Terrorists in Rafah, the southern Gaza Strip, fire rockets towards Israel, Aug 7, 2022. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Terrorists in Rafah, the southern Gaza Strip, fire rockets towards Israel, Aug 7, 2022. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
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‘PIJ is firing rockets at Israel with Hamas’s approval’

Ex defense official warns that Israel is losing deterrence in the Palestinian arena as the situation in Judea and Samaria continues to escalate.

Israel’s deterrence is eroding, and Hamas is allowing Palestinian Islamic Jihad to fire rockets from Gaza as part of a “controlled escalation,” a former Israeli defense official has warned. In the past three weeks, Gazan terrorists fired 27 projectiles at Israel, while in Jerusalem, 11 Israelis were murdered in terror attacks.

“Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip are signaling an end to the general calm that prevailed through the latter half of last year,” said Joe Truzman, Research Analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Long War Journal.

“Gaza-based terrorist groups sense instability in Israel, largely due to the ongoing violence in the West Bank and political strife that has spurred massive protests in many Israeli cities. By gradually destabilizing the Gaza front, Hamas and other terror organizations can mount more pressure on an Israeli government in the throes of a significant period of terrorism and political uncertainty,” he added.

IDF Col. (res.) David Hacham, a senior research associate at the MirYam Institute and a former adviser on Arab affairs to seven Israeli defense ministers, noted the differences in the security threats posed by Gaza and Judea and Samaria, commonly known as the West Bank.

“Hamas in Gaza does not have an interest in leading to an uncontrollable escalation and explosion of the situation. This does not match up with Hamas’s interests at this time,” he said.

Instead, Hamas has an interest in preserving a degree of quiet, from which it benefits in several ways. Among these, according to Hacham, are continuing its military build-up, preventing anti-Hamas protests by frustrated Gazans, some 17,000 of whom work in Israel daily, the continued rebuilding of Gazan infrastructure, homes and roads and preserving the entry of some $100 million a month in Qatari aid. Egyptian construction crews are working in Gaza on a coastal road and housing, with Qatari funds, while fuel also enters Gaza’s power station.

“Hence, Hamas is taking a policy that avoids uncontrollable rocket launches that could cause security escalation. Any new conflict would stop all of the above dividends,” said Hacham. “At the same time, Hamas is allowing sporadic rocket fire, which it considers to be symbolic, to signify responses to events in Judea and Samaria in Jerusalem. It gives approval to Palestinian Islamic Jihad to fire, but sees this as a controlled escalation.”

 On Monday, the Israel Defense Forces struck an underground Hamas complex used to manufacture rockets, as well as additional military posts belonging to the terror group, following a rocket attack on southern Israel on Saturday. Gazan terrorists fired four shoulder-fired missiles at Israeli aircraft, leading to another IDF strike on Hamas military posts.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem is proving to be the epicenter of the current escalation, with a sharp rise in deadly terror attacks in recent weeks.

“The situation in the Palestinian arena, with an emphasis on Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, is tense and fluid and could certainly develop into an escalatory scenario,” cautioned Hacham. “This is happening against the backdrop of the highly sensitive period of Ramadan, which begins in the second part of March, as the region becomes a powder keg. This is also combined with supreme sensitivity surrounding Temple Mount, especially during Ramadan,” he added.

“Under these circumstances, any problematic step or random incidents can become explosive and lead to a violent escalation, including violent demonstrations by Arab Israelis,” he said.

As such, a new flare-up in Judea and Samaria or Jerusalem could cause Hamas to change its calculus and enter into an escalation.

In Judea and Samaria, meanwhile, unlike Gaza where Hamas is in full control, the Palestinian Authority is failing to control swaths of territory, particularly in the Jenin area, Hacham noted.

The hostile atmosphere that has developed in parts of Judea and Samaria is fueled by incitement, both traditional and on social media, some of it produced by Hamas in Gaza, he said.

“That is creating a phenomenon of unorganized terrorists, who lack organizational affiliation. They are not receiving orders and many of them are young. They use anything available as weapons—knives, handguns stolen from relatives, vehicles,” said Hacham. “The latest spike has seen terrorists come from eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, where the P.A. does not have control. The terrorists [most of whom have Israeli I.D. cards] exploit their ability to move freely in Israel to conduct attacks.”

Under these circumstances, said Hacham, Israeli deterrence is being degraded. The P.A., for its part, may have decided to “sit on the side and do nothing, letting the area ignite,” due to its hope that the increase in violence will redirect regional and global attention back to the Palestinian issue, Hacham argued.

Currently, he said, the Arab regional political system is busy with Iran and Syria, Europe and the United States are focused on the Russian war on Ukraine, the United States is also preoccupied with China “and there is no attention left for the Palestinian issue. Arab countries are only paying lip service to this issue.”

Israel, for its part, “needs to stand firm and respond strongly against every act of terrorism, through preventative arrests, interrogations and continuing to ‘mow the lawn’ to prevent an attack,” said Hacham. When attacks still occur, Israel should “respond with full force,” including the use of local closures if necessary, while at the same time, “avoiding broad steps that could ignite the territory, which is not in Israel’s interests,” he said.

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