Israel’s once slick, well-oiled, black propaganda machine is now beginning to resemble a spluttering steampunk engine held together by bits of string and sticking plaster. Its current mantra that Hamas is ISIS is a prime example of Tel Aviv’s spin doctors’ inability to stop lying to the world about what is happening on the ground in occupied Palestine.
Comparing the Zionists’ mission to defeat Hamas to the US-led campaign to defeat ISIS/Daesh in Iraq and Syria was not only a fool’s errand but just plain stupid. After the audacious Hamas attack on 7 October, right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared: “And just as the forces of civilisation united to defeat ISIS, the forces of civilisation must support Israel in defeating Hamas.” What sort of “civilisation”, I wonder, thinks that it is acceptable to kill 15,000 children and women indiscriminately?
Anyway, Netanyahu’s table-thumping speech sounded very Trumpian, although listening to would-be US President Donald Trump’s latest bluff and bluster on the presidential campaign trail, it seems that it was him and him alone who defeated ISIS/Daesh. While Trump took the credit, it was his generals who declared victory over the so-called Islamic State and announced the withdrawal of US forces from Syria. In doing so, Trump blatantly contradicted his own administration’s policy, alienated allies, strengthened America’s enemies, and emboldened the nearly defeated ISIS, but that’s another story for another time.
Just like Trump, Netanyahu was short on facts and detail, but, also just like Trump, he thought that if he repeated his spurious claims loud enough and often enough, people would fall for it. They didn’t.
While Israeli leaders and commanders continued to draw parallels between Hamas and ISIS/Daesh in virtually every speech and public statement, the content of what they said simply did not stack up to the images pouring out of Gaza and onto the social networks. Israel claimed that Hamas killed around 1,200 Israel citizens on 7 October, for example, having rounded the figure down from an initial claim of 1,400. However, since then, it has been revealed by Haaretz and other media outlets that Israel’s tanks and helicopters had killed many of the 1,139 soldiers and civilians claimed by the apartheid state to have been killed by the Palestinian resistance movement.
The Haaretz version is still being treated as an inconvenient truth today by those in blind denial of the facts, who still point to the slaughter of hundreds of Israelis with the jaded mantra of “Hamas is ISIS”. Most of the Arab world listens in weary disbelief, and wonders why politicians in the West, bought and paid for by the Zionist lobby, are so eager to support what is clearly a rogue state. They have sold their integrity very cheaply.
I’m not entirely convinced that they believe the lies being pedalled by Israel, though, even if the occupation state is generous in its election campaign donations, and many of these politicians rely on this blood money to keep their seats, especially in the “dollar democracy” of the US.
As a direct result, the increasingly weary public have their intelligence insulted time and time again by Israeli propaganda that, quite frankly, wildly misses the target. And so today, 111 days later, Hamas is still deeply embedded in Gaza refusing to be eradicated, despite the best efforts of the poorly-trained IDF soldiers who think they are fighting ISIS.
Israel and its ignorant supporters continue to ignore, at their peril, the home-grown origins of Hamas within Palestinian society. Their miscalculations have already led to unrealistic expectations of “mission accomplished” for Tel Aviv.
This is a bruising conflict in which the Israeli army looks desperate and further away from victory —its mission is to destroy Hamas completely, remember — than ever. Although the resistance by Hamas has led to the devastation of Gaza, with Israel displacing virtually the entire population and killing over 25,000 Palestinians, this looks increasingly like a war that Israel cannot hope to win.
And Israel’s rhetoric comparing Hamas to ISIS doesn’t help, because it simply isn’t true. Those politicians and officials who parrot Israeli propaganda lies repeatedly, such as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, should remember that similar deliberate misinformation and lies destroyed the reputation of one of his predecessors, the late Colin Powell.
The truth is that while the lurid stories and lies about 7 October brought back memories of the images and cruelty unleashed by ISIS/Daesh during its short-lived caliphate in Iraq and Syria nearly a decade ago, only one force seems to have emulated it, and that group is not Hamas.
The Israel Defence Forces will let anyone of Jewish origin from anywhere in the world wear the uniform. It’s probably fair to say that there are some non-Jews in there as well. ISIS fighters were mostly Iraqi and Syrian, but, like Israel, it also attracted recruits from around the world, including Europe, Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and the former Soviet Union.
Hamas is a Palestinian resistance movement with the focus on liberating Palestine from Israeli occupation. It doesn’t allow outsiders within its ranks.
The movement has never carried out any operation beyond the borders of historic Palestine, wherein Palestinians live under Israel’s brutal military occupation. Resistance against a military occupation is legitimate under international law. Israel and its allies are the ones flouting the law when they designate Hamas as a “global terrorist entity”. Washington and London may not like it, but that’s the reality.
Moreover, one inconvenient fact ignored regularly by the West is that Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative council election. Neither Israel nor its allies, nor even the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority, accepted the result. In 2007, a group within Fatah, backed by Israel and the US, had a coup attempt thwarted by Hamas in a summer of bitter fighting. Although technically in control of the PA across all of occupied Palestine, the reality was that Hamas became the de facto government of the Gaza Strip, while the Fatah-run PA stayed in control in Ramallah. Various attempts to form a unity government have failed.
Despite an international boycott and blockade, during its two decades at the helm, Hamas developed a system of government that includes not only its military wing, but also tens of thousands of teachers, civil servants and police. It has significant support in the occupied West Bank and an exiled leadership spread out across the Arab world and beyond. The movement is much larger and more sophisticated than the Israeli rhetoric would suggest. How can you destroy an ideology? You can damage a physical presence, but probably not fatally. Hamas in some shape or form is always going to be an actor in Palestinian society, life and politics.
This perhaps explains why Michael Milshtein, the former head of the Palestinian desk in Israel’s military intelligence, and an expert on Palestinian affairs at Tel Aviv University, admitted recently that comparing Hamas to ISIS is misleading. “I do think that the slogan is right when you are trying to express and reflect the brutality of Hamas,” he told the Independent last November. “But, of course, we’re speaking about different entities.”
As Israel remains committed to its goals, Netanyahu has vowed to strike Hamas with “full force”, meaning an expansion of the ground offensive in southern Gaza. This is where most of the population is now concentrated, so this sets the stage for a complicated and bloody operation.
Any formula to end the war will have to allow Israel to declare victory, even if Hamas remains intact. Of course, the real irony that will come back to haunt Israel is that the force which is aping ISIS tactics is the IDF. Both are rotten apples from the same barrel.
The IDF and ISIS have both come up with spurious excuses for the destruction of ancient and religious sites. Just as the IDF sees Hamas hiding everywhere, ISIS gangs saw idol worshippers on every corner. Both have targeted sites of archaeological, cultural and religious importance. For this, the West condemned ISIS as cultural hooligans, but is struggling to find the right words to describe the IDF’s scorched earth policy.
Some of Gaza’s most valued Christian and Muslim sites have been desecrated by IDF armoured bulldozers and explosives. A CNN news team reported on the defilement of 16 Muslim cemeteries in Gaza. Corpses were torn from their graves and left out in the open amid apocalyptic scenes of devastation. The images reminded me of ISIS thugs destroying the ruins of the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria. The propaganda campaign included videos of them rampaging through Mosul Museum in Iraq with pickaxes and sledgehammers, and the dynamiting of centuries-old Christian and Muslim shrines. More than 1,000 mosques have been destroyed by the IDF in Gaza, as well as a 5th century church, which is right up there with the destruction carried out by ISIS.
ISIS/Daesh always claimed that such cultural vandalism was religiously motivated, but what justification does the IDF have for its desecration of Muslim and Christian sites in Gaza? And the looting of small businesses, images of which went viral on TikTok?
There’s been nothing civilised about the behaviour of the Israeli military, and regardless of what Benjamin Netanyahu claims, no “civilisation” can condone what his troops have done. The IDF is outdoing the thugs of ISIS in its ill-discipline and total disregard for international laws and conventions. Trials for crimes against humanity as well as war crimes must surely follow.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.