AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 1,200 people have died in a bloody conflict between Hamas and Israel after Hamas launched a surprise attack over the weekend. Thousands more have been injured on both sides and roughly 130 people have reportedly been taken captive from Israel and brought into Gaza with the threat of being executed.
At least nine Americans have been killed, a State Department spokesperson told The Hill Monday.
According to Jeremi Suri — a professor of history and public affairs at the University of Texas and author on the history of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East — Hamas was created in the 1980s by Palestinian and other Arab Muslim groups to create an alternative to the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
Hamas has a political arm which has governed Gaza for roughly a decade, Suri said. There are around 2 million people living in the strip.
But the group also has a powerful, and Iranian backed, terrorist arm. They are listed by the United States government as a terrorist group, something Suri said this area is susceptible to because of how young the population is.
“Historically, this is true in Iran as well, young people are susceptible to radicalism of one kind or another, particularly when they don’t see a positive future for themselves. And so this this is a very combustible environment because you have all these young people who are capable, energetic, ambitious, and they don’t see a future and they’re angry,” Suri said.
Suri said despite regular conflict in this part of the Middle East going back decades, this one is markedly more significant, pointing to Hamas’ unexpected attacks on highly-populated civilian areas, slaughter of concert-goers and taking of hostages.
“This is more serious than anything we’ve seen in your lifetime or mine, anything we’ve seen in a long time in the region, really since 1973. Because it involves a level of coordination, and threats to Israel that Israel really hasn’t seen. Israel is far stronger than Gaza. But it is facing now a level of violence that affects ordinary Israelis,” he said.
KXAN also spoke about the conflict with Dr. Nancy Zarse, a nationally recognized expert in the psychology of terrorism and hostage negotiation who developed a graduate-level course on Israel at The Chicago School.
Zarse said Hamas’ threat to kill hostages and broadcast those executions is an announcement that is likely to escalate Israel’s response.
“The single greatest indicator of future behavior is past. So past violence increases the risk of future violence. So I think there is considerable cause for concern,” Zarse said.
Zarse, who has extensive experience in hostage negotiations, explained some of the tactics Israel may be using with Hamas as they work to get roughly 130 civilians back across the border safely.
“When you’ve got this level of crisis negotiation, with terrorists, it’s a highly specialized set of communication skills, and it’s designed to reduce risk and increase options. So part of what any hostage negotiation does is tries to buy time, time to defuse the situation, or time so that the tactical team can be planning a rescue if that is necessary,” Zarse said.
Zarse said signs of progress in the negotiations include a break down of absolutes in conditions of release, or a successful trade of hostages. But she also said red flags to look for include lack of compromise, deadlines that involve death and hostage-takers indicating willingness to be killed.
When it comes to Hamas, Zarse said the terrorist organization’s goal, the destruction of Israel, doesn’t leave much room for compromise and negotiation.
“If any of those red flags are flying at that point, authorities need to consider tactical options. And that’s, again, that’s it’s not a failure of negotiations, it means that the hostage takers are not willing to negotiate,” Zarse said.