Does Biden’s framework pave path to ‘Hezbollah model’ in Gaza?

Such a scenario would relieve the Islamist group of responsibility for governance and allow it to rebuilt its military-terrorist power.

By Yaakov Lappin | | Topics: Gaza, Hamas
Hezbollah supporters taunt IDF soldiers on the Israel-Lebanon border. Photo by Haim Azulay /Flash90.
Hezbollah supporters taunt IDF soldiers on the Israel-Lebanon border. Photo by Haim Azulay /Flash90.

Hamas could be positioning itself to adopt a model similar to Hezbollah’s structure in Lebanon, where it remains a dominant military-terrorist and political force while allowing a toothless civilian administration to formally “govern.”

This goal potentially aligns well with the three-stage proposal for an end to the Gaza conflict proposed on May 31 by US President Joe Biden, which was highly vague on how to ensure Hamas does not rebuild its power in the Strip.

The possibility of Hamas adopting the Hezbollah model in Gaza has garnered recent attention as a feasible strategy for the jihadist movement to maintain its military and political influence while ostensibly relinquishing civilian governance in Gaza to a nominally independent technocratic authority, or, in a similar version of this blueprint, the Palestinian Authority.

Jacky Hugi, the Arab Affairs editor at Army Radio, discussed Hamas’s possible adoption of the Hezbollah model in Gaza in Maariv in recent days, in which he explored how Hamas might use this approach to maintain its influence while reducing its direct governance responsibilities.

Hamas is fundamentally driven by the strategic goal of preserving its ability to retake Gaza following the war. The Islamist faction’s primary objective is to emerge from hostilities with an ability to rebuild its rocket arsenal, tunnels and jihadist attack army, presumably with Iranian help, and with its leadership largely unscathed, which it would rightly consider a significant victory.

If Hamas can’t immediately restore its political regime, its interim vision could include modeling its operations on Hezbollah in Lebanon—a potent terror army entity operating within a state where official civilian governance is nominal and ineffectual.

The burden of day-to-day governance in Gaza proved cumbersome for Hamas, particularly in the face of economic hardships and infrastructure failures. By handing over civilian administration to the Palestinian Authority or a technocratic body, Hamas could focus on its core activities: rebuilding its military capabilities and continuing its jihadist attacks against Israel.

Ultimately, Hamas’s end goal, in line with its Muslim Brotherhood ideology, is to establish an Islamic caliphate on Israel’s ruins, and it is flexible on how to reach that vision.

President Biden’s presented his three-point proposal as a means to stabilize the Strip and alleviate civilian suffering, but it could also enable a framework in which Hamas can step back from overt governance without disarming or dissolving its terror army.

Hamas’s interest in this kind of model is not new.

Professor Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at the Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy in Jerusalem and a former deputy director general and head of the Palestinian desk at the Ministry for Strategic Affairs, already noted in March this year, in a paper published at the Institute for National Security Studies, that Hamas has expressed willingness to let a technocratic government handle Gaza’s administrative functions. He noted that this sentiment was echoed by senior Hamas leader Abu Marzouk, who suggested that Hamas could agree to such an arrangement.

The risks of this approach are clear. For Israel and its allies, a Hezbollah-like Hamas entrenched in Gaza represents the resurgence of a massive security threat to the Israeli south and the entire country.

Hamas could initiate attacks or escalate conflicts far more frequently while allowing an empty shell of an administration to take responsibility for civilians’ welfare. The international community, under this scenario, would likely condemn any significant Israeli action to neutralize Hamas threats with the claim that this would destabilize the civilian government, which would become a fig leaf for Hamas.

As such, the international community, including the United States, must consider the long-term implications of facilitating a scenario where Hamas retains significant power behind a civilian facade. Such an outcome would boost and embolden the entire Iranian-led jihadist axis.

Israel, for its part, will likely be on guard so as to able to pre-empt Hamas’s potential strategy to replicate the devastating Lebanese model in Gaza.

Ensuring that Hamas’s terror army cannot resurface, and that any future civilian government in Gaza is free from Hamas’s influence is therefore paramount in preventing the rise of the “Hezbollah model” in Gaza.

If the model is allowed to gradually take shape, Hamas could in the future attempt to re-enact its 2007 coup and take full political power as well, as part of the goal of turning Gaza, once again, into an Iranian-backed terror fortress.