Israeli Warplanes Pound Gaza: What is Hamas’s Endgame?

Israeli Warplanes Pound Gaza: What is Hamas's Endgame?
An Israeli artillery unit fires toward targets in Gaza Strip, at the Israeli Gaza border, on Wednesday, May 12.

As Israeli warplanes intensify their assault on Gaza and anticipation grows over a looming ground invasion by Israeli troops, the motivation behind the recent onslaught by Hamas, which provoked Israel’s fierce response, remains a point of contention.

Hamas’s Attacks: A Catalyst for Escalation

Hamas’s actions, resulting in the deaths of over 1,200 Israelis, led Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare war. This declaration has, so far, resulted in the tragic deaths of at least 1,100 Gazans and rendered an estimated 250,000 homeless. According to CBC News, the militant group’s avowed aim is the obliteration of Israel and the establishment of an Islamist state across the entire nation. Despite the catastrophic events, observers contend that Hamas is no nearer to realizing this goal.

In this photo released by Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, greets President Joe Biden, with a fist bump after his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Friday, July 15, 2022. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

Is the U.S.-Saudi-Israel Deal in Jeopardy?

Recent negotiations between the United States and Saudi Arabia concerning the normalization of Saudi-Israeli relations in exchange for a U.S. defence pact could potentially be imperiled by the current conflict. The Saudi Foreign Affairs Ministry voiced concerns, stating the kingdom had consistently warned of an “explosive situation as a result of the continued occupation and deprivation of the Palestinian people’s legitimate rights.”

Aziz Alghashian, a specialist on Saudi-Israeli relations, told the Times of Israel that the statement aimed to eradicate any suspicion that Saudi Arabia would prioritize normalization over supporting the Palestinians. “This kind of situation has made Saudi Arabia revert to its traditional role,” he noted.

According to Matthew Levitt from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hamas officials have been candid about the potential ramifications of such a deal. “I think Hamas fears if there was to be normalization with Saudi Arabia, other Muslim nations, other Arab nations, would follow suit,” he disclosed to The Associated Press.

A Desire for Inclusion or a Cry for Attention?

Some experts theorize that Hamas seeks inclusion in the U.S.-Saudi talks. As Devorah Margolin from the Washington Institute stated in an email to CBC News, “Through its recent actions, Hamas has sought to make it clear to all that lasting Middle East peace cannot happen without addressing the Israeli-Palestinian issue, with Hamas at the center of these conversations.”

However, Ron Hassner from the University of California, Berkeley, offered a different perspective. “My interpretation is that Hamas understands that it will never have a seat at the negotiating table. So, in my view, what you’re witnessing from Hamas is a desperate last cry for attention.”

The Objective: Weaken Israel

Steven Cook, from the Council on Foreign Relations, doubts the potential Saudi deal was a primary consideration for Hamas. He shared his perspective, stating, “I don’t believe that the Saudi-Israel normalization was the target.” However, he acknowledged that if the conflict halts Saudi-Israeli normalization, “it is a win for Hamas (and Iran).”

Nathan Thrall, an author and former director of the International Crisis Group’s Arab-Israel project, conveyed to CBC News Network about the complex terrain of Gaza, “Hamas believes they can exact a very high price on Israel for its presence there, for entering with ground forces.”

A parade for the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s militant arm, is held in Gaza. Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Global Marketing Strategy or Simple Vengeance?

The Washington Institute’s Margolin proposed that the attacks led by Hamas aimed to provoke a seemingly “disproportionate” response from Israel, thereby drawing global condemnation. Max Abrahms, an associate professor at Northeastern University, suggested, “It could serve as essentially a marketing strategy around the world to potential supporters.”

Yet, some analysts posit that vengeance might be a primary driving factor for Hamas. Colin P. Clarke, a Senior Research Fellow at the Soufan Center in New York, highlighted the lifelong strife many Hamas members have endured against the Israelis, suggesting, “Don’t discount revenge as a factor here.”

Multiple Fronts Against Israel?

Another theory proposes that Hamas initiated the attacks in hopes of inspiring others to join the fray and initiate various confrontations against Israel. Such a strategy might involve conflicts with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in the north or uprisings in the occupied West Bank. Already, there have been reports of Hezbollah launching rockets into Israel.

As Matthew Levitt from the Washington Institute suggested, “I think that Hamas felt that if it does come to a ground war… that it would incite another from Hezbollah and Syria.”