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Israel has a vastly more capable military than Hamas and it's inevitable that they'll eventually crush them in the battlefield and takeover Gaza. But did Israel express any desire for Hamas to just... surrender? And if so, did they provide any way for Hamas leaders to actually be able to do so?

It seems like fighting Israel at this point is a lost cause so I'm confused as to why Hamas won't just give up.

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    It's really not clear Hamas will have any interest in surrendering. The purpose of the war was not military victory to start with. Also, the Hamas leadership are not in Gaza and so have no personal fear for their own lives.
    – Simd
    Jan 5 at 17:05
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    "it's inevitable that they'll eventually crush them in the battlefield and takeover Gaza." <- You are mis-perceiving. Hamas is a political movement with a semi-clandestine military wing. It is not crushed by Israel taking over Gaza, it will shift its resistance activity to be fully clandestine.
    – einpoklum
    Jan 5 at 22:42
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    @einpoklum Hamas will become irrelevant like Fatah - not because they are crushed militarily, but because they have made it clear to their own people and the world that they do not represent the Palestinian cause. Jan 6 at 7:12
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    @einpoklum Tibet had an uprising in 1959 and was sufficiently cowed that the resistance movement the following decade had little support, achieved nothing, and lost the support of the US.
    – gormadoc
    Jan 7 at 3:01

6 Answers 6

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did Israel express any desire for Hamas to just... surrender?

But Hamas have rejected these calls for surrender.

There was also a recent proposal by Egypt, in which Hamas wouldn't surrender, but would relinquish power in Gaza. Hamas has rejected this weaker proposal as well.

It seems like fighting Israel at this point is a lost cause so I'm confused as to why Hamas won't just give up.

Militarily, it was a lost cause from the start. The massacre of hundreds of civilians wasn't part of a military plan to take over Israel.

The goal was to spread terror, and to force a response from Israel, which can then be used to present themselves as victims of aggression to the world (relying on the fact that general anti-Israel sentiment will result in people quickly forgetting the cause of the war, ie the brutal murder, kidnapping, and torture of civilians).

From the point of view of the leadership of Hamas, they have nothing to gain from surrendering. They are in relative safety, and surrendering would put them in Israeli prisons (at best).

From the point of view of individual Hamas terrorists: They might very well believe what the leadership tells them (that the war is going well). Putting down arms would also not get them closer to their goal of destroying Israel and displacing or murdering all Jews in the levant. "Giving up" from that is not something people do.

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    – JJJ
    Jan 7 at 4:11
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    You can add to that the fact that Hamas militants are devote Muslims, who believe they will have a better afterlife if they are killed doing Jihad. Jan 10 at 9:43
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The 1st part of the question has been answered pretty well by the other answers, so I'll focus on the 2nd part:

It seems like fighting Israel at this point is a lost cause so I'm confused as to why Hamas won't just give up.

Hamas is an Islamic Terror organization, so victory for them is something totaly different than victory for a normal country.

Victory for a commercial business is when it earns money. Victory for a normal country is when its citizens enjoy safety and general well-being. Victory for a terror organization is when they manage to terrify people.

Every day that the families of the hostages are in agony, is total victory for Hamas. Every Jew murdered is victory. Every rocket fired, even if it didn't hit anybody, is victory - they rejoice simply being able to cause the siren to go off.

Oh, the situation of the people of Gaza? Doesn't seem like they care.

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    The situation of the people of Gaza also benefits Hamas. Israel gets the blame. Jan 4 at 17:00
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    There is a long-term Palestinian rights issue which years of peace have not addressed. There are also very few Palestinians with no relatives killed by Israeli forces. While you certainly speak to the motivations of some of Hamas, giving only the most cynical answer about why people fight an asymmetrical conflict is shortsighted at best.
    – user121330
    Jan 4 at 19:28
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    @user121330, My answer may seem cynical to those who didn't really study much about Islamic terrorism. It takes a few history lessons to learn that Islamic terrorism has been intoduced by the conquereres not the opressed. And anyone trying to learn about Islamic terrorism, not from the beggining (600 CE), can be assured that he'll get it wrong.
    – Jacob3
    Jan 4 at 22:51
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    @user121330, If the Palestinians care about their rights, they are more than welcome to join the Abraham Accords.
    – Jacob3
    Jan 4 at 22:53
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    @user121330 There is a long-term Palestinian rights issue which years of peace have not addressed. - true, but those who suggest that killing is a proper way to fight for one's rights are abusing their people's trust. Jan 5 at 9:34
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  1. It is not at all certain that Israel will be able to go to the end of eliminating Hamas - mostly due to the political pressure in view of the high number of Palestinian casualties. (There's a lot happening behind the scenes, notably with the US likely helping to handle Hezbollah and Houthis.) E.g., recent Egyptian proposal for ceasefire does suggest leaving Hamas a place in Gaza.
  2. Hundreds of Hamas fighters have already surrendered - the leaders could do just the same (at least those of them, who are actually in Gaza), and even Blinken has called on them to do so. They would probably end up in Israeli jail (which could be a relatively comfortable place when one is prominent and/or a billionaire - e.g., Samir Kuntar received a university degree, while serving a life sentence (he was later released in exchange for the bodies of Israeli soldiers, following the 2006 Lebanon war.)) Though, given the exceptional nature of October 7 attack, one should not exclude the possibility of Israel staging an Eichmann-like process for the crimes against humanity - the only offense punishable in Israel by a death penalty.
  3. One may ask whether the surrender of Hamas leaders is equivalent to the surrender of Hamas, i.e., whether this would be considered by Israel as attaining its declared goal of eliminating Hamas. Indeed, it would be logical for Hamas leaders to order cessation of the fighting - if they are still capable of doing so, i.e., if they are still in control of the actions of their fighters. To assure maximum security such a cessation could be carried out gradually, and one can agree with Israel about cessation of attacks in return - the details can be worked out via the existing communication channels, notably via Egypt and Qatar.
  4. On whether Israel would indeed cease the hostilities in response to Hamas surrendering and laying down the arms, one could quote the already mentioned statements by Antony Blinken:

“What is striking to me is that even as, again, we hear many countries urging the end to this conflict, which we would all like to see, I hear virtually no one saying – demanding of Hamas that it stop hiding behind civilians, that it lay down its arms, that it surrender. This is over tomorrow if Hamas does that. This would have been over a month ago, six weeks ago, if Hamas had done that,” Blinken said during a press briefing at the State Department Wednesday.

“How can it be that there are no demands made of the aggressor and only demands made of the victim,” Blinken went on to say.

Perhaps the statement by the US Secretary of State is not a 100% guarantee, but it is the best the Hamas could ever count on.

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Did Israel provide a way for Hamas to surrender?

I've read the previous answers, and I'm not convinced, actually, that Israel did offer a way for Hamas to surrender. Declaring that "the war ends when Hamas surrenders" is just stating the obvious; it doesn't offer a way to do so. At the very least they should say something like 'Surrender, and we will do so and so' - it's only just recently we've heard any opinion from the Isreali government about what they imagine the future may hold (BBC News - Israeli minister outlines plans for Gaza after war), and it still doesn't appear to say what the consequences will be for the fighters and leaders.

As for the second question, why Hamas don't just give up, I think there are two reasons. One is probably that they feel they have their back against the wall and will die any way; desperate people do desperate things and may well decide to continue fighting till the end.

Another reason is, as others have pointed out, that they are achieving something: (Article in Danish) "Will The US break with Israel?" - the article claims that young American Jews are becoming very critical of Israel. It will be a significant achievement for groups like Hamas, if America stops supporting Israel. It may not seem likely, objectively speaking, but Israel might be wiser to cool their rage and seek a more productive way forward.

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    In World War II, the Allied Powers declared that they would only accept an unconditional surrender. This explicitly ruled out any sort of "surrender and we will do so and so" beyond possibly what international law and custom held at the time-which was itself intentionally violated/evolved with the Nuremburg trials. And yet both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were clearly able to surrender, as both did. There is no need to have the conditions of surrender declared to be able to surrender. Jan 5 at 19:08
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    The bigger question here is what does it mean for "Hamas" to surrender? In WWII, it was reasonably clear-the head of state declared that they surrendered and ordered their armed forces to cease fighting and surrender to local Allied forces, and civilians to cooperate with occupiers. This order was expected to be obeyed, and any local forces who didn't do so would lack the apparatus to be a real threat to the occupiers. If some or even all of Hamas's senior leadership did this, would the all fighters on the ground obey? And if they didn't, would Israel accept that as Hamas surrendering or not? Jan 5 at 19:20
  • @TheDarkCanuck Germany and Japan gained essentially nothing by surrendering except mercy on their own lives. It was a last resort after they'd already lost the war. Hamas hasn't lost the war (innocent Palestine has) and many Islamic fighters seem to not fear death as much as westerners, so why would it surrender without something in return? Jan 6 at 19:28
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    @user253751 do you even know what empirical evidence means? Jan 6 at 21:06
  • @user253751 I make no claims about what Hamas will or should do. For what it's worth, I do not expect that unconditional surrender has even crossed their minds. My comment is simply to refute the idea that one side or the other has to formally declare what they'll do to the surrendering party for them to be able to surrender in the first place. Jan 9 at 18:23
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Hamas can formally surrender using the same intermediaries they are currently using for negotiations. Informally, surrendering in situations like this is very easy and doesn't require the provision of a way. Hamas can informally surrender simply by ceasing to fight anymore. Nothing formal needs to be done, fighters can simply drop their weapons.

Hamas can't formally surrender because that would mean the end of Hamas. Furthermore, nothing that is happening now or that will continue to happen to them provides any reason for them to surrender. Hamas is winning by their yardstick, not losing. They will continue to mount more or less organized resistance until Israel "controls" as much of Gaza as Israel wants, and after that they'll pursue urban guerilla warfare indefinitely. This is an acceptable outcome to Hamas. The only unacceptable outcome to Hamas is for the population of Gaza to largely turn against them. That, and that alone, would be a defeat for Hamas.

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The USA had a vastly more powerful military than Vietnam yet they were defeated. Likewise with the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan. And also for the USA in Afghanistan.

The main problem here is that their estwhile enemies were fighting on home ground and the support for the fighters was widespread throughout their people.

Likewise for Israel. The support for Hamas is so widespread amongst the population that they can't uproot Hamas without killing many many more of the Palestinians. If say that they did this, then there would be inevitable comparisons with the Nazis and this time they will stick.

Hamas was in fact persuaded to drop its military stance and participate in elections. Surprisingly to everyone, they won. Rather than support this, Israel alongside with Fatah and with the encouragement of the USA, immediately attacked. Hamas was driven into Gaza which they made their own.

So yes, Israel offered Hamas a way to participate in political process by laying down arms and participating in elections. Given that these promises were not kept its unlikely that Hamas will surrender.

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  • Afghanistan is 1000x larger than Gaza and has plenty of hiding spots in the mountains. You cannot seriously compare the two. Jan 8 at 4:00
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    @JonathanReez: Hmm, one of the reasons why the USA is seen as a militarily powerful nation is because of its stockpile of nuclear weapons. The USA could carpet bomb the entireity of Afghanistan in nuclear blasts and destroy the country completely - just as Israel has done in Gaza. Of course they would be seriously stupid to do so even if after 9-11 they did threaten to use nuclear weapons. Jan 8 at 4:25

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