(December 21, 2021 / JNS) After arresting four terror suspects on suspicion of carrying out the deadly attack near Homesh, in which Israeli civilian Yehuda Dimentman, 25, was murdered, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Ran Kochav said on Sunday that the attack was likely orchestrated from the Gaza Strip.
It has since transpired that the terror cell belonged to Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
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 such incidents are the latest reminder of just how deceptively calm the Gaza Strip really is.
While Hamas and PIJ maintains calm in Gaza, it works around the clock to set the West Bank and Jerusalem alight with violence and terrorism.
“The calm in Gaza does not come from a dramatic change in Hamas’s fundamental stance or ideology towards Israel, but rather, from a sober assessment by Hamas, based on the needs of the hour and a need to create economic assistance for Gaza,” he stated.
“What stands out is Hamas’s double game. In Gaza, Hamas safeguards quiet and continues indirect talks with Israel on a larger arrangement for the Strip. Hamas is also negotiating for a swap deal in which Israel would release many security prisoners and receive in exchange the bodies of two IDF personnel killed in action, and two civilians being held captive. At the same time, Hamas and PIJ are working to escalate the situation in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” said Hacham.
These attempts include both directly orchestrating large-scale terror cells and glorifying the recent series of knife and gun attacks on Israeli civilians. “Hamas hugs the terrorists and hands out candy when they attack. They often rush to take credit for attacks,” he said.
The ability of security forces to kill or capture terrorists soon after the attack helps douse the flames of motivation to carry out further attacks, said Hacham, but only up to a certain point.
“Hamas is operating this double game because it is less deterred by Israel than before. It allows itself to play this game because it feels it has more room for maneuver,” said Hacham. “The resulting situation is highly unusual. Israel keeps opening up more resources for Gaza and assists the Gaza economy, receiving quiet from Gaza. At the same time, Hamas and PIJ keep exploiting the situation to ignite the West Bank and Jerusalem.”
Hacham called on Israel to reject this situation and to send a message to the Hamas leadership in Gaza, “telling them that they are playing with fire, and that over time, Israel will lose its patience or that its future steps will be different.”
A recent visit by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to Egypt may have been used by Israel to send just such a message. Egypt, for its part, is continuing is mediating role between Israel and Hamas in order to enable a prisoner swap deal and the wider Gazan arrangement. To that end, a delegation of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate arrived in Gaza on Sunday in order to promote these efforts.
Egypt’s efforts are occurring against the background of an IDF exercise in southern Israel, simulating escalation scenarios with Hamas in Gaza. Hamas, for its part, is planning a parallel exercise in its own territory. Both sides are applying operational lessons learned during the May conflict between Hamas and Israel in their war exercises.
Egypt has pledged $500 million for Gaza, but this money has yet to be transferred, creating tensions with Hamas.
Rebuilding the military wing
Since the end of the May conflict between Israel and Hamas, the terror organization has spent months rebuilding its armed wing in Gaza, consolidating the movement’s position while building terror infrastructure in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.
This has seen large-scale rocket building, said Hacham, since the May conflict showed Hamas that it can use rocket launches to consolidate its position as “guardian” of the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and to beef up its position in Lebanon and other areas.
Hacham named Salah Al-Arouri, the deputy Hamas political bureau chief and the head of a headquarters dedicated to launching terrorism from the West Bank, as a central figure, saying “he works from Lebanon and from Turkey to oversee West Bank terror.”
“Hamas works according to a planned out assessment, but sometimes it stretches the rope too far, and this can lead to uncontrolled escalations,” he cautioned.
On Dec. 14, Hamas marked the 34th year since its founding. This year the commemoration was held against the background of an escalating security situation in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, said Hacham.
Still, the ongoing security coordination in place between the IDF and Shin Bet intelligence agency on the one hand, and the Palestinian Authority security forces on the other continues to help prevent attacks from going ahead, he said.
“The P.A. also has an interest in restricting the steps of Hamas in the West Bank and stopping it from lifting its head. When two Israeli youths entered Ramallah [on Dec. 1], it was P.A. forces that saved them and stopped a lynching from happening. Had this not have occurred, the incident could have turned out to be extremely significant,” said Hacham.
Aid from Egypt and Qatar
Meanwhile, the Hamas armed infrastructure taken apart by the Shin Bet in October represents a major attempt by the terror faction to regain its foothold in the West Bank, he cautioned.
Ultimately, Hacham said, Hamas has not and will not budge by a millimeter from its religious ideology to launch an “uncompromising fight against Israel until its destruction.”
To that end, Hamas is also maneuvering in such a way that it can exploit the post-May conflict time frame to rebuild Gaza. Israel, which has an interest in keeping Gaza quiet, has opened up the Kerem Shalom goods crossing and allowing thousands of trucks per day to inject basic supplies into Gaza.
Egypt is sending industrial construction equipment and building vehicles through the Rafah border crossing, and Qatar is sending Hamas $350 million per year.
To help pay Hamas’s estimated 30,000-strong civilian regime employees, Qatar has begun paying $10 million to Egypt to purchase fuel, and Hamas receives it free of charge, selling it to the Gaza power station.
Qatar sends $10 million per month through banks to 100,000 needy Gazan families under U.N. supervision and sends another $10 million to Gaza’s power plant directly.
This arrangement enables Gaza to “keep its head above water,” said Hacham. It allows Qatar to market itself as a supporter of Hamas, Palestinians and the Muslim Brotherhood. “Qatar wants a place under the sun, to have influence,” he explained.
Despite all of the above, Hamas is still threatening a new escalation if its demands for the gradual lifting of the “blockade” are not met. This means more Gazan workers allowed into Israel, the entry of more goods into Gaza, promoting the reconstruction of Gaza after “Operation Guardian of the Walls” in May and progress on the prisoner-swap deal.
Since August, “like magic,” all arson balloons, shooting attacks and other security incidents from Gaza have stopped, said Hacham, “once again illustrating Hamas’s exclusive control of the situation in the Strip and over other armed factions. Hamas decides whether there will be quiet or not, and if not, the scope of violence.”
By definition, Hacham warned, this situation is temporary, and Israel should avoid any delusions that this can go on for years.
“It can reverse itself immediately because of tactical, unplanned incidents or because of a decision to initiate conflict by Hamas,” said Hacham. “Israel cannot rest on its laurels. The IDF has to monitor the situation closely all of the time and prepare for every scenario.”
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