Subscribe to our Newsletter

click to dowload our latest edition



Hamas’s hybrid warfare kidnaps hearts and minds



The recently reported death of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier Daniel Perez is an individual and collective tragedy. It’s also the latest example of Hamas’s deception warfare, Soviet-style “dirty tricks”, mind games, and disinformation that accompanied the 7 October massacre. Hamas continues with their rape and psychological warfare with the remaining 134 hostages they hold in Gaza.

Hamas deception warfare has worked well. They have recruited South Africa as a diplomatic proxy, as Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein has noted. They have recast Israel as the octopus strangling Gaza, and Iran and Hamas as freedom fighters.

In fact, the global discourse on Hamas’s 7 October massacre and the IDF’s Swords of Iron operation in Gaza following it reveals Hamas’s successful hybrid campaign against Israel.

This is expressed by the quick turnover of the tone of the discourse. After initial widespread Western sympathy for the Israeli victims of Hamas atrocities, mainstream media, social media, and activist nongovernment organisations have criticised Israel’s defensive actions more harshly than those of Hamas, a terrorist organisation that has perpetrated the mass murder of Jews and has regularly called for the eradication of the Jewish state since its inception 35 years ago.

United States military analyst Frank Hoffman wrote that hybrid warfare incorporates “a full range of different modes of warfare including conventional capabilities; irregular tactics and formations; terrorist acts including indiscriminate violence and coercion; and criminal disorder. Hybrid wars can be conducted by states and a variety of nonstate actors.”

Not only is Hamas’s style of terror war hybrid, Hamas’s very nature is hybrid in that it’s part terrorist and part statist: Hamas commits acts of terror while simultaneously acting legitimately as a de facto government that conducts international relations and public diplomacy with states, international organisations, institutions such as nongovernmental organisations, and the international media.

Counterterrorism authority Boaz Ganor, has noted that, “Hybrid terror organisations, unlike traditional terror groups such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS [Islamic State], and Boko Haram, operate and ‘win’ in both the illegitimate arena of terrorism and the legitimate one of the international media, institutions, and organisations.” Therefore, “the hybrid terrorist organisation extends a second leg, that of a political organisation”.

In its assault on Israel, Hamas’s multidimensional, irregular warfare approach used a low-technology multi-front assault across land, air, and sea, with bulldozers, missiles, motorcycles, rockets, rubber boats, and paragliders co-ordinated together for a “shock-and-awe” effect. This also explains its broadcasting of atrocities online, as well as granular intelligence data collection on the layout and populations of targeted Israeli communities, the product of years of planning and training after a period of quiet that convinced the Israeli security apparatus that Gaza was focusing more on its economy. In reality, Hamas was planning its 7 October operation with the assistance and direction of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran’s hybrid warfare or gray-zone warfare has served as a model for Hamas and other Islamist movements. These terms refer to the “diplomatic, informational, military, economic, and cyber instruments of national power”, that is the means, while the “ways describe how these means are employed to achieve the ends of strategy”.

Over years of intensifying military action and infrastructure building, Hamas has improved its hybrid capabilities. In a military sense, trained Hamas fighters attacked both military and civilian targets on 7 October. Yet at the same time, its militarised, radicalised, and religiously extreme society also produced hundreds of civilians who invaded Israel along with the fighters, captured in footage of the border-fence incursions. Additional footage from a Hamas camera captured by the IDF shows Hamas in civilian clothing planting an improvised explosive device booby trap in a street in Gaza, which could accidentally target Palestinian civilians. In 2014, 2018, and subsequently, Hamas operatives have been recorded dressing in civilian clothing. Likewise, Hamas has booby trapped baby dolls in bombed buildings, running recordings of children’s voices in Hebrew to tempt IDF soldiers to approach, and setting off fatal bombs.

From its inception in 1988, Hamas has used political violence in service of its aggressive, extremist Muslim Brotherhood ideological objectives. Its first charter quotes Islamic scripture, justifying the murder of Jews. In its Gaza kindergartens and summer camps, children are taught to hate Jews and to sacrifice themselves for jihad, their parents listening to similar sermons in Gaza mosques. Hamas prides itself in creating an Islamic society dedicated to jihad. Though many Westerners and Israelis tend to see the 7 October assault as an Iranian proxy move to defeat potential normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, experts note that they mistakenly disregard or underestimate the unitary purpose of religious motivation shared by Hamas and other Islamist movements.

Yet, Hamas has displayed a steep learning curve in mastering Western public opinion since its takeover of Gaza in 2007. Since 2014, Hamas began adopting the communication tactics of the identity politics-driven, anti-colonialist, progressive West. As the Western progressives’ cultural and political messages move from the margins to the mainstream, Hamas’s narrative resonates more with the Western public. Also aimed at the West, Hamas revamps militant images of Islamist jihadists into one of Islamic freedom fighters who reject classic antisemitism but condemn Zionism, projected in its revised 2017 charter. In spite of the official rebranding, its cognitive warfare has served to reignite Israel hatred and Jew hatred worldwide.

Hamas has succeeded in establishing ideological “hybridity” by slowly building legitimacy through its relations with and strategic similarity to anti-West leftist factions in the West in a calculated strategy of political warfare similar to that of Iran.

Hamas political warfare issues multiple messages to multiple audiences, playing two fields at once. It’s victor and victim, freedom fighter and jihadist. The various identities that Hamas projects also allow them to call upon human rights principles while oppressing dissidents and using their own citizens and Israeli hostages as human shields; and demanding humanitarian aid while directing it to Hamas fighters after years of squandering billions in aid in their aggressive jihad. Hamas religious ideology glorifies martyrdom and death, yet death is used to show Israeli disproportionality in fighting and to gain public sympathy. Hamas is disadvantaged by asymmetrical warfare, but uses its weakness to its advantage in gaining worldwide sympathy.

Hamas’s hybrid deception follows the Soviet model of Gibridnaya Voyna (hybrid warfare), where the kinetic battlefield and the political sphere are two equal components in fighting a total war. While it becomes difficult to assess Hamas’s true objective, Hamas might employ leftist political warfare, language, or international legal terms that hide its jihadist objective. Hamas’s contested status, not being recognised internationally as the “government of Palestine” and in fact considered a terrorist organisation, along with its dual public discourse, makes fighting it especially challenging for the IDF and the Israeli government as liberal democracy structures.

For example, on 24 October 2023, Hamas spokesperson Ghazi Hamad was interviewed on an LBC TV, a Lebanese news show, saying that Hamas’s objective was to repeat the success of the 7 October attack indefinitely, explicitly affirming Hamas’s foundational principle of a protracted jihad of attrition against Israel. After Hamas claimed high death tolls and damage, it never called for a ceasefire, while the Western protest movement did. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken even warned on 4 November that a ceasefire would allow Hamas to regroup. This was proven when the short humanitarian pause on 24 November pressured for by some Western governments gave Hamas time to booby trap terror-tunnel shafts, launch posts, and operational command centres, and allowed its forces to move to southern Gaza, while preventing the movement of civilians to safe spaces.

By 18 December, in a video, Hamas congratulated Canada, Australia, and New Zealand for their ceasefire activism, saying, “Despite the United States’s position, the Hamas movement is watching the growing cause by several Western governments to end the aggression on Gaza. In addition to the other calls worldwide demanding immediate ceasefire in the Gaza strip – the last of which was a statement by Canada, Australia, and New Zealand backing sustainable ceasefire in Gaza – we welcome these developments and consider them in the right direction toward isolating the fascist Israeli government globally and ending the longest ever occupation in our modern time.” Hamas never called for ceasefire, but it was glad to see the effects of its psychological warfare on Western populations.

Similarly, oscillations between displays of fearlessness and “playing the victim” can also be counted as deceptive psychological warfare ploys. On Gazan Telegraph accounts, Hamas fighters were seen atop IDF tanks with claims that the Israelis lost many fighters. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar made unsubstantiated – apparently false – statements claiming that Hamas had destroyed 750 armoured IDF vehicles and about 5 000 Israeli soldiers, saying, “a third of them died, a third were seriously injured, and the last third was permanently disabled”. With its own death toll, Hamas also played a numbers game, including fighters in a count of civilian death, counting teen militants as children, and fabricating numbers to include deaths caused by misfired missiles into Gaza and natural deaths in its fatality count. Gaza’s widespread use of “human shields” – firing from heavily populated urban centres – has also played heavily into its hybrid deception model.

In addition, misreported events are used as disinformation by Hamas, such as the killing of two Christian women in Gaza. Hamas sources blamed an IDF strike for the deaths, while none occurred in the area in which the women were located. The IDF’s poorly written press release and delayed response allowed Hamas and its supporters to libel the IDF just around Christmas time for Western audiences, quickly spreading the allegation on social media.

In sum, Hamas’s human shield tactics, coupled with its appeals to international law regarding war crimes, and its deception tactics both in urban battlefield and global discourse makes its hybrid war a challenge for both the IDF and for Israel’s diplomatic staff.

Hamas invaded Israel, massacred, raped, and kidnapped a total of 1 500 tots, teens, women, and men on 7 October. Since then, it has held 134 hostages in the darkness of Hamas tunnels. Even more far reaching, it has kidnapped the hearts and minds of millions in the West. The implications for the free world are too far reaching to ignore.

  • Dr Dan Diker is president of the Center for Public Affairs in Jerusalem.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *