The knifing intifada appears to be waning – for the moment at least, a testament to the IDF and the police’s counter-terror and intelligence activities. But down south on the border with Gaza, there is trouble brewing once more.
Last week Brian mentioned that it was reported that the IDF had discovered a huge terror tunnel extending from Gaza into Israeli territory. The discovery of this tunnel was the not the only one: a second tunnel was discovered last week.
As the IDF are uncovering more and more tunnels, Hamas have tried to deter the IDF by initiating and increasing the launch of mortar shells at the IDF troops engaged along the border, which in turn brought the IAF and IDF tank units to bomb Hamas targets. Israel meanwhile vowed not to be deterred by the mortar fire and to continue to search out tunnels.
Realizing it is about to lose its most prized offensive weapon against Israel – the ability to inject murder squads in Israeli territory though tunnels – Hamas’s military wing decided to do something it has not done in almost two years. It began a succession of cross-border mortar attacks in the vicinity, with a view to disrupting the detection work, and more importantly, to signal to Israel that Hamas is willing to risk war over its tunnel program.
Looking ahead, two principal scenarios could unfold in the coming days and weeks. The first possibility is that Hamas’s military wing does not back down from its so-called red line, and continues to back up its call for Israel to cease tunnel-detection work with cross-border fire. In such a scenario, Israel would be hard-pressed to contain a resumption of the reality that existed in the south prior to the 2014 conflict with Hamas. A resulting security escalation would rapidly grow in scope, and the IDF would quickly have to implement plans to destroy the military wing’s offensive capabilities.
This development would result in a major new conflict, which could end with only Hamas’s political wing remaining intact, as well as the Islamist regime’s domestic police force.
Unlike previous rounds of fighting, Israel this time may be determined to destroy Hamas’s 20,000-strong military wing, including the 5,000-member Nuhba elite force (which is trained to cross into Israel via the tunnels).
In essence, Hamas needs to choose between backing down from its stance on Israel’s tunnel detection, and watching its trump card blow away, or risk the existence of its military wing.
Within Gaza meanwhile, Hamas is suffering from domestic woes. A house-fire, caused by a family using candles during a power outage, killed 3 children, and some of the locals are blaming Hamas for not using its money for the benefit of its citizens. Hamas of course tried to deflect the blame, accusing Israel instead:
“The blockade imposed by the Zionist occupier, and their planes that bomb and scorch our land, are responsible for the deaths of the three children,” Haniyeh proclaimed. “The resistance will avenge their death.”
The fire, which occurred at the Al-Hindi home in the al-Shati refugee camp, was caused by candles used amid one of the frequent power outages in Gaza. The two oldest Al-Hindi children survived the fire.
At the funeral, Hamas also accused the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority of imposing taxes on fuel for Gaza’s lone power plant, worsening the crisis and increasing the time span of the daily blackout to 18 hours. The authority rejects Hamas’ accusations and says the group has prevented it from working in Gaza.
The incident also sparked rare local criticism of Hamas policies, with some Gaza residents accusing it of diverting Gaza’s scarce electricity resources to its attack tunnel network against Israel instead of powering residents’ homes.
Despite Hamas’s anger at the PA, it seems to be trying to avoid angering Israel too much:
In recent days the Israel Defense Forces have operated just inside Gaza – in a strip of 150 meters from the border within Palestinian territory. Hamas was content with firing a limited number of mortars into open areas in protest.
What it did not do was fire rockets at Israeli towns or to send out its special forces for a raid by land or by sea.
During the days that the IDF operated within the strip, Hamas sent messages to Israel via Qatar, Egypt, the UN and others to say that it was not interested in another war. An agreement was indirectly created between the two sides — with the help of Egyptian mediators — under which Israel will leave this inside “perimeter” soon, Hamas will cease firing, and during the fighting Hamas won’t do more than fire a few perfunctory rounds.
Practically speaking, in a manner that it would never admit to, Hamas thus signaled it would not go to war over the recent Israeli operations on the border. Even in Haniyeh’s weekly Friday night speech, routinely full of pathos and battle cries against Israel, the former prime minister chose this time to emphasize that Hamas does not want a war.
Yet the cold status quo could change. Within Hamas’s military wing, some are demanding the group take violent action with an “opening strike” that they hope will eventually bring about the lifting of the siege of Gaza.
There is also increasing support among ordinary Gazans for a new round of fighting, especially among those who have little to lose.
One errant Israeli shell or Palestinian mortar, as I wrote here on Friday, will strengthen advocates for war in both camps. But a deadly accident, like a candle knocked over, can ignite the region just the same.
Add to this deadly mix the fact that Hamas is bolstering its forces on the Sinai border amid Egyptian concerns that it is aiding ISIS and one could almost feel sorry for Hamas.
The Hamas terrorist group has beefed up its security presence along the Egypt-Gaza Strip border to counter Cairo’s concerns that it is aiding the Islamic State group in Egypt’s volatile Sinai Peninsula.
The deployment followed a meeting between a senior Hamas delegation and Egyptian intelligence officials in Cairo in March. The two sides reached an agreement that sees Hamas halt tunnel construction in return for the opening of the Rafah Border Crossing, Gaza’s main gateway to the outside world.
Egypt has accused Hamas of backing an insurgency of Islamist terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula. Hamas has denied the allegations.
Following the visit, Hamas vowed to take concrete steps to prevent arms smuggling and the infiltration of extremist elements across the border into Sinai.
What with its capitulation to Egypt on its demand to fight ISIS, and its reassurances to Israel that it is not looking to start a war, it is tempting to think that Hamas has “civilized” itself.
But let us not allow ourselves to be fooled too easily. They are simply waiting until they are in a better position to strike. The sophisticated tunnels, dozens of meters deep, which must have cost millions of dollars to construct, using up all those valuable aid donations and shipments of cement intended for civilian housing, and used thousands of man-hours (or child-hours) of labour and technology to construct, are testament to their malign intentions. We must not let down our guard.