May 7, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

The Godfather’ in Gaza: What a mafia movie tells us about Hamas war

Hamas's control of Gaza should be seen through the lens of a mafia controlling Gaza. The Hamas control of Gaza has many elements of a cartel.
May 7, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

The Godfather’ in Gaza: What a mafia movie tells us about Hamas war

Hamas's control of Gaza should be seen through the lens of a mafia controlling Gaza. The Hamas control of Gaza has many elements of a cartel.

There is a scene in the American classic The Godfather when Don Corleone reveals to his family – and to the audience – that the man behind the war against his family is actually rival mafia family head Don Barzini. The film previously featured Barzini as a mediator between several warring families. Corleone says, “I wasn’t sure until this day… It was Barzini all along.” This scene might teach us something about the current war in Gaza.

On May 6, Hamas claimed to have agreed to a hostage and ceasefire deal with Israel. Hamas had been rejecting deals for months, so it came as a surprise. Israel launched an operation in Rafah on May 6 after asking residents to evacuate eastern Rafah. Was it the operation’s pressure that led Hamas to accept a deal?

It turns out the “deal” was different than the one to which Israel had been privy. Instead, according to a report in Axios, there was a kind of bait and switch in which Hamas held talks with the US, Qatar, and Egypt and agreed to a different deal that was much worse for Israel than the previous ones to which Israel had agreed. Axios reported that Israeli officials felt they had been “played” by the US and the mediators in Doha and Cairo.

This is the Don Barzini reveal, seven months into the Gaza war. Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, massacring 1,200 people and kidnapping 250. However, Hamas did not do this in a vacuum. It carried out its unprecedented attack, murdering the most Jews in one day since the Holocaust, because it believed it had cover to do so. Qatar, a major non-NATO ally of the US, hosts Hamas. Since 2012, Qatar has hosted Hamas, and reports indicate that Washington requested Doha to do so. On October 7, Hamas leaders who live in Qatar gathered for a photo-op to celebrate the attack. They didn’t feel the need to run and hide. Not only were they safe in Doha, but their host, a Western ally, provided them with protection and cover.

Hamas has been traveling throughout the region since October 7. Rather than being isolated, it has gained influence. The president of Turkey, a NATO member, hosted Hamas leaders in April. Since the attack, Hamas has also sent officials to Moscow and received backing from many countries. This means that Israel has faced an uphill battle in Gaza.

Hamas has been jetting around the region since October 7. Rather than being isolated due to this massive attack, it has gained influence. Turkey’s leader hosted Hamas leaders in April. Turkey is a NATO member. Hamas has also sent officials to Moscow. Hamas has received backing from many countries since the attack. This means that Israel has faced an uphill battle in Gaza.

To return to the Godfather analogy, the problems for the Corleone family begin when they are invited to a meeting with a narcotics dealer named Virgil Sollozo, hosted by the Tattaglia family. This leads to an assassination attempt on Don Corleone and sets the family on a collision course in a war with the other mafia families. What matters for our purposes is that Hamas in our story is more akin to Sollozo than it is to more powerful families. Hamas is backed by Iran. It is hosted and backed by Qatar and Turkey. Hamas has friends in high places. Israel’s challenge is not just to defeat Hamas.

Gaza war not a traditional war

Seven months into the Gaza war, Israel continues to face challenges. This is because it is not a traditional war. Hamas is a terrorist group, but it is also much more than that. Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007, and prior to that, it operated both as a kind of mafia and a religious terrorist gang. Hamas’s control of Gaza should be seen through the lens of a mafia controlling Gaza. Hamas’s control over Gaza bears many similarities to a cartel, much like how the Medellin cartel once wreaked havoc in Colombia.

Once we understand the challenges faced in defeating Hamas, due to its backers in the region and its powerful backers around the world, then we can begin to free ourselves from some of the simplistic thinking that has underpinned this war. Defeating Hamas is more than just about destroying its military capabilities. Hamas has already returned to control most of Gaza. It has done this before, after every round of fighting. This is because it disperses its fighters, hides its weapons, and waits for the day after. It knows Israel will likely leave. Hamas will reconstitute itself quickly, as it has done in the past. Israeli assessments about the damage to Hamas after previous wars have always been overestimated. Hamas always returns more powerfully and faster than people expect.

This time, Hamas likely has larger goals that are being pushed by those who are behind them. This means that the Hamas leadership in Doha and the Hamas supporters in Ankara, Moscow, and Tehran have plans for Hamas.

Again, it’s worth going back to that scene in The Godfather when the heads of the mafia families meet and Don Corleone finally realizes that it was “Barzini all along” who had been behind this war. The war that Hamas launched on October 7 was not just launched by Hamas in Gaza. This is evident from the fact that the Hamas leadership in Doha was not surprised by the attack. They didn’t run and make frantic phone calls to their hosts, saying, “We didn’t do this; we had no idea.” Their hosts didn’t call their allies in the West and say, “Hamas has betrayed us; we hosted them but they have carried out this terrible attack.” In fact, if you go back to October 7, there is no evidence that anyone linked to Hamas was surprised by this attack. Moscow didn’t make frantic calls. Tehran didn’t. Ankara didn’t.

Back on October 6, Israel was being sold a story that portrayed Hamas as “deterred.” Back on October 6, Israel was being sold a story that portrayed Hamas as “deterred.” After October 7, we are told that it is almost impossible to defeat Hamas because of how strong it is, and that defeating most of its 24 battalions is enough of a “win” in Gaza. The two narratives don’t make sense. If Hamas was deterred and incapable of doing much damage to Israel, then how is it also so powerful that it is almost impossible to defeat? And, if Hamas was actually known to be very powerful, with 24 battalions of fighters – 30,000 terrorists – then why was the border left almost undefended against a genocidal terrorist group?

Clearly, the answer to that question is that Israel trusted Hamas because Hamas was filtered through a kind of Don Barzini character. After Hamas lied about being deterred and carried out a huge massacre, it continued to rely on its hosts and backers abroad during the war on Israel. For instance, Israel was told in December to transition to a lower intensity war in Gaza. In February, Israel was told it should do a ceasefire for Ramadan. Then Israel was told to postpone a Rafah offensive. At each stage, Hamas got the breathing space it needed and was able to Shanghai the hostage talks. We now understand that Israel was likely deceived throughout the entire process using a strategy of bait and switch. The macabre talks have been prolonged by Hamas, which continues to refuse to hand over a list of living hostages. Hamas has said that it wants to release one hostage for each day of a ceasefire so that it can parade them to get applause in the region.

It now wants up to a weeklong ceasefire for each hostage. Hamas’s goal and the goal of its backers is to use the hostage deal as an end to the war in order to take over the West Bank in the long run.

It’s now fair to say that it was Barzini all along. The powers that stand behind Hamas and have been influencing this war from the start, in order to keep Hamas in power in Gaza and bring it to power in the West Bank, are Barzini.

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Turkey