The assassination of Hamas military leader Mazen Fuqaha in the Gaza Strip on Friday poses a dilemma to the organization with regard to the nature and magnitude of its response.
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Hamas’ military wing, Iz al-Din al-Qassam, as well as political leaders of the group, have pledged to respond and pointed an accusing finger at Israel.
As opposed to previous incidents, when Israel openly assassinated senior Hamas figures like Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Yahya Ayyash and Ahmed Jabari, this time Israel was silent and did not claim direct responsibility. This leaves Hamas some room for restraint.
An investigation has been launched into the killing and until its conclusion, the organization will not immediately respond. The fact that Hamas did not respond with rocket fire at Israel also clearly shows it does not intend to cross red lines and trigger a direct clash.
Hamas understands that, under the circumstances, opening up a front against Israel can only cause damage – not only in terms of destruction of infrastructure and buildings, but also politically. Hamas is at the height of a reorganization, with both internal elections and the establishment of a new system of control in the Gaza Strip. The organization is also in the midst of talks with Egypt and preparing the political platform that it intends to present in the coming weeks.
In this atmosphere, launching renewed hostilities against Israel would only make things more difficult for Hamas and disrupt its plans.
Iz al-Din al-Qassam said over the weekend that the response will be painful and in keeping with Fuqaha’s stature.
In this sense, Hamas has adopted Hezbollah’s strategy, whereby the Lebanese group responds in a time and place that it considers proper, without haste. This policy was seen when Hezbollah military leader Imad Mughniyeh, and others like Hassan al-Laqis and Mustafa Badreddine, were assassinated.
Nevertheless, in contrast to Hezbollah, Hamas has a great deal of room to maneuver in the West Bank. Although it is much harder to perpetrate terror attacks on Israel from there, and Palestinian Authority security forces do not allow Hamas to operate there (as opposed to the Gaza Strip for Hamas and Lebanon for Hezbollah), in the West Bank Hamas is not the sovereign and is not responsible for the civilian population and is not obligated to the same rules of the game as in Gaza.
Shin Bet security service chief Nadav Argaman stated at a Knesset committee meeting last week that hundreds of potential terror attacks had been foiled last year. “The relative quiet at this time is a deceptive quiet, because Hamas and Global Jihad are trying to mount attacks in Israel every day,” he warned.
Fuqaha’s assassination Friday will only increase the motivation to act against Israeli targets in a way that allows Hamas to both respond to the assassination of one of its commanders while also maintaining quiet and following the rules of the game in the Gaza Strip.