How Hamas’ Information Warfare Strategy Both Succeeded and Failed

On October 7th, 2023, Hamas coordinated one of the most gruesome terrorist attacks in modern history. Immediately after the attack, which ironically fell on Yom Kippur, Israel would declare war for the first time in 50 years since the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

A scathing retaliation and military operation in the Gaza Strip has ensued, with tens of thousands of casualties. The military retaliation would play into Hamas’ hands, but the lack of regional support has hampered the terrorist organization’s freedom of movement.

Due to the ongoing developments, Hamas is now adapting to information warfare. The longer the war continues in Gaza, which leads to more global pressure on Israel, the more likely a ceasefire ensues, favoring the remaining Gazan militants.

Israel-Hamas War

During the ongoing Israel-Hamas War, the Israeli Defense Forces have enacted a scorched earth campaign on the Gaza Strip—razing Gaza City and Khan Yunis to the ground to flush out militants. The aerial campaign is so severe that more bombs per capita have been dropped on the Strip than at the height of the anti-ISIS coalition between 2014 and 2017.

After clearing most of Gaza City, current IDF operations are now taking place in the south, where most of Hamas’ leadership, such as Yahya Sinwar, are believed to be hiding. Hectic urban warfare is taking place, with house, close-quarters fighting taking place between the IDF and various Gazan militant factions.

Experts on urban warfare estimate some of the most grueling combat will take place in the tunnels, where Hamas’ strength truly lies. The IDF has estimated this and is currently preparing to flood tunnels with seawater to avoid falling into Hamas’ traps.

What Hamas’ Initial Goals Were

Hamas’ leadership was very much aware of the brutality of the October 7th attacks and foresaw a massive Israeli military retaliation that would bring a collective punishment to the people of Gaza. What Hamas didn’t estimate was the lack of support from regional Muslim countries and affiliated allied groups.

Expecting a widespread coalition and military response, Hamas instead has received little sympathy for their cruel actions. The Arab League instead has repeatedly called for a ceasefire with continued humanitarian aid to the Palestinians of Gaza.

Both the Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, and Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, hinted Hamas was on their own for now, as neither was thoroughly consulted about such a bold and brutal attack the Gazan militant group planned. Instead, the Houthis in Yemen are the only Iranian-led Axis resistance organization that has declared war on Israel.

While the Houthis have a tremendous reaching ballistic missile capability and control much of the population centers of Yemen, their rocket attacks have done minimal damage to Israel, which has upgraded its air defense system capabilities.

The Houthis have realized their missile attacks on Israeli territory have undeterred the IDF, and instead, the organization has moved to target ships in the Red Sea that the group perceives to be connected to Israel. Despite attacks against the US Navy, the Biden administration, for now, is avoiding a direct military response, but if Houthis attacks continue, this policy could change.

How Hamas is Adapting Through Hybrid and Information Warfare

Now that the group is under pressure, Hamas is using international sympathies to their advantage. Israel’s collective punishment campaign is receiving significant backlash, particularly in the West, where widespread protests, hate crimes, and lone-wolf attacks are taking place.

A recent Le Monde article from French intelligence stated radicalization is at a height not seen since the ISIS attacks, and the Israel-Hamas war is only exacerbating tensions. Britain and Germany have also taken more severe measures due to radicalization and hate crimes.

In the United States, hate crimes against both Palestinians and Jews have taken place, and Hamas itself directly benefits from a “us versus them” global conflict. Ivy League presidents have come under fire for the lack of condemnation of hate crimes on their campus, and Muslim Americans likewise are planning a campaign to “abandon Biden” over the ongoing war.

Decades of negative perception of Israeli policy is now directly benefiting a terrorist organization that has been correlated as ‘freedom fighters’ amongst the Palestinians in the West Bank. Whereas their military capabilities have suffered from the Israeli invasion, Hamas’ more extreme ideologue, which calls for global attacks on Jews, even those outside of Israel, is gaining traction.

Reactions of the Arab World

Despite the open condemnations for Israel’s military operation, behind the scenes, Arab nations are keeping back channels available with the Israeli government. A recent PBS interview with Saudi Prince Faisal bin Farhan al Saud, hinted that what the kingdom says in public with the Arab world does not necessarily correlate with what is being communicated about the war behind the scenes with Western partners.

Saudi Arabia knows all too well about extremism and terrorist attacks that target civilians, as the kingdom faced a brutal al-Qaeda insurgency that saw the deaths of hundreds of civilians and foreigners.

Other Arab states, particularly in the Gulf and Egypt, also quietly want Israel to end Hamas, as their ideology stems from the Muslim Brotherhood, which is widely outlawed and banned in those countries above.

Hamas, being the Palestinian branch of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood organization, is a direct threat as radicalization from the war is taking effect. Iran’s funding and arming of Hamas is also of grave concern to many Sunni states and Monarchs, who know any cessation of hostilities favorable to Hamas could make the militant group popular in those countries, a significant security threat no country in the region would tolerate.

Hamas, now under immense military bombardment, will try to come out of the war as an ideological movement. Using decades of international pressure on Israel, the group will move to information and hybrid warfare and look to inspire attacks against Israelis and Jews globally akin to the height of ISIS’ attacks on Europe.

[Photo by Wafa, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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