Increasing Aid to Gaza Kept Hamas Out of Latest Fighting, Israeli Defense Officials Say

Israeli official claims Hamas is pleased with the damage inflicted on the Islamic Jihad during the Israeli assault on Gaza, even if it won’t admit so publicly

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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The Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, last year.
The Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, last year.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

An increase in civilian aid to the Gaza Strip was one of the decisive factors that made Hamas stay out of the fighting between Israel and the Islamic Jihad over the weekend, a senior defense official said on Monday.

Days of war: Understanding this weekend's Israel-Gaza flare-up

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According to defense officials, Israel's decision to increase civil and economic aid to the Strip and to view it as separate in principle from its ongoing conflict with Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza, proved itself in Hamas' restraint during the last round of fighting.

But while the group did avoid joining the fighting, it still did nothing to prevent the Islamic Jihad from launching over 1,000 rockets at Israel.

Hamas made a strategic decision to avoid joining the flare-up as it "understood that [Islamic Jihad leader Bassam] al-Saadi's arrest was not worth harming the civil and economic betterment it has brought to the residents of Gaza over the past year," a senior defense official said.

Islamic Jihad, on the other hand, is not interested in "the economic and civil sanctions that hurt the civilian population."

For Israel, though, separating between the two organizations is complicated. While on the one hand, Hamas "is the one that bears responsibility for what happens in Gaza," and thus has a responsibility to prevent Islamic Jihad from attacking Israel – Israel also has an interest in avoiding armed conflict with Hamas and maintaining a sense of normalcy for Gaza's population, the official said.

In the aftermath of the fighting, the Islamic Jihad is finding it hard to prove its accomplishment to the public, and is drawing "very harsh criticism from Gazans who blame it for the death of civilians — just because of the Saadi's arrest."

Hamas, the official added, is satisfied that Islamic Jihad took such a blow, even if they will not say so publicly. Hamas wants to see a weak Islamic Jihad – especially following multiple attempts by the group to bash Hamas over the past year, claiming it has abandoned the struggle in favor of money from Israel.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad launching rockets at Israel last weekCredit: Fatima Shbair/AP

Yet Hamas also suffered a blow, the official said.

“The fact that we did not attack Hamas does not mean that Hamas was not hurt economically. In the end, workers didn’t enter [Israel] and border crossings for goods were closed – so fuel didn’t enter [Gaza]. So Hamas, too, suffered blows during this operation, even if they were civil and economic blows rather than offensive military blows,” the official added.

According to the official, the negotiations between Israel and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad began before the fighting even started with the help of Egyptian mediators. The final cease-fire agreement was also done entirely through the Egyptians.

Destroyed building in Gaza city, yesterday.Credit: Suhaib Salem/Reuters

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian — a central figure in the talks with the Egyptians — conducted discussions with other mediators at the same time, including the United Nations special representative to the Middle East peace process Tor Wennesland, and a representative from Qatar.

Since the cease-fire took hold, border crossings have reopened into the Strip and Gaza's sole power plant resumed operations on Monday. While it till take another day before workers are allowed to travel into Israel, crossings have begun for foreign citizens and those requiring medical treatment, and for Palestinian workers who had remained in Israel since crossings were closed when the fighting began.

The Erez Crossing between Gaza and Israel, shortly after it was shut down, last week.Credit: Mohammed Salem / Reuters

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