Hamas in Combat

[Washington Institute for Near East Policy] Yoram Cohen and Jeffrey White - While Hamas is currently restraining its military activity, more violence can be expected in the future. Combat is the real test of any military force, and Hamas' performance in the Gaza operation in December-January can be used to assess its political and military capabilities. Despite attempts to put a positive image on its performance, Hamas and its military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, accomplished little militarily, and their only real success was the continuation of rocket fire into Israel - which declined after three weeks of combat. While Israel did not press its military advantage, had it done so, the Israel Defense Forces undoubtedly could have destroyed Hamas' military capabilities. Prior to the Gaza operation, Hamas had made military preparations a high priority. At the time of the operation, Hamas had a well developed military structure, with as many as 15,000 to 16,000 potential combatants. Its core was the Qassam Brigades with some 2,000 real combat troops. The Brigades had received considerable training and assistance as Hamas personnel from Lebanon, Syria, and Iran came to provide instruction. Advice and guidance provided to Hamas by Hizbullah, Syria, and Iran was also important. Having planned carefully for an Israeli invasion, Hamas expected to mount an impressive defense. In addition, Hamas hoped to achieve an "image of victory" by carrying out acts such as kidnapping IDF soldiers, destroying tanks, or downing airplanes and helicopters. All told, Hamas fired around 600 rockets into southern Israel, including some 400 Kassams produced in Gaza and approximately 200 longer-range Iranian rockets that had been smuggled into the Strip. Hamas had planned to stand and fight, but the Qassam Brigades proved unequal to the task. None of its ground combat measures worked, failing to match the public image Hamas had tried so hard to present of stalwart, proficient Islamic warriors. The war exposed fundamentally flawed expectations about the nature of war against Israel and raised questions about Hamas' combat capabilities. Offensively, Hamas will likely follow in Hizbullah's footsteps by acquiring longer-range rockets with greater accuracy and more powerful warheads. Defensively, Hamas had no answer to IDF air and ground capabilities. For Hamas, being pounded in battle, with little to show for the effort, may instill caution with regard to future military engagement. Yoram Cohen served until recently as deputy director of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet). Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at The Washington Institute, is a thirty-four-year veteran of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

2009-10-09 06:00:00

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