Under the rule of the Hamas regime, the Gaza Strip has transformed itself in recent years into one of the world’s most active terrorist havens, and this radical enclave is destined to burst.
Currently, Israel’s government and defense establishment are choosing to contain, rather than uproot, the extensive terrorist infrastructure that has taken root in the Hamas-run enclave.
Hamas is so far cooperating with this approach. It is seeking to expand its local rocket production industry; increase the number of its gunmen, and consolidate its grip on power. All of these long-range goals require time and stability.
Israeli defense officials have acknowledged, however, that containment is a time-limited tactic.
In addition to Hamas, Gaza hosts an array of radical Islamist armed organizations, such as Iran’s direct proxy, Islamic Jihad, and a growing assortment of armed groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda — all of which reject the legitimacy of a truce with Israel, and which seek to challenge it.
The ease with which smaller terror groups can challenge a ceasefire was apparent in recent days, when Gazan terrorists fired several rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot. The attack set off air raid sirens and sent civilians fleeing for cover. This assault was accompanied by a rocket-propelled grenade attack directed at an Israel Defense Force [IDF] patrol operating along the fence that separates Israel from Gaza. That attack failed to cause injuries.
The Israel Air Force [IAF] responded within a couple of hours, uncharacteristically launching daytime air strikes on targets in south and central Gaza.
Hamas, for its part, acted to restore the calm.
Hamas’s desire for a break from direct conflict with Israel appears genuine.
According to Israeli intelligence estimates, Hamas has amassed over 5,000 short-range rockets and dozens of medium-range rockets that all can reach greater Tel Aviv, and place 70% of Israeli civilians in its range. There is little doubt that Hamas would like to build more rockets. Any renewed clash with the IDF, however, would put these assets in immediate jeopardy; the IAF would destroy them.
Additionally, Hamas is exploiting the calm to build extremely long attack tunnels into Israel. They stretch for more than a kilometer, and can be used to inject terror cells into Israel to carry out terror attacks or kidnap soldiers. Hamas pours millions of dollars into these tunnels. The IDF often discovers and destroys them.
Hamas’s fighting divisions consist of some 16,000 gunmen. In a full-scale conflict with Israel, their fate would be compromised — meaning that should war erupt, Hamas’s very existence as a government could be undermined. Hence, Hamas seems to prefer to keep the truce going.
The trouble for Hamas is that it is not alone. With the aid of Iranian funds and training, Islamic Jihad has built up a fighting force of 5,000 armed guerrillas. Islamic Jihad has more than 2,000 rockets, and that number is growing. Should Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, give the order to Islamic Jihad, a confrontation in Gaza could quickly begin, leaving Hamas with the option of either trying to face down a fellow terror organization or joining it in a war against Israel.
There are also 4,000 or so members of smaller Gazan terror groups, each armed with its own mini-arsenal of rockets, bombs, and assault weapons. Many of these groups are loyal to the vision of Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri of an Islamic caliphate, and maintain ties with fellow jihadis in the neighboring Sinai Peninsula.
These groups are, it seems, outraged by what they see as Hamas’s soft policy on Israel, and have pledged soon to resume hostilities against it.
Therefore, even if Hamas wanted to extend a truce for years, its ability to do so is seriously in doubt. Further, as Israel’s policy of containment is founded on the idea of a deterred Hamas reigning in the other terror organizations, a failure by Hamas to do so would lead to a collapse of that approach.
About the Author: Yaakov Lappin is a journalist for the Jerusalem Post, where he covers police and national security affairs, and author of the book The Virtual Caliphate. He is also a visiting fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
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