Analysis: Despite significant losses in Gaza, Hamas has yet to unleash an ace up its sleeve

Since the beginning of the Oct. 7 war against Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have not slowed down their efforts to destroy the groups. Numerous leaders from assorted factions, including those involved in orchestrating the Oct. 7 act of terrorism, have been neutralized by the IDF. Additionally, the bulk of Hamas’ military troops have been compelled to vacate northern Gaza and relocate to the southern areas of the Gaza Strip.

Despite these setbacks, Hamas and its allies remain a threat to Israeli ground troops and civilians in Israel. Hamas has published propaganda videos demonstrating fighters on foot attacking Israeli mechanized forces with some success. Additionally, ambush operations, including suicide bombings, have reportedly had some success on the battlefield. And long-range rockets continue to be fired on central Israel. However, the current phase of the Israeli military’s operation has not been enough to destroy Hamas’ leadership that remains in Gaza; this is essentially the crown jewel the Israeli army is after.

The elimination of senior Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, his brother Muhammad Sinwar, and commander Muhammad Deif are the key to potentially collapsing Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip.

It has been more than eighty days since the war began, and the IDF has failed to successfully target any of these high-value individuals it aims to eradicate. This lack of progress indicates the arduous nature of the task at hand. It is essential to recognize that Gaza hosts an extensive labyrinth of tunnels spanning hundreds of kilometers, where these leaders are presumably taking refuge. This far, the IDF has only managed to discover and demolish a meager portion of these tunnels.

The Sinwars and Dief also benefit from an extensive network of safe houses and supporters who are willing and able to shelter the Hamas leaders, who have avoid nearly two decades of targeting by the IDF and Israeli intelligence.

While Hamas has used an assortment of weapons against Israeli troops and has even attempted a handful of rocket launches and infiltrations from southern Lebanon, it still has one significant weapon in its arsenal that it has yet to employ: chaos and violent at the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s most holy site that is located in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Since the initiation of the war, al-Aqsa Mosque has maintained a relatively peaceful atmosphere. Despite previous instances, such as the noteworthy riots that occurred on the Mosque premises in 2021, leading to an eleven-day conflict with Hamas, there has been a relative absence of significant activities at this critical hotspot. One could argue that this tranquility is mere coincidence; however, the truth is that Hamas holds considerable influence over the Mosque and possesses the capability to incite violence and instigate riots against the Israeli border police at any given moment. Yet, Hamas has not taken such actions, suggesting a possible strategy of waiting for a time when Israeli forces are making substantial advances in the Gaza Strip.

The occurrence of a significant event at the Mosque holds the potential to divert Israel’s attention and intensify the already heightened tensions in the Muslim world, primarily due to the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Consequently, the Israeli defense establishment and border patrol must establish a robust strategy in anticipation of such a situation. Sinwar and Hamas actively pursue the capture of images and videos depicting Israeli border police engaging in violent acts against individuals falsely identified as worshipers at the Mosque. Regrettably, they have succeeded in their past attempts. Nevertheless, Israel can gain an advantage over Hamas if they refrain from providing them with the desired footage for media coverage, as the TV cameras will extensively document every moment.

Joe Truzman is a research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian militant groups and Hezbollah. Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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