Exclusive: Subterranean Warfare Expert Warns Terrorists Worldwide Will Replicate Hamas’s ‘Genocidal’ Tactics if Allowed to Survive

A member of the militant Fateh movement walks along the street January 15, 2005 in Gaza Ci
Ahmad Khateib/Getty Images

If Hamas survives the current war with Israel, then “they’ve won,” according to retired United States Army Major and urban and subterranean warfare expert John Spencer, who slammed the terror group’s use of “human sacrifice” tactics and warned that if Israel did not completely dismantle the organization then “massive genocidal attacks” and the taking of civilian hostages would be replicated by terrorists across the globe. 

In an exclusive interview with Breitbart News, Spencer, a world-renowned expert on urban combat who serves as chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute (MWI) at West Point, noted how Israel’s past operations have primarily targeted the extensive tunnel networks of both Hamas and Hezbollah.

Hamas’ tunnel strategy

“We knew about the Hamas tunnel system. I’ve been in many replica Hamas and Hezbollah tunnels. Most of the previous operations against Hamas in Gaza have been about tunnels. Even the last flare up, the 2021 Operation Guardian of the Walls, Israel’s response was to strike at the tunnel complexes,” he stated.

However, he explained, the actual scope of the tunnel system Hamas built under Gaza has “always been an estimate.”

“Since Israel fully left Gaza [in 2005], though you could have an eye in the sky, but that doesn’t prevent Hamas from digging underground,” he said. “And that’s why people in war usually go underground, to conceal what you’re doing, and in support of your military protection in a defensive role.”

Spencer, a founding member of the International Working Group on Subterranean Warfare, noted that tunnels serve as key strategic tools in warfare, for both defense and offense, as seen in various conflicts.

“Like ISIS and everybody else, and even in Ukraine, there are tunnels everywhere,” he said, “but it’s really [built and utilized] in support of your strategy, whether it’s to defend or attack.” 

“In war, you’re either defending or attacking,” he added. “So in Hamas’s case, they attacked on October 7 and then they went into defense [positions] and waited for that counterattack.” 

He also highlighted how Hamas’ tunnel strategy is unique, in that it focuses on a long-term goal to destroy Israel rather than typical military objectives like defeating enemy forces or capturing territories.

“Unlike any other military operation in history, the tunnels [Hamas built] aren’t in support of the either enemy or terrain-based goal,” he said. 

“Usually, in a war, you’re trying to defeat the enemy with a strategy to either destroy their [your opponents’] military or their attacking their capitals, and trying to seize the will [of your opponent] to stop fighting,” he added. “But Hamas has this longer strategy — their stated strategy is to destroy Israel and kill all the Jewish people.”

According to Spencer, Hamas employs extensive tunneling for lawfare and survival, aiming to undermine Israel’s military response and gain political power. The terrorist organization’s “game plan in mind” to achieve that, he claimed, is by “gaining time,” and includes the use of “hostage diplomacy.”

“The tunnels come into play where nobody knew the true extent of how much digging Hamas had been doing, and how much resources they had invested. Not just in invasion tunnels or military tunnels, but tunnels built for the sole purpose of doing what’s called lawfare, which is using the rules of the laws of war on what you can and can’t strike in urban areas against Israel and its ability to respond to being attacked,” he said.

Hamas’s ‘human sacrifice’ tactics

In that light, Hamas’s well-known strategy is not just to use “human shields,” but to use “human sacrifice,” with their ultimate endgame being a scenario where “the world steps in and causes Israel to have to stop the operation.” 

So not only does Israel face the great equalizer, what we call urban warfare, but it faces something that nobody’s faced in modern times and arguably in the history of war, not just tunnels — tunnels are ancient, even in the ancient battles of Jerusalem, tunnels were used for many reasons — but to achieve Hamas’s strategy, no military has faced this strategy, where the enemy is underground and the underground is more important than the surface because Hamas wants Israel to destroy the surface, so that the world steps in and [allows] Hamas to survive them. 

“The tunnels are really the main way in which Hamas survives,” he added, “and if it survives, it gains power, [and] if it gains power, it’s able to achieve its political goal — which is to continue to build power to ultimately destroy Israel.” 

Calling it a “crazy world” we live in, Spencer expressed dismay that so many are “discounting” both what Hamas is saying it wants as well as anything it actually does, “like the fact that Hamas does not let civilians in their tunnels.”

Though Hamas is the “case study for the use of human shields,” he noted, other terrorist groups — such as ISIS and Al Qaeda — did so as well, with [each] “trying to use the laws of war against a law-abiding military like the US and others.”

However, he added, Hamas is the first he has seen in modern history to use “human sacrifice.” 

“They want to sacrifice as many of their people, who they are politically elected to safeguard,” he said, noting “they literally say and do the opposite, and want them to be sacrificed so they can achieve their ultimate strategy, which is to gain power to destroy Israel.”

“It’s craziness that in the world we live in, you have tens of thousands of people saying that Hamas are the victims when they are the actual oppressors, the killers, the human sacrificers — everything,” he added. 

Spencer suggested that if after Hamas is allowed to remain after having used such brutal tactics, and Israel — while following all the laws of war and its right to defend itself as a nation — is demanded to end its operation, such an ultimatum would “drastically change the world,” with Hamas’ savagery being replicated worldwide and “existential threats” being posed to nations who would be unable to defend themselves even while adhering to wartime legal norms.

Perception in urban warfare

Assessing war, Spencer explained, requires understanding “both sides’ strategies,” and how perception of force can outweigh actual force.

“In the urban areas, information can be more important than the use of force [where] the perception of the use of force becomes more important than the actual use of force,” he said, citing the U.S. military’s loss during the first battle of Fallujah “because of the perception of the use of force,” forcing it to “stop six days into the battle.”

He also warned that if Hamas “emerges intact” from the current conflict with Israel, “their survival tactics, including civilian hostage-taking and tunnel construction beneath urban areas, could set a dangerous global precedent for similar militant strategies.”

If Hamas survives this war they have won strategically — no matter in what form. If Hamas isn’t dismantled at the military organization, then the practice of these massive genocidal attacks on Israel will be replicated by enemies across the world. The practice of taking civilian hostages; a war crime, would be replicated across the world. This use of building yourself [tunnels] underneath civilians [and its infrastructure of all kinds] so that the enemy can’t attack you; as in the opposing force, would be replicated across the world. The taking of cities, and to the point where it could be argued that the cost is too much, for you to come in here and get me, would be replicated and we would see, like ISIS tried, people making a moral judgment on, is the value of the military gain worth the cost, as in you come in here, it’s going to be really destructive, so you should just let me have your city, like we saw in Mosul, that was really Iraq’s dilemma. Yet nobody was questioning their rationale to liberate the city. 

He also explained how claims of Israeli genocide align with Hamas’s strategy, obscuring Israel’s efforts to target terrorists and not civilians.

“The claims, which are actually just ridiculous, that Israel is committing genocide [are] a travesty to all those who’ve actually been victims of genocides,” he stated. “And no matter what we tell you on how Israel is following the laws of war, not targeting civilians, [and] the fact that it is trying to get to Hamas that are in the tunnels, people [still] trying to say that Israel is purposely trying to hurt civilians, is actually falling in line with Hamas’s strategy and being beautifully implemented, because it’s not reality.” 

“The reality is,” he added, “that Hamas is in these underground networks in which Israel has to move forward in clear urban terrain [and] it can’t be done by bombs only [or] in any less destructive way, which is kind of the counterfactual argument.”

IDF’s unique urban warfare challenge

Spencer noted that no military in the modern era has ever faced the challenge that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is currently faced with in the Gaza Strip, with none having ever faced “this amount of enemy-held urban areas against the size of the military in which it faces.”

“If you compare ‘like’ wars, like the wars of World War II to what is actually happening in Gaza, you have seven cities that are held by an enemy force employing human shields as human sacrifice [with] a historical low civilian casualty [rate] given the context of the war Israel’s fighting and historical implementations of the protection of civilians,” he stated.

He then cited some of those acts the IDF implemented for civilian harm mitigation, including “giving civilians time to evacuate, dropping flyers, calling them, and texting them.” 

“The handing out of their own graphics [depicting upcoming IDF strike locations] have never been done in history. Some of them have, but not the text and the calls, and the giving to all the civilians your military maps,” he said. 

In that perspective, he explained, there are many lessons on how to do a similar operation with the least amount of civilian casualties possible. 

However, he noted, “the problem when you compare ratios is that we don’t know the number — nobody knows the number — but if you add the Hamas-provided number of 25-26 thousand [killed], if you subtract the enemy combatants [eliminated] in which that number does not include — it would be a historically low number of civilian casualties.” 

“And take into account that Hamas’ forces are in urban areas holding Gazan civilians present, so they hope more will die,” he added.

IDF’s systematic strategy against Hamas

According to Spencer, it is “absolutely possible” for the IDF to defeat Hamas, as in “dismantling their military capabilities — all the fighters; all the leadership; all the tunnels, all the rockets, [and] all the weapons.” 

“When people argue against the defeat of Hamas, they’re talking about the idea of Hamas, which gets into the counterinsurgency theory and all that,” he said. “[But] It is absolutely possible — and the IDF is doing it very systematically, very methodically, and very carefully — [eliminating] Hamas, block-by-block, tunnel-by-tunnel — that’s a fact.” 

In order to achieve that victory, he suggested, the IDF would need mere “months,” noting that they’re “moving at a faster rate than other militaries have in similar situations — like in the Battle of Mosul, which took nine months to clear one city.” 

Regarding the IDF’s comments about “entering a lower phase” in its Gaza campaign, the retired Army officer insisted that “words matter.”

“Israel is not fighting a single urban battle; it is fighting a war, which includes multiple urban battles in many areas,” he said, explaining: 

The IDF has been successful in dismantling Hamas’ main military capabilities, and in a complete city, like Gaza City, and in that area you can enter multiple other phases of lower intensity, to include stability operations, rebuilding operations. But in places like Khan Younis, which is another massive city, the enemy decides the intensity level. If the enemy in Khan Younis were to surrender, you could immediately enter your lower intensity stability operations. 

“I am fine with somebody saying the IDF has entered ‘lower intensity’ operations, less air strikes, less [fighting forces] because it’s driven by what the enemy is doing,” he added. “And in northern Gaza, the IDF have been successful in eliminating military capability in those areas, so you can introduce different phases. So I’m fine with those statements, but there’s a nuance — this is a war, not a battle.”

War as politics

Spencer also explained how political decisions in wars are often influenced by leaders’ interests and widespread ignorance about the true nature and consequences of these conflicts, including violations of international law and the laws of war.

“As someone who has taught strategy, I understand that all wars are politics,” he declared. “So each issue will be a political decision based on that party, that political leader, whoever’s interest in staying in their current positions.” 

Unfortunately, he argued, in war “it is also really hard to understand and there is a lot of ignorance in the modern world about the significance of the two wars: Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, and Hamas’ attempt to rewrite the entire Middle East.” 

In both situations, there is so much ignorance about not only what’s going on, but the repercussions of not supporting [and] upholding the international order or the laws of war. Russia violated all laws of war, in the just cause and execution of the war. Hamas violated all the laws of war; literally the organization of Hamas is a war crime. The political leaders that don’t understand that, I understand they have political reasons for that, but a lot of it’s driven not by facts of actually what’s going on or the repercussions of inaction.

“So I can’t explain individual parties’ or leaders’ reasons for that,” he added. “I know some of the reasons and some of it’s political and not actually fact-driven.” 

He concluded by highlighting the importance of understanding that if Hamas survives, it “wins strategically,” and if Ukraine isn’t able to defend its sovereign territory, “Putin wins.”

The current conflict in Gaza began on October 7 after the Hamas terrorist group perpetrated the deadliest attack against Jewish people since the Nazi Holocaust. The massacre saw the torture, rape, execution, immolation, and abduction of hundreds of Israeli civilians, as well as widespread Palestinian support for it.

The wholesale slaughter, which drew parallels to scenes from the Holocaust, resulted in roughly 1,200 dead inside the Jewish state, more than 5,300 wounded, and at least 241 hostages of all ages taken — of which nearly 140 remain in Gaza.

The vast majority of the victims are civilians and include dozens of American citizens.

The matter comes as U.S. President Joe Biden is reportedly pressuring Israel to leave Hamas intact after the current war, rather than allowing Israel to destroy the terrorist group or remove its military and governing capabilities.

The Biden administration is also reportedly considering slowing weapons sales to the Jewish state in order to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scale back the current war in Gaza, a report that the White House rejected on Sunday.

In November, Spencer described the mission being carried out by the IDF as “very successful,” while deeming Hamas an “existential threat” whose strategy is to “create their own civilians’ deaths and get the world to react,” in order to prevent the IDF from eliminating their military capabilities — “and it is working.”

Joshua Klein is a reporter for Breitbart News. Email him at jklein@breitbart.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.