Hamas' goal - making cease-fire permanent and declaring victory

Commentary: During truce, IDF will refresh troops and update operational plans, while uncovering tunnels and explosives; Hamas, aiming to extend cease-fire and sustain its Gaza rule, could impact Israeli deterrence significantly

Ron Ben-Yishai|
The upcoming cease-fire days, likely more than four, are expected to be nerve-wracking in a way that benefits Hamas, whose goal is to hurt Israelis and deepen their division. Yet, this is not the organization's main objective.
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Primarily, Hamas seeks to extend the cease-fire as long as possible until it becomes permanent, leveraging the international community, including the U.S., for two significant strategic advantages. First, if Israel does not continue fighting and fails to take control of all terror hubs and governance in the Gaza Strip, Hamas will continue its rule over the territory and its people. If this occurs, Israel will not achieve its most crucial goal of the war – undermining the military and civil control of the organization. The implications for Gaza border towns and Israel as a whole are clear.
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נתניהו וסינוואר
נתניהו וסינוואר
Prime Minister Benjaminn Netanyahu and Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar
(Photo: Dana Kopel, Reuters)
The second goal of Hamas, and its Iranian and Hezbollah patrons, is perceptual: to declare victory in the war against the IDF that started on October 7 and ended without Hamas and Islamic Jihad being defeated. If the cease-fire that started Friday becomes permanent, this claim will be valid. The IDF has yet to take control of two major Hamas strongholds in the northern Strip - Jabalia and Shuja'iyya - while the organization freely controls the south, where its main military bases and the captives are located.
This claim of Hamas's intentions is not speculation. Qatar's prime minister, who is a mediator in the hostage deal but also a Hamas supporter, has explicitly stated his intention to extend the cease-fire as much as possible and make it permanent.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, who arrived in Qatar on Thursday and met with its leaders, likely came to ensure this is the negotiation's endpoint. Meanwhile, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi explicitly declared that Hamas won because the IDF ceased fire without achieving any of its war objectives. If the cease-fire does become permanent, Raisi will be right. It will be considered a victory for Hamas in the Muslim world and the West. Israel's deterrence will suffer a severe blow that could be defined as an existential threat.
Hamas's leadership has no interest in violating the cease-fire, but it does not control all its activities in the northern Strip. Experience suggests that those still in Jabalia and Shuja'iyya have not yet surrendered, but a significant portion is expected to assimilate into the remaining civilian population and try to escape south with it. Thus, Hamas's military resistance to IDF forces at the end of the cease-fire will not be strong in the north, but some of these escapees will reinforce Hamas's strongholds in the south. Moreover, open-fire instructions have changed so that the IDF will not use live fire against civilians except in life-threatening situations - even those trying to return to the north of the Strip.
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רחובות חאן יונס התמלאו באנשים אחרי הפסקת האש
רחובות חאן יונס התמלאו באנשים אחרי הפסקת האש
Khan Yunis, Gaza
Violations of the cease-fire are also expected occasionally, and it's very likely that they won't be initiated by Hamas's leadership but result from local operatives currently hiding in tunnels unaware of it or encountering IDF forces by chance. There is no need to rush to renew the fighting due to such local breaches, as the fate of the captives is more important. Only in case of significant violations, like rocket fire on Israel, will there be a need to reconsider and find a way to remind Hamas, not in words, that its survival and that of the operatives violating the cease-fire are not guaranteed.
For reservists motivated and determined to combat Hamas, now remembering their children, home issues, and affected livelihoods, this could impact motivation. However, given what I've seen on the ground, this is not a real threat to the IDF's fighting spirit.
The big unknown is what will happen if Hamas announces its readiness to negotiate for the 120 young men and women it holds and demands an extension of the cease-fire to make it long-term. This will be a significant dilemma for the State of Israel. Hamas is cynically playing the hostage card to undermine the collective mental resilience of Israeli citizens. If we value life, we must be strong and not show Hamas, and its supporters in Iran, that their efforts to cause a mental breakdown are fruitful. Remember: a strong and menacing Israel will more quickly and without paying an exorbitant strategic price release the captives - all of them.
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