Creating new perspectives since 2009

Lessons from resistance history far and near: Hamas and the unthinkable

October 12, 2023 at 9:00 am

Israeli forces take security measures after Hamas launched Operation Al-Aqsa Flood in Sderot, Israel on October 09, 2023 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

Apartheid Israel has lots of soul searching and thinking to do as it tries to figure out how Hamas could have mastered such an attack on Palestinian land, occupied since 1948. How could such an organisation in the Gaza Strip enclave, under complete siege since 2007, prepare itself and launch its operation, codenamed, “Toofan Al-Aqsa” (Al-Aqsa Flood), on such a scale and ferocity never seen before.

The attack, in military terms, is known as a multi-dimensional operation in which air, ground and sea assaults are launched near simultaneously with speed, which not only surprises the enemy but slows its reaction but tends to make such reaction confused and clumsy at best.

The one thing that is clear is a multi-dimensional Israeli failure. Israel’s military intelligence failed to estimate how strong Hamas is, while the Mossad, the once invincible Israeli external security organisation, failed to predict any suspicious activities. At the same time, Shin Bet, the internal security organ, had no idea of what was coming.  Above all, the Israeli barrier, the fence Israel constructed in 1994 to seal of Gaza, was breached in a few minutes.

Stunned by the ferocity of the attack, Israeli military decision makers were helpless during the entire first 24 hours of Toofan Al-Aqsa, which started in the earlier hours of Saturday morning, 7 October. This gave the Palestinian Resistance fighters the time leverage to penetrate deep inside Israel, attacking colonies around Gaza, most of which are concealed military outposts, before going after proper military posts, including  the Beit Hanoon border crossing (called Erez by Israel), the Zikim military base and the Gaza military division headquarters at Reim.

READ: If there is any justice in this world, Israel’s criminal politicians and generals will be held to account

Questions about the lessons learnt have been put off for now, as the Israeli army, which appeared collapsed in the earlier attack stages like a house of cards, continues to pound Gaza, killing hundreds of women and children in its attempt to restore some of its destroyed reputation as a sophisticated  and regional superior military establishment, compared to no other.

However, some lessons are emerging that the Palestinian Resistance has to learn and accumulate as learned experiences for future battles with Israel, as this battle is only yet another round in the long struggle to freedom and independence.

Unity is crucial among the Palestinian factions in both military and political terms. Disunited factions, however strong they might be, can achieve little compared to a united front. Over the last decade or so, Palestinian resistance have been staging their responses to the Israeli aggression, not as united efforts but as individual fights, making it easier for Israel to overwhelm them. This lesson came straight from Lions’ Den in Jenin in the Occupied West Bank.

Another Jenin learned lesson is the hit-and-run strategy, particularly effective in urban battles. In the battle of Jenin in 2002, the Israeli army suffered one of its biggest losses, with 23 soldiers killed and another 75 injured. Fighters in Jenin used this tactic, which depends heavily on an underground network of tunnels to bypass the Israeli forces and their many checkpoints above ground. Hamas seems to have added its own renovations to the tunnelling structures by reinforcing them, in depth, width and length. Tunnelling the battle field is an old guerrilla tactic successfully used by the Vietnamese against the United States.

Concealment or disguising training activities is another area where resistance fighters in Gaza appear to have succeeded. The scale, approach and sophistication of Toofan Al-Aqsa required lots of planning and training, which is not easy when operating in the densely populated Gaza Strip under the constant watch of Israeli intelligence and its on-the-ground sources, including Palestinians recruited to work for the Occupation State.

In the past, many top resistance leaders and field commanders were killed by Israel because Israeli agents managed to locate them. Not this time – at least, not so far. What appears to have brought this strategic concealment is Hamas’ ability to avoid using established communications networks and, above all, diverting attention away from what it was doing, creating what military intelligence, in academic terms, call noise elsewhere. This is a mix of appearing quiet, concentrating on other issues like political fights and, most importantly, ranting too much about unrelated issues including social and economic problems. We have seen the Hamas government in Gaza, over the last few years, talking repeatedly about the hardships people face daily.

READ: Could Bin Salman emerge as the saviour of Palestine?

Another lesson the Palestinian resistance should also learn is the fact that their enemy is well entrenched, well armed and, above all, well supported by international superpowers, including the United States. Realising these facts is enough to intimidate any group of fighters, however prepared they are. However, the belief in the cause and that it is a just one, coupled with  self-confidence, which raises the morale of fighters making them ignore the aura of power that surrounds the enemy, even when such an enemy has nuclear capabilities, like the Israeli army. Morale is critical, of course.

Hamas and the other resistance factions seem to have learned only well the lesson of using the media. Never before has the Movement been so successful in utilising the media in capturing its work.  This time, the world saw fighters’ video recording their progress and, in some cases, streaming it live to audiences across the world, giving their supporters soul-lifting doses in times of difficulties.

For Israel, though, it appears that nobody has learned much from the previous seven decades of occupation and apartheid policies. Since its creation, Israel has been adamant in using disproportionate force against a mostly civilian population. We have seen this on a daily basis in the West Bank. Israeli policy makers seem not to understand the fact that the more brutal the occupation becomes, the more stiff resistance it will face.

In the current context, the world has heard how Israeli officials, openly endorsed by the United States President, portrayed the Palestinians describing them as “human animals” to use the words of Israeli Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, while announcing his decision to deny Gaza’s over 2 million people fuel, electricity, food and medicine.

Mostly striking, though, is the fact that the US Middle East policy keeps failing to deliver peace and security for Israel. Instead of offering wisdom and calling for peace, President Biden remarked by encouraging Israel to commit more atrocities. In a 1,296 words statement on 10 October, he failed to mention the Palestinian aspirations, instead saying that Israel has a duty to “respond to Hamas” and went on ranting about how his country and Israel are “democracies” and that they are “stronger and more secure when we act according to the rule of law.” When, in fact, both countries have been in breach of almost all international laws, particularly humanitarian law – and Iraq, Afghanistan and Occupied Palestine now, are only a few examples.

READ: The bias of Western leaders does not help the Israelis wake up

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.