Is it possible to destroy Hamas? Experts weigh in as US rhetoric shifts

‘A lot of armed Hamas will be left no matter what they do in Rafah,’ said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

By Jack Elbaum, The Algemeiner

Amid a shift in rhetoric among US officials regarding Israel’s ability to destroy Hamas, there has been growing uncertainty about whether that war aim is feasible.

According to experts who spoke with The Algemeiner, Israel can remove the Palestinian terrorist group from power in Gaza, although efforts by the Biden administration and the international community more broadly to halt Israeli military operations have hurt that effort.

However, the experts argued, fully eradicating Hamas from the coastal enclave will be nearly impossible at this point.

Recent comments from top officials in the US State Department have suggested the Biden administration has an evolving view of Israel’s ability to destroy Hamas, which rules Gaza.

On Monday, US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said it does not seem likely Israel will be able to achieve “total victory” — in the parlance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — over Hamas.

“In some respects, we are struggling over what the theory of victory is,” he said. “I don’t think we believe that [total victory] is likely or possible and that this looks a lot like situations that we found ourselves in after 9/11, where, after civilian populations had been moved and lots of violence … the insurrections continue.”

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed similar sentiments on Sunday.

“We’re seeing parts of Gaza that Israel has cleared of Hamas, where Hamas is coming back, including in the north, including in Khan Younis,” he said, suggesting Israel’s strategy may not be working. “A lot of armed Hamas will be left no matter what they do in Rafah.”

The Algemeiner asked the State Department to clarify its stance on whether it believes Hamas can be destroyed and whether it is willing to accept the terrorist group staying in power in some capacity.

“The president has made clear the United States wants to see Hamas defeated and justice delivered to [Yahya] Sinwar,” a spokesperson said, referring to the terrorist group’s leader in Gaza. “There can be no equivocation on that.”

But, at the same time, the spokesperson argued, “the only way to completely defeat an idea is to offer a better one. Military pressure is necessary but not sufficient to fully defeat Hamas. If Israel’s military effort is not accompanied by a political plan for the future of Gaza and the Palestinian people, the terrorists will keep coming back and Israel will remain under threat.”

The State Department official added that “we are seeing this happen in Gaza City,” referring to the fact that Hamas terrorists have returned to some areas in Gaza where they had been driven out by Israeli forces.

Read  WATCH: IDF destroys Hamas training compound

Israel has not publicly articulated a clear plan for the “day after” Hamas is defeated in Gaza, leading critics to claim that Israel’s operations may ultimately prove fruitless if the terrorists are able to re-occupy areas of Gaza where Israeli forces have left.

Max Abrahms, a tenured professor of international relations at Northeastern University and a consultant to US government agencies, disagreed with the notion that Israel has lacked any kind of a strategy, suggesting those pushing such a claim may have an agenda.

“This constant refrain about Netanyahu not having a plan for the day after has been weaponized in order to justify pressuring Israel into halting its military operations in Gaza,” he told The Algemeiner.

Abrahms also argued it is unlikely Israel will be able to fully defeat Hamas at this point.

On one hand, “we’ve seen throughout history many examples of terrorists getting absolutely crushed and never recovering. One example of counter-terrorism working, which is very salient, was ISIS based in Syria,” he said.

“However,” Abrahms explained, “I do not believe that Hamas will be eradicated, even as a terrorist group, out of Gaza.” Some of the blame, he argued, lies on “the international community, including the Biden White House, which has continuously restrained the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] from effectively going after Hamas.”

“The enormous delay before Rafah, as well as the pressure on Israel to draw down its troops out of Gaza, enabled Hamas not only to survive in Rafah, but to reposition itself in northern Gaza,” Abrahms added. “So, it is impossible to imagine, at this point, that Hamas will be eradicated from Gaza, but it didn’t need to be that way.”

Danielle Pletka, a senior fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), told The Algemeiner that she believes Israel can still achieve its war aims. “Removing a group from power,” she argued, “is a much simpler goal than eradicating it, which is actually, certainly in its most absolute sense, unachievable.”

Asked about those who are questioning the prudence of Israel’s military strategy and whether it is conducive to achieving its war aims, she said, “I don’t question Israel’s strategy here. I think, you know, they’ve got a good 76 years of experience in dealing with the enemy.”

“The idea that we should be sitting here in Washington, DC, and suggesting that the Israelis are fools,” she said, is incorrect and counterproductive.