(March 11, 2022 / JNS) Palestinian terror factions disturbed by the sidelining of their conflict with Israel could seek new attacks to escalate the situation and regain the international spotlight, a former Israeli defense official has warned.
Col. (res.) David Hacham, a former Arab-affairs adviser to seven Israeli defense ministers and a senior research associate at the Miryam Institute, told JNS that a “strategic alert” needed to be sounded over the possibility of new “escalation scenarios against Israel.”
“We cannot rule out that they will seek to terror attacks and violent confrontations in order to remain relevant and to avoid being sidelined into insignificance,” said Hacham. “Their goal is to re-establish the Palestinian issue.”
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and elements of Tanzim in the West Bank have increased armed activities in recent weeks, while Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has opted for quiet since the end of hostilities in May 2021.
“They believe that without pressure on Israel and interest from the international community, their struggle will not flourish,” said Hacham. “Ramadan begins in three weeks, and this also increases the potential of escalation. We already have heightened tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem, with a spike in knife and gun attacks, demonstrations, calls for mass prayers at the Temple Mount, and violent clashes between Palestinians and settlers and the IDF,” he observed. “If an escalation occurs in the West Bank, my assumption is that Gaza will join in, sooner or later.”
On Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces unit that deals with civilian affairs said its efforts to expand the Gazan economy saw a 55% rise in textile exports from the Strip in recent months, a central export commodity for the local economy.
But such developments aren’t able to cause Hamas to decide against escalations when it decides that its interest lies in doing so, assessed Hacham.
“We always talk about the ‘price of loss,’ and we hear arguments saying that Hamas does not want to damage Gaza’s economy and civilian quality of life. Yet each time they join in the escalation, they do not operate according to our logic,” he said.
“They will choose escalation when they feel they need to compete with Fatah. They will join in war and absorb hits if they see the West Bank escalate,” he continued.
“Everyone is ‘drugged’ by six months of quiet. But this quiet is, by definition, temporary because the fundamental stances have not changed. Hamas’s ambitions have not changed, which are to damage Israel and to eventually lead to its destruction,” he said. “Those who are impressed by the quiet and stability are misguided. Hamas is here to stay and to promote its strategy.”
Hacham drew attention to the good relations that exist between Hamas and Russia, which the Gazan regime views as an asset amid its regional and international isolation.
Meanwhile, senior Hamas officials like political bureau member Musa Abu Marzouk, who is in charge of international relations, said one of the lessons that the Russian war on Ukraine can teach is that the era of the United States as a “sole power has come to an end.”
Hamas maintains fixed channels with Russia and sends delegations to Moscow on a regular basis. “It is a significant achievement for Hamas that they will not want to lose,” said Hacham. In the West, however, Hamas is increasingly isolated, with Britain and Australia recently designating its political wing as a terror entity, alongside the military wing.
‘Abbas chose to sit on fence, avoid entanglement’
For its part, the Palestinian Authority has taken a “measured” and ultra-cautious approach to the Russian war on Ukraine for fear of paying a high cost by being seen to take a side.
“In reality, P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas chose to sit on the fence and to exhibit non-intervention, to avoid entanglement,” said Hacham.
The only exception has been an attempt by P.A. officials to compare the world’s reaction to the war in Europe and its reaction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as part of a propaganda campaign designed to portray the West as being hypocritical.
The P.A.’s caution against taking a side stems from past failed gambles, stated Hacham, such as the support by the PLO and its chief, Yasser Arafat, for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1999, which led to the First Gulf War. That gamble ended with an “unforgettable trauma” for the Palestinians, said Hacham, in reference to the mass expulsion of Palestinians from Kuwait following the war.
“Thirty-one years later, Abbas learned the bitter lesson,” said Hacham. “He is not showing his full position and avoiding taking up stances that do not involve promoting the Palestinian interest.”
‘Israel has to take Russia into account’
Meanwhile, Israel has valuable lessons to draw from the Russian invasion as well, argued Hacham: “Israel must maintain military superiority against every adversary state or organization separately, and against a coalition of adversaries.”
“This is the ultimate lesson for Israel. It must safeguard its deterrence, and when that is not enough, its ability to defeat any military campaign against it. It has to trust itself and assume that no one else will help it fight. This means possessing excess military power in every arena. That is the main key for security.”
In addition, Hacham said, Israel cannot compromise on issues that will endanger its security severely, and this means maintaining control of the Jordan Valley while ensuring that any Palestinian arena in which a future political entity or state might arise must be demilitarized.
The IDF is “likely studying the Russian ground maneuver and seeing how armored columns are exposed to missile fire and plagued by supply failures,” noted Hacham.
“The United States is undoubtedly our main ally, but Israel has to take Russia into account as a military neighbor in Syria,” he summed up. “As the Israeli campaign against Iran’s presence in Syria continues, with coordination with Russia, Israel’s balancing act is the right one to adopt at this time.”
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