Hamas here to stay, says head of Israeli’s southern command

One of Israel’s most senior military officers has said there is no obvious alternative to Hamas’s rule in Gaza and that deposing the Islamist group in the coastal strip cannot be achieved quickly.

The comments by Major General Sami Turgeman, the head of Israel’s southern command, were an apparent rebuke to remarks from right-wing Israeli politicians during and after last year’s Gaza war that military operations were stopped too soon and that the Palestinian territory should have been retaken by force.

Turgeman, one of the commanders during the war, is stepping down from his post in two months. He used a meeting with leaders from around Israel to insist that, even if Hamas could eventually be defeated, there was no obvious alternative to run Gaza.

“It’s not bang and we’re done,” he said. “Most of the citizens in the Strip see Hamas as the only solution to their problems.”

Shared interests
Contradicting claims by leading political figures – including Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu – Turgeman said that, far from forming an ideological axis with Islamic State and al-Qaeda, Hamas “does not want global jihad” and had shared interests with Israel, not least stability.

The general also countered claims that Israel had a victory in Gaza, saying: “For Hamas, the number of dead and amount of our attacks are not a measure of success or lack of success. What matters is that it didn’t lose and that it stayed in power.”

An Israeli military spokesperson did not contest the accuracy of the quotes attributed to Turgeman from the private meeting on Monday with the municipal leaders. Netanyahu’s office offered no immediate comment, neither did Hamas.

Despite his unusually pragmatic outlook, Turgeman predicted that periodic conflict with Hamas in Gaza appeared inevitable and that in future Israel may be compelled to evacuate nonessential Israeli civilians from areas along the border.

“Gaza has an independent authority that functions like a country,” said Turgeman in comments reported by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, depicting Hamas in terms as much akin to a functioning state as to a militant group.

“There is a government and an annual plan, with executive bodies and inspection authorities. Within the country there is a ruler that is called Hamas which knows how to exercise power over the other authorities. As of now, there is no substitute ruler to replace Hamas in the strip. The only replacement for Hamas is the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] and authoritarian chaos. Other than Hamas there is no other axis that could control [Gaza].”

Turgeman added: “The [Palestinian] Authority cannot rule and this should be taken as an indisputable statement.” The general also expressed little surprise that Hamas was attempting to rebuild its capabilities. “I don’t know any military that doesn’t start building its force after a war. We did that, too. There are additional terror organisations in the Strip and the campaign against them continues, and in between the fighting and the ’rounds’ there are periods of silence.”

At odds with political rhetoric
Turgeman’s analysis – though shared by some in the Israeli military and intelligence community – is at sharp odds with much of the political rhetoric, not least from key figures on the right of Israeli politics who will wield a greater influence in Netanyahu’s new government, expected to be sworn in within the coming days.

“We have no goal that we want to achieve [in Gaza],” said Turgeman. “The only goals are prevention, to prevent chaos and a humanitarian crisis. Therefore, it’s not possible to take actions against the strategy and this is the state’s position.” He continued: “Whoever thinks that the struggle between us is just a military one does not understand the issue.

“Hamas does everything in order to exhaust our society – that is part of their success. Hamas did everything in order to entangle us into using force against them in order to affect the next war.” – © Guardian News & Media 2015

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