Hamas strategy in Gaza

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Israel air strike in Gaza on December 28, 2008. (Image: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, Flickr)

Israel has said its military offensive in Gaza is aimed at ending Hamas cross-border rocket fire. What's less clear is Hamas's strategy. Analysts say it's more a political calculation than a military one. "The World's" Jeb Sharp reports.

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To try to understand Hama's motivations, it's helpful to consider its context. Israel and the United States call Hamas a terrorist organization, but it's a lot more than that, says Daniel Byman of Georgetown University: "It's also a social network; it is a social welfare organization; it is a political movement, and it's part of an ideology. And with Hamas, what happened in recent years is that, when they took power in Gaza, they became an effective government. So they have all these different pressures within the movement -- some of which are dedicated to mild conflict with Israel, and some of which are dedicated to taking out the trash."

And then there are the pressures outside the movement. Hamas is in competition and conflict with the more moderate Palestinian authority led by Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

Steven Cook with the Council of Foreign Relations says Hamas' rocket strategy is part of a broader strategy to garner political support and outmaneuver its rivals: "Hamas by engaging in resistance in confronting the Israelis, will ultimately bring that day closer of achieving Palestinian rights."

Cook says the strategy is effective, especially when it provokes an Israeli reaction. He says he doesn't think Hamas expected the large-scale military operation now under way, but he still thinks it works to Hamas' advantage:

"One of the things that Israelis and Westerners consistently ... overlook in Palestinian society is ... what Palestinians call steadfastness ... it compels Palestinian society to coalesce and support the group that is specifically under attack."