Hamas’ devastating assault on Israel’s southern border over a holiday weekend in October has not only exposed a disturbing intelligence failure at the core of the Israeli security apparatus, it has also dramatically reconfigured the politics of the Middle East. Prior to the raid, and despite continuing reservations about Israeli settlements on the West Bank, the lineaments of a US-brokered agreement between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to work together against the growing regional influence or Iran and its Revolutionary Guard had begun to emerge.
The attack and the inevitable, but disproportionate Israeli reaction, resulting in Palestinian casualties in the Gaza strip, has undermined any prospect of such a concord emerging any time soon .
The attack, launched by land sea and air by Hamas and Islamic Jihad from Gaza and Hezbollah from Lebanon indicates a degree of coordination and planning that caught Israel’s Defence Force off guard. The timing, coinciding with a damaging constitutional crisis within Israel over judicial reforms, was impeccable. The inevitable beneficiary of all this is Iran and intimates its involvement, at some level, in the preparation of the attack.
The invasion and its brutal savagery also suggests that the nominally Sunni Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Shiite Hezbollah, together with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, have absorbed key lessons for the conduct of terror from Islamic State’s death cult playbook and its guide to jihad, The Management of Savagery.
Before we too quickly assume the inevitable destruction of Hamas, we need to know more precisely what Islamic State (IS) then and Hamas now consider it achieves with an ultra-violent savagery. As early as 2004, in the wake of the Madrid bombings, Islamists everywhere defined the divide between a pluralist secular world order and their brand of apocalyptic millenarian caliphism, which Hamas and other Middle Eastern terror groups share, by the formula: ‘You love life, we love death’. This slogan went through several mutations after 2004, with phrases like ‘The Americans love Pepsi, we love death’. In essence, this eroticised death instinct defines itself against a secular, Western, Enlightenment belief in life, as graphically illustrated by Hamas’ Nukhba commando units brutally murdering the innocent revellers attending a desert rave on October 7.
As the Italian philosopher Umberto Eco observed in a different ideological context, Fascism is political necrophilia evincing a taste for killing and martyrs. Contemporary Islamo-Fascism is similarly obsessed. It means, as the disturbing images on the internet sickeningly demonstrate, adoring and serving death.
In fact, this beatification of violence, is as telling as the professed politically religious commitment. Indeed, to love death as Hamas and Hezbollah do is to say that it is beautiful to receive it and to risk it and that the most saintly love is to distribute it. This putrid need for death is evident today across the Middle East. If that’s what jihadism at its fundamentalist core wants, it has certainly got it. It is a form of political religious nihilism made possible by the sacralisation of violence.
This species of revolutionary violence and the capacity of its version of Islam to play into the cult of death is not to desensitise youth to death but to sacralise it. Hence the recent tactical shift from somewhat passé decapitation to something even more transgressively vile and therefore stimulating, demonstrating once more the ‘attractiveness of evil.’
Such cruelty and the addictive craving it elicits, at the same time, serves a broader ideological and strategic purpose. As Abu Bakr Naji explained in The Management of Savagery: The Most Critical Stage Through Which the Umma Will Pass (2006)
the chaos of savagery represents the intermediate stage of state breakdown, which the revolutionary cadre must manage en route to the purified Islamist vision. As Naji explains, ‘if we succeed in the management of savagery, that stage will be a bridge to the Islamic state which has been awaited since the fall of the caliphate’. The strategy distinguishes between the stage of state breakdown characterised as one of ‘vexation and exhaustion’ where the failing state’s power, as in the Palestinian Authority, remains contested, the subsequent stage of ‘savage chaos’, essentially a Hobbesian state of war of all against all, where the people ‘yearn for someone to manage the savagery’. Management requires securing the region’s borders, providing basic food and medical treatment and establishing sharia justice, prior to transition to the final historical stage of the reformed caliphate.
Stages 1 and 2 clearly conform to Mao’s understanding of guerrilla areas and base areas identified in On Guerrilla Warfare (1936) . As with Mao so with Hamas and Hezbollah: the control of the people and the support of the masses achieves both unity and power ‘through armed struggle’. This Maoist strategy now serves not the liberation of the poor and blank peasantry, but the instrumentalisation of sharia justice and the destruction of Israel. To achieve this, ‘violence is crucial’ any backsliding or ‘softness’ will ‘be a major factor in the loss of the element of strength’.Moreover, even if Israel survives and the Caliphate is not achieved immediately, it is not the end of the matter. As Naji continues chillingly, ‘the more abominable the level of savagery is’, it is still less abominable than enduring stability under ‘the order of unbelief, nizam al kufir by several degrees’.
 Eric Voegelin, cited in Barry Cooper, New Political Religions (Columbus, University of Missouri Press, 2007) p.106.
 Abu Bakr Naji (trans William McCant) The Management of Savagery: The Most Critical Stage Through Which the Umma Will Pass Harvard, Harvard University Press, 2006