Hamas in the eyes of an expert

Al Jazeera: Two senior Hamas leaders were recently killed in Israeli air strikes. How will this impact the organisation’s leadership?

Khaled Hroub: Hamas’ leaders are very used to hiding and escaping Israeli attacks. I can’t see this affecting Hamas much. Israel succeeded in assassinating very senior Hamas leaders including Sheikh [Ahmed] Yasin himself, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, then followed by Abdel Aziz Al-Rantissi who was the main figure in the Gaza Strip.
Source: Al Jazeera

And yet Hamas continued to rise and succeeded in winning the elections. So I can’t see Hamas being weakened by killing one or two or three or even more leaders in the Gaza Strip.

Nizar Rayyan, one of many Hamas leaders, was killed on January 1, 2009 [AFP]

How does the Hamas leadership work, given that Hamas is not so much an organisation but a deeply rooted ideology amongst the Palestinians in Gaza?

Hamas’s strength is based on the very broad social and political base that it has in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, so what we are seeing as the leadership is only the tip of the iceberg.

Hamas’s leadership is decentralised between the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Israeli jails and the leadership outside of Palestine.

This kind of power of decentralisation of Hamas makes the whole movement stronger in terms of not caging the leadership in one single area, and because of this they keep producing leaders from the third and second rankings to the highest echelons of the movement.

Hamas doesn’t have the military resources to match Israel. If the ground incursion does happen, how do you see Hamas operating?

I can’t see any success, strategically speaking, on the side of the Israeli aggression. That is because Israel declared that their one main objective is to disarm Hamas and stop rockets from being launched from the Gaza Strip. Even after one month of this aggression, if one single rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip this means the whole Israeli strategy has failed.

If any land incursion takes place into the Gaza Strip, I think this makes the whole Israeli strategy even more difficult. Everybody knows that Hamas is well-entrenched now in the Gaza Strip because they have a network of tunnels – they hide very well. And maybe even they hope that at one point this Israeli land invasion takes place so that they can deal the Israeli army some strong defensive attacks.

Would Hamas have learned lessons from Hezbollah’s war against Israel in southern Lebanon in the summer of 2006?

Hamas learned lessons from Israel’s war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 [EPA]

One can tell of so many lessons Hamas has learned from the experience of Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. First of all, this tunnel strategy that has taken place in the Gaza Strip, secondly even the sloganeering and rhetoric – rather than producing threats that they can’t match, what they are doing and what they are saying is something they can achieve.

The Israeli side knows very well that Hamas has unseen and unknown capabilities within the Gaza Strip and this is why they are still reluctant to do the invasion.

Is the war likely to galvanise support behind Hamas?

In my view, Hamas will most likely emerge victorious out of this because on the one hand, it’s akin to impossible to eradicate Hamas from the Gaza Strip.

I can’t imagine any way of finishing this movement in the Gaza Strip. Even if it was finished, what we’d end up with is a more radical Palestinian organisation, an al-Qaeda-like organisation coming out of the rubble of Hamas’s destruction.

Politically speaking, Hamas is now gaining more popularity, not only amongst Palestinians but across the Arab and Muslim world. They are seen as the only party that can face Israel.

What Israel wants from the Gaza Strip is basically a clean and quiet occupation like they achieved in the West Bank.

In the West Bank there are no rockets launched against Israel and yet we have Palestinians killed, arrested, their homes demolished on a daily and weekly basis. We have this thing happening in the West Bank but not complaining, no moaning. Hamas is doing this complaining, doing this resistance.

So it’s a war of image on the side of the Israeli army, their image was destroyed in summer 2006 and now they want to restore that image and that name.

Khaled Hroub, author of several books on Hamas, including Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide, talks to Al Jazeera about the organisation’s social and political strengths and explains why he believes Hamas is looking forward to an Israeli ground incursion into the Gaza Strip.