against the movement and its leaders. Hopes that the massive IDF operation would encourage Palestinians to revolt against a weakened Hamas have not materialized. If anything, many Palestinians agree, the Israeli offensive has actually boosted Hamas's popularity and undermined the so-called moderates in the Arab world.

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