Why Would They Do This?

Sam Young
5 min readOct 13, 2023

Looking into the motivations behind Hamas’ recent invasion

Remains of the Sderot police station — Yoav Keren

It is hard to know what Hamas leaders’ endgame is in an attack on Israel deadlier than any in decades. It would be inconceivable for them not to expect a major Israeli response, one that could further destroy Gaza, exact a terrible toll on its long-suffering inhabitants and possibly spell the end of Hamas governance in the enclave. — International Crisis Group

Over the past few years, we’ve gotten used to once in a lifetime events. It feels like nothing should surprise us anymore. Yet, here we are. Israelis have called it “our 9/11.” Hamas calls it Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.

Funny thing about that name. Hamas was never getting to the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem, not even close. Al-Aqsa is held by their autocratic enemies in the West Bank, backed by the United States and other members of the international community. Hamas barely managed to take any land up north on the road to Jerusalem. Instead, they primarily penetrated sparsely populated areas in the Negev desert. This was with the benefit of Israel’s astounding intelligence failure, getting caught completely off guard by the intensive missile bombardment followed up by rampaging irregular ground forces. In military terms, the Gaza strip has been under siege by Israel and Egypt for sixteen years. Hamas managed to break out, do a little bit of raiding, and now they’ve been penned back in again. The operation went better than anyone could have imagined, and it was still barely anything.

Yet, the consequences will be dire. A member of Israel’s parliament has called for a nuclear strike on Gaza, and prominent figures in both the United States and Israel have been using genocidal rhetoric. The brutality of the incursion makes a bloody, protracted war contained almost entirely within the Gaza strip a near certainty. It also makes international support a lot less likely. For everything this will cost, what could they possibly hope to gain?

Rough extent of the invasion October 7–8. Map made by Ecrusized

Hamas is desperate. Gaza is entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance dripping through the blockade to survive, and conditions are severe. People barely have access to clean water, and over half are food insecure. Chronic power outages led to thousands taking to the street in July to protest the Hamas regime. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been normalizing relations with Israel, which would mean tabling the Palestine issue permanently in most of the Arab World and leaving Gaza to fend for itself. In the West Bank, Israeli settlements continue to pop up around the crumbs of Palestinian land that are slowly digested alive as the Palestinian National Authority watches. They are literally trapped with nowhere to go, and their fair-weather friends are evaporating like rubbing alcohol.

This is one rational explanation for the attack. It’s one final Hail Mary to stave off their demise and incite the Arab World to action. The point wasn’t the invasion, but the crackdown it would cause. If the counter-violence from Israel is brutal enough, it may inspire some sympathy. They might hope to leverage this to open up a diplomatic channel with Egypt and Saudi Arabia to work on a peace deal and break the siege. Something will change, for better or worse, and at least for the time being the embattled Gazans are behind their government.

Of course, this is not the only factor to consider. The Secretary-General of Hezbollah, a close ally of Hamas, has called Israel “weaker than a spider’s web,” and a recent string of political crises have only degenerated a security situation Hamas may have already rated as weak. The political situation in Israel has been chaotic lately, and the shocking invasion from Hamas has proven that the far-right government can’t actually guarantee safety to the Israeli people with strong arm tactics. Hamas may hope to manipulate the political situation to encourage a more liberal Israeli coalition government that would be willing to tone down on the colonization and come back to the negotiating table.

There’s also the religious factor. Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh made a big deal out of the “desecration and defiling” of the Al-Aqsa mosque on the 4th, promising to liberate the Holy City (Jerusalem) in his post-invasion speech. Defeating the Jewish threat and liberating holy sites from the enemies of Islam is a great rallying cry, and they may aspire to gather fighters from across the world, as the mujahideen did when they successfully pushed the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.

On the extreme side of things, Hamas is not above suicide bombings, and this could just be the throes of a crazed ideology that would rather die for a noble cause than live in the humiliation of defeat. At the end of his speech, Haniyeh declares “this is the ultimate jihad, the outcome of which can only be victory or martyrdom.” As we learned from Putin’s war in Ukraine, just because the ideas expressed by a man in power seem insane to you doesn’t mean they’re not genuinely held.

Israel has ordered the evacuation of one million people from Gaza City, implying a ground offensive is imminent. There is no safe place for them to go. The United States vows its unconditional support to Israel, as the death toll in Gaza skyrockets. The regional cold war rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran have opened dialogue for the first time in half a year in an effort to deescalate the situation and “end war crimes” against Palestine.

As a citizen of the United States, I have to pray that my country is doing something wise and peace-pursuing behind the scenes. Publicly, politicians’ hands are tied: The Hamas attacks were indeed effective in that their brutality makes it a political death sentence to oppose Israel in whatever it wants to do. Besides the moral considerations of millions of human lives that have already been ravaged for generations by a settler colonial policy that strips them of their fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, what’s at risk is a favorable coalition that has been built over decades of struggle between the major powers of the Middle East. While a heavy hand towards Gaza and Iran may help with the polls at home, in the long run it will leave an unwashable blood stain on our hands that might just open up old festering wounds that would preclude any peace between Israel and Arabs in the near future.

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Sam Young

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.