Hamas Not Interested in Another War in Gaza, Israeli Defense Officials Say

The past week has seen 24 rockets fired at Israel – the most since the last Gaza war ended in 2014 – and Israel's patience is waning, army officials warn

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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A Palestinian Hamas militant takes part in a rally marking the 30th anniversary of Hamas' founding, in Gaza City December 14, 2017.
A Palestinian Hamas militant takes part in a rally marking the 30th anniversary of Hamas' founding, in Gaza City December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem TPX IMAGES OF THE DAYCredit: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

Despite the increase in rocket fire from the Gaza Strip in recent days, defense officials don’t think Hamas is interested in another war.

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Nevertheless, they said, Hamas understands that Israel is reaching the limits of its patience and is therefore preparing for the possibility that war might break out.

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Smoke rises near the area where the Israeli forces said a "significant" cross-border attack tunnel from the Gaza Strip, which was being dug by the enclave's dominant Islamist group, Hamas, was destroyCredit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Thursday’s rocket launches bring the total to 24 over the past week. At least 13 of those rockets made it into Israeli territory but were either intercepted by the Iron Dome antimissile system or landed in open areas, while a 14th landed in Sderot but caused no casualties. This is the largest number of rocket launches in such a short period since the last Gaza war ended in the summer of 2014.

The rockets are being launched mainly due to rivalries within Gaza, by small Salafi organizations that want to embarrass Hamas and bring about an escalation. These groups can’t fire rockets in large quantities, but can nevertheless fire enough to pose a challenge to Hamas.

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A Hamas supporter holding a miniature replica of the Dome of the Rock at a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Islamist movement, in Gaza City, December 14, 2017. Credit: Mohammed Abed/AFP

Defense officials believe Hamas is already at the limits of its ability to influence these organizations. Both Israel and Hamas fear that the latter’s influence might wane, leading it to lose control, which in turn would lead to an escalation with Israel.

Hamas wants quiet because escalation doesn’t serve its interests right now. Its immediate goal is to complete its reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and it doesn’t want to be the party responsible for the reconciliation’s failure lest this undermine its relationship with Egypt, among other things.

Moreover, the situation in Gaza is already difficult. Hamas understands that starting another war with winter rapidly approaching would spark protests by Gaza’s population. It could also undermine Hamas’ efforts to rearm, something it has been working on ever since the 2014 war, which dealt it a severe blow.

Nevertheless, Hamas also realizes that at a time when the entire Arab world is fighting U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it can’t remain on the sidelines. Thus, it’s trying to show that it’s actively opposing Trump’s announcement.

For now, it is doing so mainly by urging its operatives in the West Bank to carry out terror attacks and clash with Israeli soldiers, and by urging people in Gaza to clash with Israeli soldiers along the border fence.

So far, Israel is unaware of any Egyptian effort to calm the situation. Egypt is currently the player most capable of restoring quiet by making it clear to Palestinian groups in Gaza that they must stop the rocket launches.

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