Despite virtual daily Israeli ceasefire violations, unending siege and an “intifada of knives” taking place in the occupied West Bank and Israel, Hamas has once again proven to be practical and willing in negotiations with Israel, while the Israeli government threatens another devastating assault on Gaza’s beleaguered population.
“We’ve been enjoying unprecedented quiet, Hamas hasn’t fired one bullet,” Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said during a joint US-Israeli military exercise this week.
“Hamas is doing everything it can to stop an escalation against Israel in Gaza” Israel’s military chief of intelligence told a closed Knesset meeting.
Despite Ya’alon’s boast of achieving “quiet”, he once again foreshadowed another attack on Gaza.
“True, it [Hamas] continues to build strength, that is clear to us, we never thought that wouldn’t happen,” Ya’alon said, indicating that the Israeli government understands that no military solution for Gaza exists.
Israel has largely been successful in subduing Hamas through massive violence and siege. Indeed, Hamas has long been tasked with suppressing rocket attacks from rogue groups, and its security forces often shut down youth protests along the Gaza border in which Israeli forces open fire, often shooting to kill.
Israeli military intelligence circles suggest a strategy of economic rewards to maintain “quiet” following the model of Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority. Numerous proposals for a seaport and reconstruction of Gaza’s airport – which Israel has repeatedly bombed and discussion of which was part of the ceasefire terms have – have been rejected by Netanyahu and Ya’alon. Instead, both threaten to bomb Gaza.
“If we are attacked by tunnels from Gaza our response against Hamas will be more powerful than in the last war,” the Prime Minister said.
While the political wing of Hamas continues to be ready to negotiate with Israel, its best asset remains the system of tunnels that its armed wing, the Al-Qassam brigades, has continued to expand. Indeed, a Hamas official confirmed that tunnels “have tripled in number since the end of the 2014 conflict.”
Similar to Israel’s bolstering of Hamas as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization and Fatah in the 1980s, Israel is now weakening Hamas which creates opportunity for ISIS-aligned groups in the Gaza Strip that seek to destabilize Hamas. While Hamas suppresses rocket fire in the Gaza Strip, Israel maintains a policy of bombing “Hamas targets” – a euphemism that can mean empty resistance training sites or sleeping families – when ISIS-aligned groups launch rocket attacks. “Israel views Hamas as responsible for every rocket fired from the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said last May. Gaza’s ISIS-aligned groups, which number just a few dozen people though have had fierce gun battles with Hamas, exploit Israel’s punish-Hamas policy in attempts to topple it, however unlikely that remains.
Netanyahu’s constant likening of Hamas to ISIS serves that end as well (Al-Shabaka Policy Member Belal Shobaki explains differences between Hamas and ISIS here).
While these self-destructive policies seem baffling, they reflect that escalating violence is the only existence Israel knows.