The Platform

Gaza neighborhood destroyed by Israeli airstrikes. (Al Araby)

Terror groups often have to evolve or face extinction. This would help explain Hamas’s barbaric attack on Israel in October of last year.

Resistance in geopolitical struggles manifests in many forms. To understand the different types of resistance and how violent movements have evolved, it is essential to recognize that violence is a characteristic feature of many global conflicts. Using Hamas’s history, we examine changes in its strategic direction as resistance techniques diversified.

Exploring the landscape of violent resistance highlights significant steps forward for Hamas. Recent history is filled with examples of violent movements shaping the world’s geopolitical map. Each movement reflects the unique social and political context in which it grows, adding complexity to asymmetric conflicts.

To decipher Hamas’s strategic transformation, one must consider the traditional methods of violent resistance. Such movements always have a weaker position relative to their opponents. Along with terror attacks, propaganda, and information warfare are typical features, making controlling the narrative and building public opinion crucial aspects of asymmetric warfare. With this broader context, we evaluate Hamas’s strategic evolution.

Founded in 1987 against the backdrop of the first Intifada uprising as a social and political entity, Hamas evolved into a military powerhouse over years of conflict with Israel. Its origins also involved addressing perceived deficiencies in existing Palestinian political organizations.

Hamas’s 1988 charter, which was updated in 2017 but never disavowed, called for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic society in historic Palestine. The updated document accepted an interim Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders but still refused to recognize Israel.

“In 1988, Hamas published its charter, calling for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic society in historic Palestine. In what observers called an attempt to moderate its image, Hamas presented a new document in 2017 that accepted an interim Palestinian state along the ‘Green Line’ border established before the Six-Day War, but that still refused to recognize Israel,” writes Kali Robinson with the Council on Foreign Relations.

Throughout the Israel-Palestine conflict, Hamas experienced many turning points influencing its strategic development, such as the mid-1990s Oslo Accords. Hamas opposed these accords, viewing them as detrimental to Palestinian aspirations and an abdication of their resistance narrative.

Another watershed moment was Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections. This success presented a dual challenge: reconciling newfound political legitimacy with its traditional military orientation. Hamas faced a delicate strategic change, balancing governance with maintaining its resistance credentials.

Hamas is distinctive for intertwining political and militant aspects, standing out among resistance movements. Its operational history includes engagements reflecting its development as a resistance force, such as the widely publicized suicide bombings of the 1990s. Its arsenal now includes rocket attacks, kidnappings, and other asymmetric weapons aimed at countering the Israeli Defense Forces’ superiority.

A key element of Hamas’s military strategy has been guerrilla warfare, employing hit-and-run tactics, improvised explosive devices, and ambushes. These tactics define Hamas’s military manual.

A significant event in Hamas’s history is Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, launched on October 7th, 2023, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and the anniversary of Yom Kippur. This coordinated attack with other factions, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, will be remembered as one of the most brutal in history, targeting not only the Israeli military but also civilians, resulting in over 1,200 deaths and 240 hostages.

Hamas’s strategic use of deception in Operation Al-Aqsa Flood involved surprising Israeli forces and attacking 22 locations, including civilian towns. This deception led to significant casualties and abductions. Hamas also targeted Israeli communication and surveillance networks, hindering Israel’s intelligence and response capabilities. Despite this, the brutality was captured on cameras, revealing sexual violence and mutilation of Israeli women and girls by Hamas fighters.

Hamas’s strategic awareness of Israel’s strengths and vulnerabilities informed their horrific tactics, including attacking on a Jewish holiday. The use of low-cost drones and urban warfare, exploiting densely populated areas and underground tunnels, resulted in substantial damage and civilian casualties. Hamas’s tactics also included using child labor for tunnel construction.

Psychological warfare, media manipulation, and hostage-taking are other critical strategies employed by Hamas. Throughout Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, Hamas used media to portray itself as a robust force, impacting both internal and global perceptions of the conflict.

Hamas’s strategic evolution demonstrates adaptability in evolving geopolitical conditions. From an Islamic resistance during the first Intifada uprising, Hamas has become a multidimensional entity with social, political, and militant components. But as many of its critics will highlight, the group, regardless of how mainstream in some respects they might be, is still essentially a terrorist organization.

Understanding Hamas’s strategic growth provides insights into resistance groups in asymmetric battles. It emphasizes adaptability, technology integration, and a comprehensive approach combining military, political, and diplomatic elements.

Sheryar Khan is an undergraduate student of International Relations at National Defence University, Islamabad.