Gaza Groups Don't Want War, Israel Assesses, but Al-Aqsa Tensions Could Boil Over 'At Any Moment'

According to the Israeli military's intelligence assessment, Hamas is still recovering from last year's fighting and faces pressure from Palestinian laborers working in Israel to avoid flare-up

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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A view of the Gaza Strip from the Israeli side of the border fence, in February.
A view of the Gaza Strip from the Israeli side of the border fence, in February.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

Hamas isn't prepared for war with Israel and isn't likely to respond with violence to clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces in Jerusalem, according to the Israeli military's intelligence assessment.

Defense officials said they don't expect the current unrest around Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to spill over into wider escalation that would involve militant groups in the Gaza Strip, but add that Israel is preparing for a potential flare-up that "could come at any moment."

The decision against imposing a curfew on the West Bank during the intermediate days of Passover has led to a relative calm there, and Israeli officials say armed Gaza groups, still recovering from last year's war with Israel, also pace public and economic pressure from Palestinians working in Israel to avoid another all-out war.

Hamas’ military wing, according to the Israeli assessment, hasn't recuperated fully from last May's fighting and isn't capable of entering a more significant round of fighting, which could leave it even weaker.

There are also about 15,000 laborers who leave Gaza daily to work in Israel, who account for an important source of revenue, boosting the struggling Gazan economy. This was particularly felt ahead of this year's Ramadan.

These workers have become a powerful lobby in Gaza, and Hamas' leader in the enclave, Yahya Sinwar, is said to take their position into consideration. Any hasty action by Sinwar against Israel could prompt harsh criticism from this group.

Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, chairs a meeting with leaders of Palestinian factions at his office in Gaza City on Wednesday.Credit: Adel Hana /AP

In public remarks, however, senior Hamas officials abroad have been rallying Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, calling on them to confront Israel.

Most Gazans, according to the Israeli assessment, oppose escalation, in part due to a sense that the Strip "already paid a price" in last year's fighting, which also started with clashes in Jerusalem.

Sinwar, who was nearly deposed in an internal vote for Hamas' leadership last year, is now also taking credit for major infrastructure projects in Gaza. A war would endanger any progress the Gazan economy has made, and therefore, Israeli officials say, Sinwar would like to refrain from escalation.

Unlike Hamas, which understands the limits of its power, the Islamic Jihad see war with Israel as an appropriate response to Israel's recent actions in Jerusalem and the West Bank, including major raids by military forces following a string of terror attacks by Palestinians.

But Islamic Jihad, according to the Israeli assessment, realizes it won't be able to stand up to Israel on its own, and wouldn't launch attacks without Hamas' consent.

Despite it all, military officials say the situation on the ground could easily change. Deadly clashes along the Gaza border or greater violence in Jerusalem might change both the Israeli and the Palestinian plans.

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