The Theology of Jihadist Strategy

What did Hamas expect to achieve with the October 7 attacks? To Gershon Hacohen, the answer to this question must begin with the concept of muqawama (usually translated “resistance”) that underlies its approach to warfare, one that it shares with Iran, Hizballah, and other related groups:

The muqawama concept . . . views warfare as a means of maintaining a constant momentum of conflict and struggle designed ultimately to bring about global Islamic religious conquest. In the context of the struggle against the state of Israel, this vision is simple and clear: the goal is completely to eliminate Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel, banish any Jewish presence, and “liberate” Jerusalem.

To simplify the concept of muqawama somewhat, it can be viewed as the inverse of Clausewitz’s well-known description of war as “the continuation of politics by other means.” The muqawama idea sees politics as the continuation of war by other means. Thus, negotiation is viewed not as a means to bring about the end of a war but simply as a pause that serves its continuation at a more opportune time under more favorable conditions.

It is from this perspective that we can understand the logic employed by [the Hamas leader] Yahya Sinwar in his decision to go to war on October 7. From his point of view, after Hamas fulfilled its duty to take the initiative and act, trends would develop later that would advance divine intention.

Israel, therefore, must shape its own aims accordingly:

The central goal of the war for Israel should be that upon its conclusion, a profound disappointment will be instilled in the Islamic believers who started and sustained it. They must be forced to accept that once again their time has not come, and the gates of heaven have not opened before them.

As Hacohen explains in part 2 of the essay, Hamas understands very well that the “desire to avoid extensive and prolonged ground warfare is rooted deeply in Israeli culture.” Israelis still long for the sort of quick, decisive victory the IDF achieved in the Six-Day War. Their enemies have spent four decades adjusting their way of fighting accordingly. And this is why, Hacohen argues, Israel has taken the correct approach, fighting exactly the kind of war Hamas believes Israel has no stomach for. Thus, the sheer “audacity of the IDF leadership and the war cabinet” to order “an attack deep into Gaza’s densely populated, confined, and fortified urban terrain, both above and below ground . . . must be recognized as an achievement of strategic significance” in itself.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, IDF, Strategy


Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy