Hamas could be toppled in a future confrontation with Israel, a senior Israeli officer said on Monday, attempting to counter the impression that Israel would maintain Hamas in power at all costs.
Speaking at an international conference organized by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, outgoing IDF Southern Command chief Sami Turgeman indicated that Israel has changed its view of Hamas as an irreplaceable fixture of the Gaza Strip.
“We don’t see Hamas as something that has to remain forever,” Turgeman said. “Hamas would like to replace the State of Israel with an Islamic state, and we would like to replace it as well.”
Those comments were a dramatic change of position for Turgeman, who said earlier this year that the IDF sees no viable alternative to Hamas in Gaza.
Turgeman indicated that was indeed Israel’s working assumption during Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip last summer, but it could change in future conflicts. “If Hamas believes it is safe forever, it risks losing its rule in Gaza,” he said.
The tacit Israeli warning to Hamas came at a time when Israel’s official peace partner, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is reportedly preparing to nullify the Oslo Accords, declaring the Palestinian territories “a state under occupation.” Meanwhile, official Israel has denied conducting indirect talks with Hamas over a long-term ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.
Despite their diametrically opposed strategies, Turgeman said that Israel and Hamas currently share “three temporary interests”: to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip as a result of infrastructure collapse; to prevent the proliferation of jihadist organizations in the Gaza Strip; and to prevent a political crisis leading to a leadership void.
He warned against the growing power of Hamas’s military wing, headed by Muhammad Deif, saying that a state of crisis — similar to the war last summer — could lead the armed forces to insubordination against the group’s political leadership, represented by former prime minister Ismail Haniyeh domestically and Khaled Mashaal abroad. He named Gaza-based official Yahya Sinwar as a military leader with political aspirations, currently serving as a mediator between the two bodies.
Like Israel, Hamas is worried about the increasing power of radical Islamist elements in the Gaza Strip, commonly referred to as Salafis. Hamas’s concern is threefold, he noted: it fears losing its regime in Gaza; destabilizing the ceasefire reached with Israel after last summer’s conflict; and losing Hamas members to more radical local groups. To confront that threat, Hamas is employing intelligence and preemptive arrests to the fullest extent.
Summarizing his presentation, Turgeman remained pessimistic as to the possibility of an official ceasefire with the Islamic terror group.
“The best option we have is managing the conflict, with sporadic outbursts of violence from time to time,” he said.