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Israel and Hamas Need Each Other

And a New Round of Conflict Won’t Change That

An Israeli soldier walks by a battery of cannons near Gaza, March 2019 Amir Cohen / Reuters

War, like politics, makes for strange bedfellows. Israel is currently preparing for a potentially dramatic faceoff with Hamas. Over the past week, the group has launched rockets into Israel, and it has called for a million man march this weekend  along the Israeli-Gaza border to mark the anniversary of last year’s March of Return. The protests may either fizzle or spark an intensified round of conflict. Whatever happens though, it will not undermine the curious, co-dependent relationship that has evolved between Hamas and the Israeli government, especially under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. These two key Middle East actors despise yet depend on one another.

Israel and Hamas are unlikely partners. They call for each other’s destruction and have been through three major military confrontations, most recently in 2014. Nevertheless, these two sworn enemies have long cooperated out of practical necessity. On certain issues—including managing their conflict through Egypt and preventing the Palestinian Authority from reunifying Gaza and the West Bank—their objectives even align. Although neither wants to admit it, Israel and Hamas need each other.

THE ODD COUPLE

For as long as Hamas has existed, it has maintained a strangely functional relationship with Israel. In the 1970s, even before Hamas was founded, Israel believed  that Palestinian Islamist groups could serve as a useful counterweight to Fatah, the more secular, revolutionary, and (at the time) violent political party that dominated the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In order to undermine Fatah, Israel allowed these groups, including the forerunners of Hamas, a fair amount of freedom to organize in Gaza. In 1979, Israel even officially recognized an Islamic charity created by Ahmad Yassin, one of the co-founders of Hamas. Within five years, Yassin would be arrested for weapons smuggling, and the Israelis would eventually assassinate him in March 2004 in an effort to stop Hamas terrorist attacks.

In the 1970s, Gaza’s Islamists needed Israel’s acquiescence in order to grow. But since 1987, when Hamas was founded as an independent organization, the group’s ideological

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