(April 2, 2018 / Israel Hayom / via JNS) Friday’s “March of Return” on the Israel-Gaza Strip border ended in a way that made it clear that the Hamas-organized march was only the first act in a play that is expected to drag on for months.
Some 30,000 Palestinians took part in demonstrations along the Gaza border, during which rioters hurled rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops. Seventeen protesters were killed, and according to the Palestinians, as many as 1,400 were wounded. The Israeli military said that 10 of the fatalities were known terrorists.
Still, from a military standpoint, Israel can say it marked a positive outcome. The turnout was far smaller than Hamas wanted—the terrorist group was aiming for 100,000 people—and the protesters were unable to rush or sabotage the border fence. The attempts to use the protest to carry out terrorist attacks also failed, and the Israel Defense Forces proved that it can successfully tackle complex civilian-driven events.
From a diplomatic standpoint, however, Hamas can mark a success, as the protest once again placed Gaza at the center stage of international attention.
The U.N. Security Council has called for an investigation of the violence. Even if nothing comes of this call, global public opinion would be tuned in to any future event on the border.
Moreover, Hamas military leader Yahya Sinwar has taken his place as the most important Palestinian leader today, pushing Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas aside. It was Sinwar who was able to convince the masses to take to the streets, and it was his actions that allowed the Palestinian issue to make headlines.
Abbas will now find it difficult to continue abusing the coastal enclave by withholding wages and funds for its power supply.
This situation and the perceptions derived from it all but guarantee that Friday’s events will be repeated in varying frequency and intensity in the coming months. Protests are intended to take place every Friday through mid-May, the celebration of Israel’s 70th anniversary and the expected move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Hamas will continue to challenge the IDF, especially on the border, to maintain international interest in the coastal enclave. The terror group’s main challenge will be to continue convincing the Palestinians to show up en masse, so as to give the demonstration an air of “popular protests.”
This poses a dual challenge for Israel. Militarily, the IDF will have to maintain a high level of alert on the Gaza border for a prolonged period of time, and the sector will demand considerable combat and intelligence resources. Diplomatically, Israel is facing the complex task of making the international community understand Hamas is the one harming the Palestinians.
It is hard to explain this to an international community that judges everything as black or white, and instinctively sides with civilians who appear to be coming under military fire.
The fact that all the fatalities on Friday were men—and that most of them were terror operatives—seems lost on global public opinion. That’s why Israel must find different solutions to pre-empt any international attempt to force a solution on it.