Why is It So Difficult for Israel to Decipher Hamas?

Michael Milstein has written an article for "The Jerusalem Strategic Tribune" on Israel's decades-long misunderstanding of Hamas and fundamentalist ideologies as a force in the Middle East.

"The failure to decipher what drives Hamas goes back to well before Hamas was officially founded in December 1987, shortly after the eruption of the First Intifada. Contrary to the common myth, Israel did not set up Hamas as a counterweight to Fatah and the PLO, Israel’s main enemies at the time. For decades prior to that, the Muslim Brotherhood movement had been active in Gaza and the West Bank. Its core activity was a social and spiritual appeal (da’wah). It became the “organization womb” giving birth to Hamas. Israeli thinking at the time assumed that the Brotherhood was less dangerous than other Palestinian groups, since it was focused on moral, faith and social activism, and thus it would be safe to let it be. Only by the mid-1980s did the first alarm bells ring, as religious leaders and charity organizers showed signs of involvement in terror activity as well."

"Once the war is over it will not be enough to investigate the policymakers, reorganize the intelligence bodies and enhance their internal controls, and expand the IDF and improve its fighting capabilities. There must also be a national soul-searching, posing as a challenge to ourselves the question of whether as a society we truly understand our regional environment, both in terms of fighting our enemies and of building up relations with our partners. In this respect, we must discard the infatuation with technology, and return to traditional skills such as command of the language, knowledge of history and appreciation for the culture of “the Other,” and, to the degree possible, engagement with our neighbors. "

*The opinions expressed in MDC publications are the authors’ alone.