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Hello, and welcome to this podcast from the BBC World Service. Please let us know what you think and tell other people about us on social media. Podcasts from the BBC World Service are supported by advertising. Hello, I'm Katja Adler from the BBC World Service. This is The Global Story. Our mission is to give you smart, fresh takes on the stories that matter.


Hamas, we're.


Going to resign them to the dust bin of history. That's my goal. That's my responsibility. That's what I'm leading the country to do.


That's Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Back on the seventh of October, 1,200 people were killed and 240 taken hostage in attacks organized from Gaza. Israel has vowed to eliminate the perpetrators. Hamas, which governs the Palestinian territory of Gaza and is viewed as a terrorist organization by many Western governments, quickly retreated into the maze of tunnels it's built under the Gaza Strip. Israel's military has pursued them with unprecedented force. But Hamas is more than a military wing. It's also a political force and an ideology. Some of Israel's allies are questioning how realistic their objective is.


We are.


At a moment.


When Israeli authorities need to.


More precisely define their.


Objectives and their final goal.


The total.








Does anyone think it is possible?


So today, after weeks of heavy fighting and an enormous loss of life amongst Palestinian civilians in Gaza, what is left of Hamas? And is Israel's goal to eradicate them even possible? What I'm really enjoying about this podcast is getting together to chat about huge stories of importance with the best voices from the BBC. Today, Farris Kalani, BBC Arabic special correspondent who's been following Hamas for decades.


Hi, Ferris. Hi.


And also Frank Gairdner, the BBC security correspondent who's been covering the Middle East for decades. Hi.




Ferris, you've been following Hamas for many, many years. And when I mentioned them at the top of this episode, I used quite specific wording. I said that they govern Gaza, but also that they're seen as a terrorist organization by many Western governments. Can you start off by telling us a little bit about Hamas and the different hats it wears, if you like?


Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. It was established in 1987, mainly in Qatar first, and Qatar was under the Israeli full occupation at that time. Its name, as you know, it's the Islamic resistance movement. It was not known very well in the Palestinian society, whether in Gaza, West Bank, or anywhere else. But later, when the peace process started, they're trying to stop it. They committed a lot of suicide bombing inside Israel, in Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv until 2004, when the Israeli, Ariel-Sharif Prime Minister, decided to leave Georgia. After two years, they run for the election. Since then, they are in full control of Georgia's trip. They have very strong relation with the Syrian regime, Iran, and Turkey. They have to deal with what happened after the election in 2006, because since then, the Israeli besieged the guys for years now. During this period, there was four wars against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This is the biggest one which we are facing now since two months.


Many of our listeners will be familiar with their military wing. They are seen as a terrorist group by a number of Western governments. They also have a very strong welfare branch, which has been going on for decades amongst Palestinians and largely led to their electoral success back in 2006. That's the last time there was a free election held.


After 2006, they formed the government. The first with other Palestinian factions, but after a year, they committed the scoop against the Palestinian authority, and since then, they are in full control of the government itself. It was really difficult mission for them as the first time ever for Hamas to control more than two million people in a very small, tiny piece of land surrounded by the Israel and Egypt, and both decided not to allow them to survive, honestly. Even the Egyptian regime at that time, they closed the Rafah border crossing under the Israel did the same thing then, but they managed to stay until now.


Presumably, its military wing has changed a lot over these years, but there seems to be a lot of disagreement as to what extent it's built up. I mean, some say 40,000 members in the military wing. There are different numbers. How difficult is it to keep track of that when you're not in Gaza?


I think it's really hard. One of the most difficult questions, I think it's really difficult to give a specific number, but I think we are talking about 20,000, not less, by the way, but not 40. Absolutely not 40. These are Israeli numbers. The Israelis wants to say that because to say to the world that they are facing really big, difficult enemy. It's almost impossible to know. These things, Hamas under a Sinwar control, it's one of the most difficult secrets on earth now. I tried several times. I met Sinwar two times in Gaza, and he is this leaders who doesn't trust even his family members.


There is a link, by the way, on the BBC website to who is Yachir Sinwar, which we've done. It's like a biography.


He's a scary leader, even Hamas, as I said, I know that from speaking to different leaders of Hamas in the leadership, they are higher than him, but they can't control him. We heard.


At the top of the program that Israel has declared its military objective to destroy Hamas. How is Hamas able to keep arming itself? Why don't we take a listen to Ali Baraka, Hamas's Head of Foreign Relations? He was speaking to RT in October.




Have been preparing for this for two years. We have local factories for everything. We have rockets with ranges from 250 kilometers to 10 kilometers. We have factories for mortars and their shells.


We talk a lot about the siege on Gaza by Israel, which has been tightened since the seventh of October. We heard there about talk of factories. So what do we know about how they are procuring weapons?


I think the word factory might be a little grand. We're talking here mostly about underground backstreet sellers, workshops where a lot of these weapons are extremely crude. Some of the shorter range ones you're talking about literally just pretty much a pipe and a bit of explosive in a tube with a couple of fins on it that are lobbed toward the nearest Israeli town, possibly as far as Ashdad. The number of long-range missiles that could reach Tel Aviv or Haifa are very limited indeed. They've got a lot, but they're not nearly as effective as the weapons that Hezbolla has. How have they got in there? Well, a lot of the original material and expertise has come through the sophisticated, well-developed smuggling network through the Sinai Desert. Tunnels are built, discovered, blown up, and then rebuilt underneath the borders between Egypt and Qatar. And Iran has been accused of being complicit in this. Iran is a major backer of Hamas. And some of these tunnels in the past have been big enough to get a fleet of cars through. Even stallions, Arabian purebred stallions have come through the tunnels, how the weapons arrived in the first place.


But there is a flourishing industry in homemade weaponry in Gaza, which I don't think this campaign is going to eliminate.


I wanted to ask Frank, considering Israel's huge bombardment from the air since the seventh of October, its ground invasion in the north, we see those scenes of destruction that's now launched a similar campaign in the south as well. How effective will these be at destroying those tunnels, which are sometimes nicknamed the girls of Metro?


Well, they definitely will have destroyed some of them, but the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, have had strict orders not to go down into the tunnels because they know that they're going to be booby-trapped and that they will be led into ambushes. They prefer to destroy them either using explosives or literally just striking them from the air, but they are very extensive. They are thought to be at least 500 kilometers of these tunnels. Hamas, their commanders are not stupid. When Israel assaulted the north of the Gaza Strip, those commanders, many of them, will simply have moved south, either stayed underground or shed their uniforms and tried to blend in with the civilian population. It's incredibly difficult to root out an armed organization that lives amongst the people. The coalition found this in Mosul and in Falluja, in Iraq, and it's almost impossible to do it without killing a lot of civilians, which is exactly what is happening in Gaza right now.


On a recruitment side, Israel claims that it's killing hundreds of Hamas fighters, Farahs. How hard will it be for Hamas to recruit more people, considering the current violence with Israel.


It's almost impossible now. They can't do this. Let's not forget, since the seventh of October attack, we don't see Hamas in the streets. We don't see even the police in the streets. They just disappeared in the tunnels. The other thing is we don't know how much they lost already. Hamas is not saying anything about this. These bombardment are killing a lot of Hamas fighters, but they are buried under the buildings and the tunnels, and it's impossible to know.


It's worth having a look at this. So if we go with the figure that the Hamas-run Health Ministry has given of 15,500 people killed so far in Gaza, and I know those figures are often doubted by Israel, but they are corroborated by international aid organizations, so it's going to be close to that figure. They also get the figure of 6,000 children killed and obviously a large number of adult civilians. If we go with 20,000 fighters Hamas had, there may well be more. There's an awful lot of guns in gas. I've been there not often as often as for us as has, but I was struck by the number of people in civilian clothes carrying Kalashnikovs and letting them off in the air at any moment. If we go with 20,000 Hamas fighters at the beginning, and let's say as many as 5,000 based on those figures of numbers of dead have been killed, after two months of intensive bombarding of dropping 6,000 bombs in the first six days, that's more than was done in a month in Mosul, they have only killed a quarter of Hamas. If they're going to eliminate or at least reduce Hamas's ability to be a military threat to Israel.


They're going to have to carry on doing this for a very long time. I don't think the United States or the international community is going to allow them to carry on this level, this intensity of bombardment with all the civilian displacement and death and destruction that is accompanying there. They've got every right to retaliate against Hamas, but the cost to the civilian population is not acceptable to the rest of the world.


Absolutely, Frank, and that's what we need to look at. We need to look at not just Israel's capability to destroy Hamas, but whether it is politically able to continue the destruction in the Gaza Strip, and can it eliminate the ideology of Hamas that could continue even after its fighters are destroyed? This is The Global Story from the BBC World Service, we bring you one big international story in detail every weekday. Follow or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. This is not the first time that Hamas and Israel have come into direct and violent conflict. Do you think Hamas thought that Israel would come in such a strong way, though, as we're seeing right now? Because this outdoes previous rounds in the intensity of it.


Hamas in Qatar, they were shocked by the result. They didn't expect it. I spoke to a lot of people from the organization. It was a big shock for them. They didn't expect that range of killing that they were going to kill whether civilians or military, I'm talking. That tells you that they didn't expected the operation or the decision by Israel to finish Hamas role in Qatar and finish the military wing.


There are reports coming out of Israeli intelligence to suggest that Hamas's goals inside Israel went beyond what you're suggesting now?


Well, over the last few days, there was a lot of reports. Israel's security forces knew about what was planned. But again, the Maas, we know them that they are very smart. They know that they would lose Gaza and they might find themselves in this situation if they commit a big crime against the civilians in Israel. This is something they know. Until now, they refuse to admit that they killed any civilian because they know the moment they will admit this, it will be officially the end of them. Even their allies will not be able to defend them anymore.


What do you know from your work and your investigations about how works internally? Does it work like individual cells? Or how would you stop information leaking out? You've mentioned Israel's network of spies, for example.


They created this, you call it the nuts. If each one of them doesn't know the other one and in each area there is a commander doesn't in any meaning know anything about the other area. What happened, for example, in seventh of October, we know that each group were called separately. They didn't know what was going on alongside them in a very close by area in the bordering area. This is the way they work over the last few years. We have a say in Arabic, Your right-hand doesn't know what your left hand is doing. That's why if any cell were discovered or the Israel knew about it, doesn't mean that the whole system would collapse. It was built this way by.


Frank, we've talked about the fact that Hamas has political leadership inside Gaza, but also outside Gaza. There's been discussion about to what extent the political leadership was aware of the plan for the October seventh of attack inside Israel. When Israel says it wants to destroy Hamas, is it conceivable that it may try to take out the political leadership in other countries and risking the war spreading to the wider Middle East, whether in Lebanon or Qatar?


It's not only conceivable, I think it's likely. The Israelis have made that quite clear in the last few days that they are going to go after all the leadership of Hamas, wherever they are in the world. They have said this is going to be our Muniq 2.0. If you remember, after the Munich Olympic massacre in 1972, Israel's Mossad, their overseas intelligence agency, they took their time and over a period of months and years, one by one, they hunted down every single one of the killers who had murdered Israeli athletes and their trainers, and they've said they're going to do the same thing. This will not be popular with Israel's newfound friends or partners in the region, places like the UAE, Bahrain, as well as Jordan and Egypt, but they've said they're going to do it. Remember that this is an extremely hawkish, right-wing, hardline government of Benjamin Netanyahu.


You say it's an extremely hawkish, right-wing, Israeli government at the moment, but it's an extremely Hawkish, right-wing, Israeli government that is still very dependent on its greatest ally, the United States. The Americans do not want this conflict to spread further into the Middle East. Very soon after that massacre inside Israel, when Israel was absolutely in a state of shock, President Biden arrives in the region, and he was, for an American President, really outspoken about having to think about Palestinian civilians. But I caution this while you feel that rage.


Don't be consumed by it. After 9/11, we.


Were enraged in the United States. While we.


Sought justice and got justice, we also.


Made mistakes.


The vast majority of Palestinians are not Hamas. Hamas does not.


Represent the Palestinian people.


Frank, do you think that Israel is listening or will have to listen?


They know that they have got a limited amount of time to achieve what they consider to be their objectives. They know that it's not popular either with the United States or with our allies in the region. But Israel is so traumatized, and you were there in the immediate aftermath of October the seventh, the depth of barbarity, cruelty, sadism, and sabitry that was committed on those people in Southern Israel on October the seventh, so traumatized the Israeli nation that they have temporarily coalesced behind this rather unpopular government and given it pretty much their support to do whatever it takes to stop Hamas ever being able to do this again.


I wonder if we could return, if we have a look to our original question here, how much is left of Hamas? And we look at Israel's stated aim of, Can it be eradicated? Going back to the US again, Lloyd Austin, the US Defense Secretary, made an interesting comment recently at the Reagan National Defense Forum. It is a fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population. And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat. I have repeatedly made clear to Israel's leaders that protecting Palestinian civilians in Gaza is both a moral responsibility and a strategic imperative.


Well, I think he's certainly right in the sense that if you conduct a war amongst the people and you are seen as the enemy, then you're inevitably driving those people into the arms of the enemy. I mean, that's pretty bone obvious. That's military doctrine 1.0. Not many Americans have dared say it, and he's been criticized for saying it. He's been accused of not supporting Israel enough by this, but he's simply telling truth to power, which needs to be done. I mean, look at the destruction that took place in Aleppo, for example, in Syria, which Syria and Russia bom from the air, the destruction of Mosul during the anti-the ISIS campaign conducted by the US-led coalition. But the difference there was that that was with the cannivance and the acceptance and the encouragement even of the sovereign Iraqi government. And this is different. Yeah, he's absolutely right that if you kill a lot of civilians and displace them and deprive them of the basic fundamentals while you are conducting your perfectly justified hunt down for Hamas commanders who committed atrocities, you're going to make enemies of those people and an entire generation is going to grow up loathing Israel and everything it stands for and its allies, including the West.


Israel says it has the right to defend itself. Its civilians were attacked, murdered. Hamas fighters came into Israel and took with them more than 200 hostages. It needs to defend itself. I mean, if you have a look for us at the Hamas fighters that are members of Hamas's military wing today, young men, they were kids when Israel first imposed its siege after Hamas took power.


Of course, let's talk about another area now, not about Gaza, about the West Bank. I was there 10 days ago, and I interviewed one of Hamas's military wing fighters in the city of Jenin. They were burying 14 of their fighters killed in the night before with the Israelis. This guy is the son of one of those who killed during the war for Jenin, the battle of Jenin in 2002. The majority of now the fighters in the West Bank are the kids of those who killed during that time. They will find, whether it's Hamas, it will be Hamas or another version of Hamas or might be more radicalized, more extremist.


Farris, how much do we know about Hamas's popularity right now in the.


Gaza Strip? I think there is a lot of anger against Hamas because of what's going on. But it doesn't mean by any meaning that they lost their main popularity. People will never, ever say this in public, even if they feel it.


We heard from Emmanuel McCann, right at the beginning of this episode saying, perhaps Israel needs to define its objective more precisely at the goal of destroying Hamas. Is it possible to just entirely, completely destroy Hamas, Farez, and Frank?


I think we're still in the early stages and we need to make sure what we are talking about. If we are talking about the military wing of Hamas, as Frank mentioned before, let's say 5,000 of the 20 killed, we still have 15,000 fighter in. Very soon, within two, three weeks, those fighters will lose the ability to fire any rockets at Israeli towns or settlements or cities or anywhere else, and the fight will be house to house and street to street. This will remind us, I think we mentioned Mosul, it lasted nine months to finish. There was no exit given at that time to ISIS fighters to leave the city. We have the same situation in Qatar. Those fighters will stay fighting till the last second. Talking about the political Hamas, it's impossible to finish them as an ideology.


Israel, I think, is going to have to redefine its military objectives from this because it's not, as Ferrar says, it's not going to be able to completely eliminate Hamas. Besides, Hamas has been running Gaza. If you eliminate the organization that has provided the sewage, the waterworks, the entire infrastructure for 2.3 million people in that tiny strip of land, what do you replace it with? It's already been ruled out that Israel is going to reoccupy it. Nobody wants to govern Qatar, but you can certainly massively reduce Hamas's ability to strike Israel for now. But six months down the line, one year down the line, if there is no sign of any peace process, there's no hope of a future Palestinian state, then I think you can expect a rejuvenation of Hamas 2.0, of future recruits who will want to lob rockets across the border at Israeli towns like Staddard and other places. It will simply continue.


Frank Gairdner, BBC security correspondent. Thank you so much indeed. And to you for us, Hylani, an expert on Hamas from BBC Arabic, thank you very much indeed.


Goodbye, and thanks for having us on the program.


Thank you so much. Thank you.


This is a story we'll be covering for a long time, so hopefully we'll chat again soon. And thanks to you for listening. In future episodes of The Global Story, we'll be looking at the banning of books in the United States. Have you got direct experience of that? Our team is also fact-checking what happened to the Hong Kong protesters and researching the state of the UK's royal family. Send us a voice note on plus 4.4, 3.0, 1.2.3, 9.4.0, or you can email us at theglobalstory@bc. Com. Wherever you're listening in the world, this has been the global story from the BBC World Service. Goodbye.