Friday Puzzler: Why Has Hamas Never Targeted the United States with Violence?

Weapons catch in Gaza. IDF photo, via Wikimedia.

By Barbara F. Walter

Weapons catch in Gaza. IDF photo, via Wikimedia.
Weapons cache in Gaza. IDF photo, via Wikimedia.

For decades Hamas has been engaged in a battle with Israel over territory and Israel’s very existence. This battle has included suicide attacks on Israelis, two intifadas against the state of Israel, and more recently, rocket attacks targeting Israel’s major cities. However, Hamas has never launched any attacks against Americans or the United States. This is especially surprising given America’s unique and strong support for Israel.

Today’s puzzle is this: Why has Hamas never directed its attacks against the United States, Israel’s closest ally?

Answer to last week’s puzzler:

On December 21 I asked why the Obama administration has remained silent about Egyptian President Morsi’s grab for power, a silence that seems to almost condone the move towards dictatorship.

My answer is this: Now that Egypt has become more democratic, the Obama administration must consider that more radical Islamists could be voted into office. Morsi heads an Islamic party — the Muslim Brotherhood — but it is not nearly as radical as the Salafi parties that are his closest competitors. If Egypt were to become more democratic over time (rather than less, as Morsi is attempting to do), there is a good chance that one of these parties would eventually come to power. That is something the Obama administration definitely doesn’t want, and that is why Morsi’s move was not unwelcome. Morsi’s undemocratic tendencies ensured that a more radical anti-American party would have little chance to come to power, and ensured that Morsi would continue to be dependent on US aid for its survival. In essence, it is a move that it taking Egypt and the United States back to their comfortable pre-Arab-spring relationships, albeit with a slightly more democratic and benevolent leader.

  1. I’m not sure of the logic on the Egypt answer. Leaving aside whether Morsi’s moves were undemocratic (and one could argue that, to the extent that they were motivated by fear of the Mubarak-era judiciary aborting the transitional process, they were not all that undemocratic), the decisions taken by Morsi in no way affect the electoral prospects of the Salafists. Indeed, by advancing the electoral calendar through ratification of the constitutions, they arguably work to the Salafist’s advantage. Certainly al-Nour (the main Salafist party) didn’t oppose the temporary presidential decree, and actively supported the constitutional proposal.

  2. Well I would argue that Hamas is a religious-nationalist movement, which limits its attacks on Israel (former times: also West Bank and Gaza Strip) in order to…

    – pool its forces and not to waste them in battles with little benefits
    – not irritate its Arab supporters: Recently Hamas has turned to Quatar, Egypt and Turkey which maintain good relations to the US/are US allies. However, even before this move has taken place Hamas was eager not to antagonize states which tolerated support for Hamas but had more or less positive relations with the US.
    – not risk the chance of compromise. Hamas has shown its willingness to strike a deal with Israel under specific conditions. It realizes that the US is the only power able to pressure Israel.
    – underline that it is not an al-Qaeda type of group. Especially after 9/11 Hamas was eager not to fall in the same category. Hamas unterstands itself to be a social movement/network which fights Israel for a Palestinian state. It is eager not to be portrayed as a terrorist organisation (despite its employment of suicide bombers).

    As Hamas is a strategic actor (its acts of violence do not seem to be religiously motivated) it realized from the beginning that attacking the US, Europe or other regions/states etc. does not yield any benefit but entails high costs and may be a hindrance in achieving its goal.

  3. Not really sure how this one is a puzzle. Hamas is a nationalist movement in a fixed territory, and attacking the US would achieve nothing while costing a lot in terms of Hamas’s nationalist goals.

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