Last weekend, Hamas fighters stormed into Israel, killing more than a thousand Israelis and taking some hundred and fifty hostages. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, announced that his country was at war, and his cabinet called up hundreds of thousands of reservists and ordered the bombing of the Gaza Strip, where, in the past few days, as many as eleven hundred Palestinians have already been killed. To talk about the conflict, I called Tareq Baconi, the president of the board of the think tank Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He has also worked with the International Crisis Group in Ramallah, and is the author of the 2018 book “Hamas Contained.” During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed what Hamas hoped to accomplish, how Israeli government policy toward Hamas has changed over the years, and how to understand the sheer scale of the violence and cruelty we have seen in recent days.
How do you make sense of the timing of this attack?
What happened in the past weekend has really shifted the paradigm of how we understand the dynamic between Hamas and Israel, specifically, but more broadly between Israel and the Palestinians. Under the old paradigm, there were several factors that might have precipitated this attack, such as the increasing violence that the Israelis are using in the West Bank, through their settlers and through annexation; the provocation around the Temple Mount and, of course, around the Gaza Strip; and the growing restrictions that are part of Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Any of these in the past would have compelled Hamas to initiate some kind of missile launch or offensive that would demonstrate that it’s acting on behalf of the Palestinian people and looking to protect Palestinians, or change the reality in Gaza.