In Gaza (the smaller of the two Palestinian territories) Hamas, the Islamic terrorist group that has controlled the Palestinian enclave since 2007, has suffered another defeat in its most recent war with Israel. Once more Hamas thought it had it all figured out only to discover that the Israeli military superiority represented more than weapons and well-trained troops. Defeat in the latest six month war was due to being outmaneuvered by Israeli tactics that exposed the weaknesses and ruthlessness of Hamas and left the rulers of Gaza much worse off than when they began. This time Hamas thought they could win the media war by encouraging civilians (via free food, publicity and cash payments for those injured or killed) to try and physically force their way through the security fence and into Israel. It didn’t work and so far over 150 Palestinians have died. One Israeli has been killed, by a Hamas sniper using a long-range 12.7mm Iranian sniper rifle. Hamas lost dozens of members, many of the promising young leaders, These men were in the crowds to urge the largely male (and teenage) force to keep going in the face of tear gas, rubber bullets and real bullets for the few who made it through the fence. This was all captured on video, from both sides, and it did not reflect well on Hamas, which lost more support from its few remaining Arab allies (and donors). This included Egypt, which also closed its border to Gaza as well as increasing efforts to find and destroy Hamas smuggling tunnels into Egypt.
Another Hamas defeat, that was not unexpected, was new Israeli technology which made it very difficult (and apparently, for the moment, impossible) to dig tunnels under the security fence and into Israel. Moreover, it soon became apparent that the Israelis had no intention of invading, as they had in 2014. That war was another major disappointment for Hamas and they failed to realize that the Israelis learned more from the 2014 war than Hamas did. Six months into this latest war Hamas is faced with more unrest among the nearly two million Palestinians it rules. Hamas is under even greater pressure from its rival Fatah, which rules the West Bank. Egypt, which had brokered numerous efforts to achieve peace with Israel, is pressuring Hamas to make peace with Fatah and form a unified Palestinian government, even though everyone believes Hamas would no longer be in charge of Gaza, or anything else, because the group has become so unpopular with most Palestinians. Everyone in the Arab world wants Hamas and Fatah to merge. But the long record of failure means that would cost Hamas its control over Gaza where most Palestinians are decidedly anti-Hamas. In fact, the only ally Sunni Hamas has is Shia (and non-Arab) Iran which is currently calling for Iranian Shia to replace the Sunni Arabs who have always controlled the most sacred Islamic shrines in Mecca. Because of this latest war against Israel Hamas has less support in Gaza, fewer Arab allies, less cash and is generally despised by the Arab world.
Hamas has a history of defeat whenever it went after Israel and this latest defeat shows that the failed 2014 war and earlier defeats were evidence that Hamas was all talk and no hope of victory. Consider what happened in 2014. Back then Hamas declared victory at the end (in August) of another war (lasting 50 days) with Israel. It's traditional in the Arab world that, if you fight Israel and still have possession of your capital at the end of hostilities, you can declare that the Arabs won. No matter how many battles your troops lost, if you can still issue a press release declaring victory after the shooting stops, it counts as a win. Apparently, the reasoning is that because the Israelis had the ability to utterly crush you, but were stopped by steely Arab resolve, it was an Arab victory. This particular charade is growing threadbare with over-use, and this time around, even many Arabs are openly disappointed with the Hamas "defeat" (or "lack of victory.")
Even Hamas leaders noted, and commented on, the lukewarm support they received during and after the 50 days 2014 war. Even the Palestinians in the West Bank were not eager to support or join, Hamas in fighting Israel. The West Bank politicians and the Arab media, in general, said all the usual, and politically correct things during the war, but it was obvious that even the Arab media was just going through the motions. That was obvious when you scanned the letters to the editor, which were often critical of Hamas and dubious of any Hamas victory claims.
When Hamas called for billions in cash from Western and Arab donors the response was not as generous as Hamas expected, and along with donations came strings meant to prevent Hamas from diverting aid money to military projects (which Hamas promised not to do in the ceasefire agreement they signed to end the fighting) or into foreign bank accounts where corrupt officials hide the money they steal. Egypt and Israel, which rarely agree on anything, both closed the legal crossings into Gaza because Hamas was bragging about how it was going to use some of the reconstruction materials for military purposes. Hamas also expressed support for Islamic terrorism in general and that angered the Egyptians who are losing soldiers and police to Islamic terrorists based in Gaza.
Arab critics of Hamas (and Palestinian politicians in general) point out that Palestinian leaders expend a lot of energy on avoiding reality and expect the West and the wealthy Arab oil states to subsidize this fantasy. After 2014 that approach was frequently and openly denounced in the donor states and as if on cue, the Palestinian leaders were ignoring the criticism.
In July 2014 Hamas thought they could risk another war with Israel and come out the winner (to the Arab world at least). Despite a public warning from Israel that the Israeli armed forces were much better prepared to deal with Hamas tactics, Hamas went to war anyway, confident that they had enough new tricks to stay ahead of the Israelis. Hamas quickly discovered that the Israelis were a lot quicker and better coordinated than in the past. This has happened before, to both the Israelis but mainly to the Arabs.
Case in point was a Hamas attempt to use their scuba equipped “naval commandos” to make an underwater assault on an Israeli seaside base just north of Gaza. The Hamas commandos were quickly spotted by Israeli sensors monitoring offshore waters, which automatically sent the contact information to the new Israeli computerized command and control system. This automatically sent the alert (along with location and other data) to land, naval and air vehicles within range. That meant that before the Hamas men hit the beach they were being tracked by an Israeli tank gunner, an armed UAV overhead and a nearby warship. The closest infantry unit sent troops to the beach the Hamas men appeared to be moving towards. The five Hamas men refused to surrender to the Israeli troops waiting for them on the beach and in a brief gun battle all five Hamas commandos were killed. One Israeli soldier was wounded and this (and the fact that the Hamas men made it onto the beach) was, by Arab standards a victory. A week later Israel released details of what had happened to the Hamas frogmen.
At that point, Hamas was discovering that many of their other new tactics, like dozens of deep tunnels into Israel and numerous new ideas for hiding and launching rockets from residential areas and public buildings (schools, hospitals and mosques) were not only known to the Israelis but were captured by Israeli aerial video cameras. Hamas also discovered that the Israelis had better information on where the Hamas leaders were hiding out and a lot more of these fellows were getting killed than during past conflicts. Hamas also found that their attempts to force Israel to kill a lot more Palestinians during efforts to halt the rocket attacks were compromised by Israeli warnings to civilians (often via telephone) to get out when the rockets hidden in their building were about to be destroyed by smart bombs or missiles. The saddest aspect of all this was that Hamas had been warned.
Months before the July war began Israel revealed that because of new technology and weapons the air force could now hit more targets in 24 hours than it did in 33 days (during the 34 day war with Hezbollah in 2006). For Hamas Israel pointed out that it would now hit in less than 12 hours the number of targets it took seven days to find and attack during the week-long 2008 war with Hamas. This was all part of a technological revolution the Israeli armed forces have been undergoing since the 1990s. Since the 2006 war with Hezbollah, those changes have been accelerating.
Israel always had some formidable intelligence collection capabilities. Israel satellites, UAVs and manned recon aircraft collect data that leads to the identification of enemy bases and weapons storage sites. This, for example, enabled the Israeli Air Force to quickly destroy most of the long range rockets in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza in 2008. The Israeli Air Force demonstrated a lot of changes less than two years after the 2006 war when, in Gaza, dozens of targets taken out within three minutes by Israeli warplanes. That was an impressive example of precision bombing. But when the Israeli ground troops entered Gaza ten days later, other air force innovations were largely invisible to the public. This included post-2006 reforms in which the Israeli military made radical changes in the way it coordinated its operations. The new automated systems included everyone (air, ground and naval). In addition to using more sensors (ground, air and naval) all these were linked together electronically so that when a potential threat was detected every tank, infantry unit, artillery, aircraft or ship within range was alerted and provided access to video or other sensor data. Israel has long been the leading developer and supplier (for their own forces as well as export) sensor and computerized command and control systems.
Most importantly Israel learned that they could defeat Hamas without invading Gaza. That deprived Hamas of an opportunity to get lots of Gaza civilians killed because Hamas had learned how to construct new residential buildings (from single family homes to apartment buildings) with military features. Hamas learned that from Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia militia created by Iran in Lebanon in the 1980s. Hezbollah builds a lot of new government, commercial and residential buildings and all have a secondary military purpose. Often it is just ammunition storage bunkers in the basement and special passageways to allow rockets to be quickly moved to firing positions (either right next to or in the building). Hezbollah shared its techniques for forcing civilians to stay in their homes during conflicts, even though these homes and been weaponized and were now legitimate military targets. Israel could have gone after Hamas anyway but found it better to stop Hamas at the border fence and let Gazans know what else Hamas had in store for them. For Hamas, that was not a win.