In the history of contemporary asymmetric wars, Hamas’ strategy is nothing really new. The Palestinian Islamist movement applies the theory of revolutionary war as promoted by Mao Tse-Tung and as analyzed by the French officers Lacheroy, Trinquier and Galula, on the ground of the wars in Indochina and Algeria.
The first principle of revolutionary war is that its fighter must be like a fish in water within the population he claims to want to liberate.
This is the case of Hamas fighters and their families, who cannot be distinguished from other Palestinian households. Same mosques, same schools, same shops, same housing, same cars, same clothes. Missiles can be fired one evening by Hamas from mosques or schools which, the next day, will be attended by completely peaceful families.
The second principle of revolutionary war is to bring violence to its peak, in order to cause extreme polarisation within the societies that we seek to separate in an airtight manner. This is what FLN leaders Yacef Saadi and Ben M’Hidi did in Algiers in 1956-1957. The bloody terrorist attacks plunged the city of Algiers, then mainly populated by Europeans, into terror, anger and hatred.
The crowd, revolted by the horror of the spectacle of women and children torn to pieces by the bombs, demanded immediate, blind revenge. The infernal cycle of attacks-repression had begun.
The fierce repression will be called the Battle of Algiers by General Massu’s paratroopers, to whom the left-wing government has given full powers. Arrests, torture, disappearances. In large scale. More than 4,000 suspects disappear, causing the resignation of the secretary general of the prefecture in charge of the police.
The attacks stopped in Algiers, the FLN was beheaded there. He lost tactically, but he won strategically. Because a large number of Muslim Algerians, until then undecided, are switching to his side, out of solidarity with the victims. The battle having been highly publicized, the FLN became famous throughout the world. Discord wins over his enemy, because many French people disapprove of the use of torture by their army.
By massacring more than a thousand innocent Israeli civilians in its attack on October 7, Hamas knew very well that it would bring the fire of vengeance to the Gaza Strip. He knew that the IDF was going to bomb massively, that collateral victims would number in the thousands, and that he would thus achieve the desired polarisation.
In revolutionary war, the condition and fate of the victims does not have the slightest importance in the eyes of the combatants. The vast majority of victims of October 7, residents of border kibbutz or visitors to the Rave party, were left-wing Israelis, wishing to give their rights to the Palestinians. Never mind. The important thing in the eyes of Hamas, for whom the end always justifies the means, is that its strategic objective is achieved.
It was. The Palestinian cause has returned to the forefront of the global geopolitical scene. Television images follow television images. The Israeli deaths are gradually forgotten, and we only talk about the Palestinian victims of the IDF bombings. Muslims around the world are uniting against the Jewish state, and very few dare to condemn Hamas.
Very few dare say that this Muslim Brotherhood movement has, for fifteen years, taken the entire Gazan population hostage, without allowing them the slightest freedom of expression, the slightest participation in the decision.
Israel returned diplomatically to the state it was in 1982, the year of its invasion of Lebanon. Saudi Arabia was preparing to establish diplomatic relations with him, there is no longer any question of it. On some Western university campuses, leftists and wokists openly advocate BDS, that is, sanctions against Israel, the boycott of its products and the cessation of international investments in its territory.
Faced with the horror of October 7, Israeli strategists will have to show more composure than the Americans after 11 September 2001. How to react without overreacting, how not to let yourself be drawn into a spiral of violence unending?
One thing is certain, the Israelis will one day have to resume negotiations with the Palestinians. It is therefore urgent to reinstate Yitzhak Rabin’s formula: “I will fight terrorism as if there were no negotiations, and I will negotiate as if there was no terrorism!”
This blog post first appeared as a column in Le Figaro in Oct 2023.