As Israel presses its bloody assault on Gaza, dropping broad hints that it is planning a ground attack to complement four days of bombings that have killed hundreds, it’s clear that Israel’s actions are likely to bolster, not weaken, the very enemy it is fighting.

Writing in the Washington Post, Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab points out that, before the latest crisis, Hamas was in sharp decline. The headline on his thoughtful piece is: “Has Israel Revived Hamas?” He says: “Israel appears to have given new life to the fledging Islamic movement in Palestine.”

Over the past two years, Kuttab notes, Palestinian support for Hamas — an ultrareligious, terrorist-inclined wing of the fanatical Muslim Brotherhood movement — has declined sharply, from a 30 percent in 2006 to 22 percent in August, 2007, to just 17 percent in 2008 — compared to 40 percent for Fatah, the mainstream, secular nationalist wing of the Palestinian body politic. Kuttab points out that Hamas has “turned down every legitimate offer from its nationalist PLO rivals and Egyptian mediators.” Now, he says, the attacks are a “bonanza for Hamas” and says that Israel’s assault will achieve “results exactly the opposite of its publicly proclaimed purposes.”

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, and reflecting the views of Israel security hawks such as Bibi Netanyahu, Bret Stephens says that the Israeli campaign — like the campaign in Lebanon that killed thousands in 2006, in the disastrous war against Hezhollah — will not defeat Hamas. “The green flag of the movement will fly defiantly over the tallest building left standing,” says Stephens. Unless, that is, the Israelis learn from Lebanon, 2006, and act decisively to crush Hamas once and for all. Problem is, that’s an impossible task. Far more likely, Israel will end up radicalizing the Palestinians once again, weakening Fatah and strengthening Hamas. And that makes peace talks, and a settlement, less likely.

An intelligent news analysis piece in the Times from Stephen Farrell asks the key question:

The questions remain: Why did Hamas end its six-month cease-fire on Dec. 19? Will it — can it — unleash suicide bombers into Israel in retaliation? And will the devastation in Gaza make Palestinians fall into line behind Hamas, as they reliably have in the past, or will Hamas lose their support as Gazans count the escalating cost in blood and destruction?

Why, indeed? Like Israeli extremists such as Netanyahu, who thrive on conflict, Hamas too seems to have believed that it could revive itself by provoking its giant military adversary.

Farrells wonders: “A major question remains whether Hamas expected the shock-and-awe Israeli offensive that has left Gaza reeling.” Hamas may not have expected the full brutality that Israel unleashed. In yesterday’s post, I pointed out that the Mossad is reported to have concluded that Hamas was only seeking to make a show of force before trying to rengotiate the ceasefire on more favorable terms. But, in any case, its foolhardy decision to have ended the ceasefire and unleashed the rocket barrage seems idiotic in retrospect.

Yesterday, on NPR, I heard the official Hamas spokesman say — without a shred of credibility or evidence — that the rocket barrage since December 19 was unleashed by Israeli provocateurs in Gaza, seeking to provide Israel with an excuse for its all-out bombing campaign. Comments like that can only make Hamas look like pathetic, conspiracy-mongering fantasists.

Farrell’s analysis points out that many Palestinians, so far at least, are rallying around Hamas, and he wonders:

More important is whether once away from television cameras and foreign journalists, Palestinians will vote for Hamas in presidential and parliamentary elections, which could take place within a year.

In Israel, the bloody holocaust they’ve unleashed is an election game, wherein Netanyahu and his slightly more moderate rivals in the Olmert-Livni bloc compete with each other to show who is best at slaughtering Palestinians. In Palestine, a similar election dynamic is underway.

In all of this, Obama continues his silence. Here’s a way for him to end it: He ought to blame President Bush for his stunning refusal to get involved earlier this month, when Hamas started to say it that it would end its ceasefire. That was a perfect opportunity for the United States to end its boycott of Hamas and to sit down with Egypt, the Palestinian Authority under President Abbas, and Saudi Arabia and talk to Hamas. And Obama ought to say so. Don’t hold your breath waiting for him to do it, though. We only have one incompetent president at a time.