Hamas's surprise attack is a humanitarian horror. It is also a strategic opportunity for Israel, the U.S. and democracies everywhere.
Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which author Cynthia Farahat describes as "the world's incubator of modern Islamic terrorism." From Hamas's origins in 1987, it has engaged in violence against Israelis, Palestinians and whoever else might cross its path. A sequence of Israeli missteps led in 2007 to its taking power in the Gaza Strip, an area the size of Omaha, Neb., with a population of two million. It imposed a totalitarian rule on Gaza similar to that of the mullahs in Iran, attempting to implement medieval strictures, oppressing its own population, and threatening to destroy Israel.
There are many indications that Gazans hate Hamas. "There is boiling anger in the streets against the Hamas movement," Tholfekar Swairjo, a Gazan political analyst, told NPR in 2022. "They are blamed for the very low quality of life in Gaza." A 32-year-old woman said that "most Gazans have stopped believing in Hamas and the others. You know why? Because they don't feed us, they don't provide anything. You have to depend on yourself. How can we build a future with these guys?"
Polling finds overwhelming support among Palestinians, especially in Gaza, for the statement that "Palestinians should push harder to replace their own political leaders with more effective and less corrupt ones." Gazans also reject Hamas by emigrating in droves. An estimated 250,000 to 350,000 young adults have left the strip since Hamas took over in 2007.
In short, most Gazans loathe Hamas, but they dare not rise up against their power-hungry oppressors, who enjoy support from Iran. What about Israel? It has the motive and the means to end Hamas rule, but its security establishment has preferred that Hamas, for all its horrors and threats, stay in power rather than have the Israel Defense Forces move back into Gaza (from which they withdrew in 2005) and run the territory again. For one sign of Israel's acquiescence to Hamas rule, note that it permits and even encourages the government of Qatar to send Hamas $30 million a month.
As a result, nothing changes. Perhaps the moment has come for American leadership. In 2003, President George W. Bush said that "the free world, those who love freedom and peace, must deal harshly with Hamas" and that "Hamas must be dismantled." President Barack Obama said in 2014: "I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza."
Joe Biden should join their ranks. In a statement Saturday, he said he "unequivocally condemns this appalling assault"—a good start. The next step is to urge Israel to remove Hamas. Perhaps this, along with the size and barbarism of the latest assault, will change the Israeli security establishment's reluctant acceptance of Hamas and persuade it to rid the world of this scourge.
Once Gaza has been secured, Israel would find a great number of its inhabitants ready to start over and build productive lives rather than focus endlessly and hopelessly on the destruction of Israel. Gaza could aspire to become the "Singapore of the Middle East" of which optimists dreamed decades ago. None of this can happen as long as Iran's medieval-minded agents run the enclave.
The Hamas charter of 1988 calls for Islam to "obliterate" Israel. After this vicious assault, the time has come for Israel to obliterate Hamas.
Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum.