Kannik: Israel can unseat Hamas with occupation, but not destroy

Indrek Kannik.
Indrek Kannik. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Israel can unseat Hamas by occupying Gaza, but it is unlikely it will destroy it completely, Indrek Kannik, the head of the International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS), told ERR's program "Esimene stuudio." He also discussed the situation in Ukraine pointing out the limited progress made on land, mainly due to Ukraine being forced to fight "with one arm tied behind its back."

Israel has ground troops in Gaza, but it is not surprising that this operation has not been easy, Kannik said.

"This is one of the primary reasons Israel has worked to avoid it for decades. It is difficult to wage combat in an urban environment such as Gaza. You can be assaulted from any direction and from any angle. In some ways, this is an inevitability that Israel has attempted to avoid, but after what happened on October 7, it no longer has the option," Kannik said.

According to him, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is making bad decisions at present, and Israel has made mistakes in the past that have led to the current situation.

"These mistakes were made a long time ago. First one: far less attention was paid to Gaza from a security standpoint than to the West Bank, where in recent years Israel has focused its attention. The second point to make is that, despite Hamas' aggression, Israel has not pursued a two-state solution in recent years. This is plainly evident by the West Bank settlement strategy," Kannik explained.

Hamas have made it clear that their aggression against Israel must continue until the state ceases to exist. Kannik agreed that these statements do, to some degree, lend legitimacy to Israel's ground operation.

"Israel's primary justification is that Hamas has never recognized the right of a country to exist. Other governing Palestinian organizations in the West Bank, including Fatah, the former Palestine Liberation Organization, and Yasser Arafat's organization, have all entered into peace accords with Israel. Hamas has never done so, and since gaining control of Gaza, it has adhered to the strategy that Israel must be destroyed. This has left Israel with limited options," he said.

Kannik said that Israel and Hamas have had repeated cease-fires in the past, but that it may be more difficult now.

"From Israel's point of view, the problem is that if it makes a truce in a situation where Hamas retains the majority of its military structure, the moment when the next October 7, in an indirect sense, arrives, is closer. If Israel is able to destroy more of Hamas's military structure, that moment will be further away. But at the same time, without a likely re-imposition of some kind of occupation of the Gaza Strip, it is quite impossible to prevent a new Hamas surge," Kannik said.

It is unlikely that Israel will completely destroy Hamas, Kannik said.

"It is possible to remove Hamas from power in Gaza by occupying that territory and supporting other groups, but first, of course, you have to stay there with ground forces for a longer period of time; otherwise, I don't think it's possible. But that doesn't mean that Hamas, as a terrorist organization that fires from somewhere and continues to operate in other Arab countries, would disappear from the political map," he said.

Indrek Kannik. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Ukraine has not made the expected progress

Indrek Kannik also said that for almost a year, the front line in the ongoing war in Ukraine has been rather stagnant, and the prolongation of the war does not benefit Ukraine.

"In fact, the situation has remained virtually unchanged since November 11 last year – that is, for almost a year. That was the day Ukraine liberated the city of Kherson and the west bank of the Dnipro River. During the winter, Russia managed to make some progress around the Bakhmut and moved even forward. In the summer, the Ukrainians were able to move a little further south in some places, but if you look at the whole front, this is a microscopic change. Ukraine didn't achieve as much as we had hoped this summer and only on the land front, I would say," Kannik said.

"What [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy said a few days ago about how Russia is actually being pushed out of the Black Sea to the West by the military is a pretty unique operation. But on land, this success has not been achieved," he added.

The main reason for this is the actions of Western countries, Kannik said.

"The main reason, in a sense, is still that Ukraine was forced by its allies to go to war with one hand tied behind its back, so to speak, because of the fears that Ukraine must not attack Russian territory with weapons provided by the West, where Russia is preparing its attacks. Ukraine did not receive certain types of weapons, or it received them much later than it should have. This was a major obstacle for Ukraine," Kannik said.

The critical moment for Ukraine could come when the U.S. decides to end its support, he said.

"I think Ukraine will definitely keep trying for another year or so. The biggest danger is still if a candidate comes to power in the U.S. presidential election who says he will no longer support Ukraine. I'm not saying that Donald Trump will necessarily do that, but the threat is there. If that happens, it will be a critical moment for Ukraine."


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Editor: Merili Nael, Kristina Kersa

Source: "Esimene stuudio", interviewer Andres Kuusk

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