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November 18, 2012 6:23 am

Hamas’ Confounding Motivation

avatar by Steven Emerson

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Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Photo: www.israellycool.com.

Palestinian advocates blame Israel for the latest clashes in Gaza, pointing out Israel’s vastly superior military edge.

That superiority might be the one fact not in dispute. But it raises the question of why Hamas would provoke Israeli retaliation by firing hundreds of rockets at civilians, and now by broadening those attacks to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

It could be pure anger and madness. But other factors may be in play.

Hamas may have underestimated Israel’s reaction to the incessant rocket attacks, believing Israel was not prepared to further strain deteriorating relations with the new Egyptian government. As a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot, Hamas may expect Egypt would deter Israel from taking severe action. Furthermore, Turkey’s ongoing support for Gaza and recent exhibits of Arab solidarity, such as the Qatari emir’s visit to Gaza in October, may have been construed as a sufficient increase in the diplomatic risk facing potential Israeli retaliation.

In light of the emergence of more assertive jihadi groups operating in Gaza, Hamas’ control over the territory has been eroding. As a result, Hamas’ reputation as the main “resistance” force to Israeli “occupation” has diminished. In this context, Hamas seeks a more active and leading role in the fight against Israel to enhance its dominance of Gaza and restore its image regionally. This is exemplified by Hamas claiming responsibility for Friday’s rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and even the Israeli capital, Jerusalem.

Domestic concerns within the Palestinian political arena may also have a role in the timing of this escalation. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas intends to request the upgrading of the PA’s status within the United Nations General Assembly on Nov. 29. The date is symbolic since the UN voted for the partition plan to facilitate a two-state solution on November 29, 1947 – an offer Abbas has stated was a mistake for the Palestinians to reject. The recent rocket fire may be an attempt by Hamas to subvert the broader ‘peace process,’ as the Palestinian issue is set to receive significant international attention in the coming weeks.

With internal and global considerations in play, analyzing Hamas’ motivations for instigating this confrontation may be the key to institute the appropriate American and international pressure required to facilitate a de-escalation in the violence. Otherwise, Israel will be forced to take more aggressive action to quell the unbearable rocket fire.

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