Iran and Hamas have come to an understanding about opening a second front in the south from the Gaza Strip in the event that war breaks out in Israel's north, defense officials believe.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad would try to force Israel to divert forces and air defense systems to the south from the northern front, a senior defense official said. The official added that Iran has drawn closer to Hamas against this backdrop in recent months, and Hamas has been in touch with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the issue.
Iran has stepped up its involvement in Gaza to turn Hamas into an operational arm of Tehran, intelligence sources in Israel said. Defense sources said they believe Iran views the strengthening of Hamas as a military force as an important part of its strategy against Israel.
In a video on his office’s Arabic Facebook page directed at residents of Gaza, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukon, commented on the increasingly close ties between Hamas and Iran and warned that “Iran is trying to take control of the Strip.”
He also quoted from remarks made last week by a senior Hamas figure, Saleh al-Arouri, who said Hamas is “on the first line of defense on Iran.” And this week, an Iranian diplomat announced the establishment of a united military front “from Tehran to Gaza”.
“That’s just the beginning,” Abu Rukon said in his remarks addressed to his Gaza audience. “Only you can choose the ending.”
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Defense officials expect that Hamas will embark on a new round of fighting with Israel unless steps are taken to improve the Gaza economy and significant progress is made in talks over long-term arrangements with Israel over the situation in the Strip.
According to defense officials, Hamas leaders believe the only way they can ease Israel’s blockade of Gaza is through a large-scale escalation that would force Israel to hold talks on the issue.
Israeli defense officials are also concerned about Hamas’ increased efforts recently to take control of the West Bank with assistance from Iran. As part of those efforts, Hamas is establishing operational infrastructure in the West Bank and is funneling funds to it.
Defense officials have also noted an increase in the number of terrorist attacks directed by Hamas: In 2018, attacks planned by about 130 Hamas terrorist cells in the West Bank were foiled – 40 more cells than 2017 and nearly double the number in 2016.
The increase in Hamas’ operations in the West Bank is of concern to defense officials, who believe that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the West Bank, needs to be shorn up. Hamas began attempts to increase its strength in the West Bank after concluding that Abbas’ standing has been weakened following the economic crisis in the West Bank.
Hamas officials believe that West Bank residents aren’t taking kindly to the Palestinian Authority’s continued security coordination with Israel, which remains ongoing despite Israel’s decision to offset the amount the PA pays Palestinian security prisoners from the tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
By contrast, Hamas has managed to obtain economic assistance from Qatar with Israel’s acquiescence despite Hamas’ anti-Israel activity.