A Blog by Jonathan Low


Oct 10, 2023

Hamas Learned the Wrong Lessons From Russia's Barbaric Behavior In Ukraine

Much of the Arab world had already begun to make peace with Israel: Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Sudan, the UAE, Morocco and possibly, Saudi Arabia. The Palestinians view this as a betrayal and much of the savagery of their attack can probably be blamed on their frustration and rage at the real politik which is pushing their concerns to the background. 

But the assumption that barbaric behavior like Russia's can somehow help them achieve their goals is as counterproductive of Russia's And as Russia has learned the hard way in Ukraine, the west is willing to invest tens of billions in stopping it. Hamas is about to learn the same lesson. JL

Kos reports in Daily Kos:

By following Russia’s playbook of targeting civilians and children and engaging in sexual violence against women, Hamas lost any semblance of moral high ground, and rallied not just Israeli public opinion against it, but much of the world’s. The joyful celebration around that death goes beyond even Russia’s savagery in Ukraine. Iran was overjoyed, of course, and Russian state propaganda was happy as well. But much of the Muslim world was far more muted. If Hamas can’t get unequivocal support from much of the Arab world, what can it hope to accomplish? A savvy Israeli government would use this opportunity to rally international consensus, further isolating Hamas, loosening its hold on power in Gaza.

It is always fraught to wade into the Israel-Palestine conflict, now turned into a hot war with Hamas in and around Gaza. I am about to do so, so help me god. But this isn’t about who is right and wrong and whose historical claim/grievance takes precedence to have more merit. People have been arguing over it for thousands of years.

But I will say that whatever goals Hamas had for the future, it just pisses them away. By following Russia’s playbook of targeting civilians and children and engaging in sexual violence against women, Hamas lost any semblance of moral high ground, and rallied not just Israeli public opinion against it, but much of the world’s.


The atrocities Hamas gleefully committed against Israeli civilians yesterday were perhaps the worst I’ve seen in the last two years, and that includes my daily diet of Russian atrocities in Ukraine. It might’ve been worse than what we saw in Bucha early in the war. A partial recap, without links. You can go find them yourself if you really need to see such barbarism: 

  • A man in a car getting his throat slit, the Hamas terrrorist hops off as car then rolls down with the lifeless civilian at the wheel.
  • A young woman killed, then stripped and paraded around dancing militants. Originally identified as an Israeli citizen, she might actually be a German tourist attending a music festival. 
  • Four elderly civilians killed at a bus stop.
  • Militants gleefully kicking and walking on a civilian corpse.
  • Dozens (or more?) civilians kidnapped.
  • Video of a woman being dragged away bleeding from an area that suggests sexual violence
  • A young girl crying over her dead sister, murdered by Hamas in front of her at their home.
  • Israeli children being abused in captivity. 

There were more, but the tweets I had bookmarked yesterday for this story have been since removed for graphic content. And quite frankly, I would rather not remember the exact details anymore.

This butchery against civilians is terrorism, plain and simple. Hamas struck Israeli military positions, even used Ukraine War-style drone warfare to destroy equipment via drone-dropped explosives. In a war, that’s all fair. It’s a problem in the broader sense of the ongoing conflict, but war is war. But directly targeting civilians isn’t a military operation, it’s a terrorist one. And the joyful celebration around that death goes beyond even Russia’s savagery in Ukraine. Russia may murder civilians and feel justified in doing so, they may even celebrate those murders, but I haven’t seen them express joy over it. 

This is a thoughtful thread by conflict reporter Oz Katerji, currently covering the war in Ukraine. He’s spent years covering the Palestinian conflict. 

Strategically speaking, Gazans want the Israeli blockade of Gaza lifted, and Palestinians in general want statehood, an end to the occupation & an end to Israeli military & settler violence. Hard to see how today’s attacks advance these causes beyond revenge.

The Israeli military response is going to be heavy, and will disproportionately affect civilians as any military action in densely populated urban centres always does. Furthermore it will be supported by a unified population & sympathetic international community.

It’s hard to come to any other conclusion that this new and bloody chapter in the Israel-Palestine conflict will achieve anything other than a disastrous loss of life, and further entrenching the conflict for future generations.

Katerji concludes that “trying to judge this escalation by its objectives seems futile, hard to imagine a world in which Hamas don’t fully understand how weak their hand is, and how badly Gaza will suffer as a consequence, yet they took the decision to do this regardless.” 

Lots of people are already dying in the Israeli response, and Israeli public opinion and much of the world is 100% unified on Israel’s right to defend itself. Had Hamas focused its actions against Israeli military positions, it would’ve still enjoyed huge success (dozens of Israeli pieces of equipment were destroyed, several soldiers taken captive, good for prisoner exchanges, and entire Israeli military outposts overrun). Instead, Hamas literally murdered their own friends.

Some may argue that murdering natural allies at a music festival attended by young Israelis will make zero difference in the end, that a solution to the problem was forever distant. But it matters. It literally does. You win by making friends and allies. Katzman’s academic work was on the damage the Israeli-far right was doing to the country. That festival was literally a peace festival, with lovely idealistic kids dedicated to finding a harmonious way forward. Now, his death will further radicalize that far-right. If a solution once seemed remote, it is now non-existent. 

It’s telling how muted international support has been in response to Hamas’ terrorism. Iran was overjoyed, of course, and Russian state propaganda was quite happy as well. But much of the Muslim world was far more muted

Egypt, which has its own blockade of Gaza to contain Hamas extremists, called for “exercising maximum restraint and avoiding exposing civilians to further danger,” literally blaming both-sides. Hezbollah, which operates out of southern Lebanon, launched a single rocket at Israel—taken as a sign of solidarity, but not a willingness to actively join the war. Morocco expressed “deep concern at the deterioration of the situation and the outbreak of military action in the Gaza Strip, and condemns attacks against civilians wherever they may be.” Qatar blamed Israel for the violence, but called on both sides to exercise restraint. Their fear being that Israel would use the Hamas attacks to launch a disproportionate reaction in Gaza, which of course it will. The United Arab Emirates, which normalized relations with Israel in 2020, called “for the exercise of maximum restraint and an immediate ceasefire to avoid serious repercussions. The UAE has expressed its sincere condolences to all the victims of the recent crisis.” 

Most interestingly, perhaps, was Saudi Arabia, currently negotiating a peace treaty with Israel. Calling for an “immediate cessation of violence,” the Saudi statement stated, “We are following the unprecedented developments between a number of Palestinian factions and Israel occupation forces which has led to a high level of violence on a number of fronts.” 

If Hamas can’t get unequivocal support from much of the Arab world, what can it hope to accomplish? 

And that’s where Katerji’s thread above comes back into play. Hamas wasn’t just seeing a lack of international support for its actions, but much of the Arab world was actively turning away from it. Not only has Egypt (1979), Jordan (1994), Bahrain (2020, Sudan (2020), UAE (2020), and Morocco (2020), normalized relations with Israel in recent years, but Saudi Arabia will likely join them at some point in the near future and recently authorized Israeli civilian flights over its territory. Heck, UAE and Israel even signed a free trade agreement. Some people suggest Hamas’ launched this attack specifically to undermine the Saudi-Israeli peace talks, and it has a certain logic to it (even if the reality is infinitely more complex). 

But murdering civilians, filming it, and releasing videos of them joyfully dancing around the corpses of civilians, or abusing women and children, is winning them nothing of value. And this is where Hamas learned the wrong lesson from Russia.

It’s not a secret that Hamas and Russia have been making kissy faces at each other for some time. 

We’ve even seen videos of Hamas destroying Israeli armor using Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles. Yet in another sage thread, Katerji notes that it is just as ridiculous to blame Russia for what is happening in Gaza, as it is for the tankies to blame the United States for everything that ails the world. 

Trying to link Hamas to Russia is a pretty desperate manoeuvre, especially considering how warm relations are between Netanyahu and Putin. Don’t take those takes seriously.
Guys, seriously, I’ve been covering Hamas for the majority of my career, just because they have relations with Russia doesn’t mean they are working with them here, particularly when Russia’s strategy of keeping Israel out of Ukraine has worked well for Putin.

Israel and Russia have had a very clear deal—Israel doesn’t offer Ukraine any lethal assistance, despite its considerable means to do, and Russia stays out of the way when Israel bombs Syria. Indeed, Russia has its top-of-the-line S-400 air defense system in Damascus (or thereabouts) that remains curiously quiet during Israel’s regular bombing raids. 

Still, while Hamas may not be getting direct assistance or guidance from Moscow, it certainly is getting inspiration from how it has waged its war in Ukraine. 

We have wondered from the beginning why Russia expends so much valuable and dwindling ordnance targeting civilians, rather than military targets. It is an inherently self-defeating strategy, both by failing to degrade Ukrainian logistics, and also by stripping Russia of international legitimacy. Even its allies have to remain at arms-length, unwilling to be tainted by association. 

Western assistance and supplies have flowed virtually unimpeded through Ukraine to the front lines. The occasional rail station has been hit, but it’s rare. Russia would rather target civilian apartment buildings and grain silos in Odesa, than destroy rail hubs and bridges that allow Ukrainian forces to be properly supplied, or even Ukrainian command and control centers. It’s a wonder that Ukraine’s ministry of defense in Kyiv isn’t just standing, but it was never targeted by Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy literally worked out of his presidential palace office just a few days after the war began, when it became clear that Russia wouldn’t be striking the building. 

So if striking civilians is so counterproductive, why does Russia do it? The answer is simple: rage. It is a temper tantrum. 

Ukrainian citizens were supposed to submit to their ethnic betters. Putin was told that half of the Ukrainian army would immediately defect to Russia, and entire cities and regions handed over to the occupiers. It happened in Kherson … and nowhere else.

Putin is furious about this insolence, and needs to punish those Ukrainian citizens for their resistance. And so his military is using billions of dollars worth of limited rockets, missiles, and drones as an expression of his fury. 

Does it help accomplish Russia’s its strategic goals? Of course not, it hinders them. Does it help save Russian lives? Nope, it guarantees even more of them will die. But he’s f’ing angry, and goddam it, and Ukraine’s populace needs to pay!

That expression of rage, impotent as it might be, clearly resonates with Hamas, which has been experiencing its own feelings of frustration and helplessness. A big part of their rage is from Gaza’s blockade, which isn’t just a product of Israel, but Egypt as well and the rival Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank. The economic impact on Gaza’s civilians is real and harsh. 

But Hamas is also frustrated at its failures in advancing its core mission—the destruction of the Israeli state. In the preamble of its 1988 covenant, Hamas wrote, “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” A 2017 update states that the establishment of Israel is “illegal” and “There shall be no recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist entity.” 

Yet in the last several decades, two of Israel’s neighbors have recognized its existence (Egypt and Jordan), and as noted above, there is a new normalization rush from its supposed Arab allies in Africa and the Persian Gulf. Hamas wants the destruction of Israel, yet fewer and fewer countries subscribe to that goal as time wears on. So yes, there is real rage. Much of that rage is against Israel, for plenty of real and not real reasons.

But this anger is deeper than that, this is about betrayal. And just like Putin has lashed out against Ukrainian civilians for supposedly turning their backs on their Russian ethnic cousins, Hamas is lashing out at Israeli civilians because of impotent rage.  

In both cases, it doesn’t matter that the actions literally undermine their ultimate goals. Killing Ukrainian civilians isn’t going to win the war for Putin, and killing Israeli civilians isn’t going to win Hamas support for the eradication of the Israeli state. 

But it feels good. So they’ll keep doing it, because in the end, that’s all they have left. That’s why Hamas gleefully record themselves parading around the stripped corpses of their terrorism victims, then happily record young kidnapped Israeli kids being abused. Will it win them new support? Quite the opposite. But it feels good goddamit, and at this point, it’s all they have left. 

A savvy Israeli government would use this opportunity to rally that international consensus toward further isolating Hamas, loosening its hold on power in Gaza, and working toward an actual solution. But the right-wing Trumpian dictator wannabe Benjamin Netanyahu is certainly not one of those, and just like the United States post-9-11, he has the political and diplomatic space to further inflame the situation. Destroying these barbaric Hamas terrorists is well within bounds, but we know he won’t stop there. And Hamas did a great job of both murdering the very people who could’ve paved the way to a solution, while turning even more of Israel and the world against their people.

What a shit situation.


Post a Comment