When it comes to the domestic political crisis raging within Israel’s borders, Hamas is currently on the fence about how to react.
Hamas’s leadership in Gaza has not been taken in by the Iranian-Shi’ite axises confident pronouncements that Israel is weak and that its end is nigh. Unlike Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which are completely dependent on Iran, both ideologically and economically, Hamas is aware that democracy is one of Israel’s primary strengths.
We know that the terror organization recognizes this strength because, in over 30 weeks of mass political demonstrations held in Israel, Hamas has not launched a single attack targeting these rallies. That appears to be a deliberate choice.
It is based on the calculation that assaulting the protesters would backfire, and therefore be a foolish move. This conclusion was likely reached after Hamas completed a strategic and operational examination of its options. The review concluded with a decision, for now at least, to stay on the sidelines and “let the Jews tear themselves apart.”
"Let the Jews tear themselves apart": How Hamas shows its understanding of Israelis
At the same time, it takes advantage of the Israeli divide to advance its goal of making its narrative the dominant one in the Palestinian arena.
Confident that the actions of the Israeli Right, which are creating increased friction with the Palestinians, will assist its efforts to position itself as the leading faction in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), it has doubled down on its efforts to carry out and support terrorism in the territories.
The August 4 incident in Burqa, in the West Bank, in which a Palestinian man was shot dead by an Israeli settler during clashes, is just the kind of incident that Hamas is banking on to boost its status.
As the lead Palestinian organization behind terrorist attacks, Hamas can present its rival, the Palestinian Authority/Fatah, as a collaborator of Israel, and depict the PA’s security operations in Jenin, following the IDF’s operation there, as part of that collaboration.
Hamas very much hopes that far-right Israeli figures, such as National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, will continue to stir up trouble in the West Bank. Meanwhile, it is also pressing Israel, Egypt, and others to increase the quantity of money entering Gaza, as a form of extortion racket, and this pressure likely led to Israel’s agreement to increase Qatari funding of Gaza’s power station by an additional $3 million a month.
Hamas-backed launches of primitive rockets in Jenin, meanwhile, are another signal to Israel that the multi-arena threat that it is building – the ability to fire rockets at Israel from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria – is now being joined by the West Bank.
Hamas has a firm understanding of the Israeli psyche, with its top leaders, like Yahya Sinwar, having spent many years in Israeli prisons. That’s why in early August, it released an image of the firearm it seized from IDF soldier Hadar Goldin, who was killed in action and whose body is held by the organization as a bargaining chip for a future prisoner swap.
The terror group sees that Israel is refraining from a forceful response against Hezbollah’s stepped-up provocations from Lebanon and responding with a campaign of threats of its own.
Looking ahead, all of this places Hamas in a better position ahead of the departure of PA President Mahmoud Abbas from the scene. While the group is aware that Israel would not permit it to establish a regime in the West Bank as it has in Gaza, it is planning a different kind of maneuver, based on replicating the democratic claim to legitimacy that it sees in Israel.
It will claim, not without justification, that most West Bank Palestinian voters want it in power. It is therefore likely to hold mass rallies and attempted takeovers of PA power centers, based on the democratic claim.
It is still unclear whether Hamas plans to plant one of its people as future president of the PA, or as a future secretary-general of the PLO, but what is highly likely is that it will choose a legal-democratic channel to try and seize power. It may also try to re-establish a majority in the Palestinian parliament, much like Hezbollah has done in Lebanon. This is Hamas’s next significant objective – and it is searching for ways to exploit Israel’s moment of crisis to help advance it.
Should it succeed, the Oslo Accords would likely be scrapped, and Israel would probably go back to a military-combat posture regarding the West Bank. As such, when Hamas views the mass protests in Israel and claims by both sides within the Israeli divide of representing a democratic majority, it sees the blueprints for its takeover plan of the West Bank.
This scenario, if it plays out, places Israel in a more precarious position than an attempted Hamas armed coup would in the West Bank. It reduces Israel’s room for political maneuvering.
When Hamas looks around the region and views the rise in power of the Iranian-Shi’ite axis and the perceived weakening of the United States alliance system, it draws encouragement. When it sees Israel fighting itself, it draws even greater encouragement, and this will guide it as it enters the post-Abbas succession battle.
Ultimately, Israel’s working assumption when preparing for Hamas’s next steps should be that its leadership knows Israelis better than we know ourselves.
The writer, an IDF colonel (ret.), is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute. He concluded his military service in 2016 as the head of the civil department for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).