Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :
Tariq Al-Homayed
Saudi journalist and writer, and former editor-in-chief of Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt newspaper
TT

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Rafah, the Last Card Hamas Has to Play  

Hamas agreeing to a ceasefire on Monday evening, especially since it came after Israel had called on the residents of Rafah to evacuate that morning, shows that Rafah, not even the Israeli hostages, was Hamas' last bet.

What happened, according to the news reports and statements we saw on Monday, is that Hamas agreed to a version of the ceasefire deal that Israel had not accepted. Indeed, Hamas' acceptance surprised even the White House, the international community, and likely the mediators, not just the Israelis.

Hamas agreed to the deal after Israel had announced that some Rafah residents would have to evacuate on Monday morning, signaling the start of the Israeli invasion. Clearly, Hamas wanted to stir domestic confusion in Israel and embarrass it internationally.

However, Hamas did not realize, even after Israel had spent around six months slaughtering Gazans, that Israel was not in the least concerned about its global image or even the domestic pressure being exerted to release the hostages. The extremist Israeli government led by Netanyahu is concerned with survival, not pleasing anyone.

Another matter Hamas failed to appreciate is that their announcement, in the manner it was made, revealed that Rafah was the last card they could play. Even the hostages are not a card they can play. It is said that Hamas has over 30 hostages, meaning the rest are either held by other factions or have been killed.

All of this means that Hamas' international position has become weak, not to mention its weakness on the ground. The disaster precipitated by Hamas on October 7 has now led to an Israeli invasion of Rafah, which has brought the occupation back to Gaza, taking us back to 2005.

The truth is that Hamas, in typical fashion, has misread developments, Israel's behavior, and the approaches of global actors. It has cornered itself into a difficult and precarious situation. It has weakened every card it can play in negotiations with Israel, and it has weakened the mediators.

Israel's entry into Rafah means today that Hamas does not need more negotiations as much as it desperately needs guarantors, which further complicates Hamas' predicament. It seems to be seeking a safe external base, and now it might be looking for a guarantor that provides it with a safe way out.

Hamas played all of its cards, forgetting and ignoring the balance of power. It has overlooked the fact that things have changed since October. Hamas did not fully understand Iran's betrayal, and it misread the international mood.

Hamas did not seriously and correctly read the mood in Israel. It was deceived by a correct but incomplete claim about the "Israeli far-right." Indeed, the facts indicate that broader Israeli society does not oppose the war. Despite wanting to bring back the hostages, it is in the mood for war.

Accordingly, Hamas's options now are difficult and limited. Finding a safe exit for what remains of its leaders and fighters from Gaza might be its only option. There are two reasons for this. First, Hamas turned itself in to Netanyahu, who wants to stay in power, on October 7.

Second, Hamas has long forgotten the axiom, "If you find that you are digging yourself into a hole, stop digging."