Hamas: What to Know About the Group and Why It’s Attacking Israel Now

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Analysts say Saturday’s brazen attack on Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas will be seen as a turning point in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that will have far-reaching implications.

The multi-pronged attack saw 1,000 attackers cross into Israeli territory, killing hundreds of soldiers and civilians and taking dozens hostage back into Gaza. It was like nothing Israel had seen since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Israel vows revenge, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing “mighty revenge”. Hamas said it is ready for all situations.

“Things will change forever,” said Kobe Michael, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv. “There is nothing in Israeli history that compares to this attack,” he said.

“Hamas will no longer be the Hamas we knew years ago,” Michael, who previously served as deputy director general and head of the Palestinian desk at Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, told CNN.

Hamas said the attack was in retaliation for attacks on women, the desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the ongoing siege of Gaza.

What we know about this group:

An Islamist organization with a military wing, Hamas first emerged in 1987. It was an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist group founded in Egypt in the late 1920s.

The word “Hamas” itself is an acronym for “Hirakat al-Maqwamah al-Islamiya” – Arabic for Islamic Resistance Movement. The group, like most Palestinian factions and political parties, insists that Israel is an occupying power and is seeking to liberate the Palestinian territories. He considers Israel an illegitimate state.

Unlike some other Palestinian factions, Hamas refuses to join Israel. In 1993, he opposed the Oslo Accords, a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in which the PLO renounced armed resistance to Israel in exchange for promises of an independent Palestinian state with Israel. The agreement also established the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Ibrahim Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Palestinian Hamas militants attend the funeral of a comrade in the southern Gaza Strip in August 2017.

Hamas presents itself as an alternative to the PA, which has recognized Israel and engaged in several failed peace initiatives with it. The PA, whose reputation among Palestinians has suffered over the years, is led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

The group has claimed several attacks on Israel over the years and is designated as a terrorist organization by the US, EU and Israel.

The U.S. State Department said in 2021 that Hamas receives funding, weapons, and training from Iran, with some funds raised in the Gulf Arab states. The group also receives donations from some Palestinians, other immigrants and its own charities, he said.

In April, Israeli Defense Minister Yves Galant suggested that Iran provides $100 million a year to Hamas.

By carrying out such a devastating strike, the group’s primary goal would be to dramatically shake up the status quo, experts say: Israel maintains a tight blockade of Gaza and continues to occupy the West Bank, and an independent The goal of a Palestinian state is nowhere. in sight

Khalid Elgundi, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and director of its program on Palestine and Israeli-Palestinian affairs, said one goal would be to put the Palestinian issue back on the regional and international agenda.

“People had moved on (from the Palestinian issue),” Elgandi told CNN. “The new game in town is Saudi-Israeli normalization, and this is the new regional integration.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman acknowledged publicly for the first time last month that talks are underway with Washington to potentially forge ties with Israel, saying the process of normalization is closer every day. It’s happening. A Saudi-Israeli normalization could be a historic moment for Israel’s territorial legitimacy as it could force other Muslim countries to follow suit. Saudi Arabia has previously vowed that it will not recognize Israel until it grants independence to the Palestinians.

Elgundi said that Hamas has succeeded to some extent in its goal of drawing attention to the Palestinian cause.

Analysts say the group is trying to dispel any perception of its military capabilities.

Omar Rahman, a fellow at the Middle East Council on World Affairs who focuses on Palestinian affairs, said Hamas had “delivered a blow to Israel more than it’s used to” and was showing its capabilities. Rahman said his shock tactics were a declaration that he “must be taken more seriously”.

The Israeli military said Monday that Hamas had taken “dozens” of people hostage, and Hamas said it had kidnapped more than 100 people. Experts said the number of hostages taken, and the fact that many were civilians, showed that Hamas was seeking more than a prisoner exchange. In a previous kidnapping situation, Israel traded more than 1,000 prisoners for one Israeli hostage.

The large number of hostages ensures that “this is not a short-term military tit-for-tat that will die and be forgotten,” Rahman said, “but it has long-term political implications.”

As part of its campaign against Israel, Hamas produced propaganda videos documenting a step-by-step attack on Israel. In some videos, its fighters were seen wearing body cameras and dressed in commando-style uniforms to film operations breaching Israeli fortifications.

Analysts say this is key to the group’s propaganda war, which serves multiple purposes.

On the one hand, it is to “instill fear” in the Israeli public and show that their leaders cannot keep them safe, Elgandi said. “This is going to come as a shock because the Israelis are very proud of their military and their intelligence capabilities.”

On the other hand, it is also intended for use by domestic Palestinians. Hamas has long been locked in a political war with the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank and is engaged in security coordination with Israel.

It aims to show the Palestinians that “while over there, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority president) … is basically asleep at the wheel, we are the real resistance, (and) are actually doing something.” Elgandi told CNN. Hamas

Mahmoud Hefnawi/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, speaks during a rally in Doha, Qatar, in May 2021.

Experts say Hamas’s large-scale attacks show the group knows the coming war could be an existential one.

Michael of the INSS speculates that Hamas is trying to provoke an all-out war with Israel, and has promised regional support from its allies if that happens.

“Hamas has a very clear strategy that is based on the logic of managing a multi-front conflict,” Michael told CNN, adding that Hamas has targeted Arab citizens in Gaza, Jerusalem, the West Bank, Israel. Sees who support Hamas, and South Lebanon is likely supporting its campaign.

Saleh al-Aruri, a senior Hamas official, said over the weekend that the militant group was prepared for “the worst-case scenario, including a ground attack.”

A ground attack “would be the best for us to decide the end of this war,” he said.

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