Senior IDF Official: Israel Will Only Collaborate on Humanitarian Projects in Gaza With PA, Not Hamas

The Strip's humanitarian crisis can be solved, the official says, but Hamas leaders don't understand they need to implement infrastructure solutions

Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas stand guard near the border between Egypt and Gaza, January 14, 2018.
\ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

Israel views the humanitarian crisis in Gaza as a key problem it must face, and stipulates the improvement of conditions in the Strip on humanitarian projects it is interested in collaborating on with the Palestinian Authority and not Hamas, a senior officer in the Israeli army said Thursday. 

Infrastructure projects could already be underway to prevent a humanitarian crisis and make things easier for its inhabitants, the officer, a commander in the military's Southern Command, added. However, Hamas leaders in the Strip have not yet realized what they need to do to implement the projects, he noted.

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“When Hamas turns to Iran for economic assistance, that’s their lack of understanding of the situation,” the officer said, adding: “In Gaza they have to understand another thing and that’s the fact that the situation in the Strip won’t change without a solution to the problem of our MIAs and missing civilians they’re holding.”

Israel has no interest in seeing the situation in Gaza deteriorate to a disaster, the officer reiterated. 

The passage of goods through the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel is the best indication of the economic situation in the Strip. A few months ago, about 800 trucks went through the crossing daily, while today that figure stands at 300, which means that the purchasing power of Gazans has declined considerably.

According to the officer, Hamas faces a complex situation today- economically, diplomatically and militarily. “Hamas is trying to find solutions through giving up its strategic assets as well, and therefore it’s going for reconciliation [with the PA], which it hasn’t been able to achieve at this point. Gaza today is closer to [being like] Somalia than Singapore,” he said.

The Southern Command continues to remain focused on uncovering tunnels from the Gaza Strip and building the underground tunnel obstacle. Four kilometers of the obstacle have so far been built and at least half is expected to be built by the end of 2018, with total completion set for 2019, according to the senior officer. “We’ll be able to say that we thwarted all the tunnels penetrating Israel at present and it will be very difficult to dig new ones,” he said.

The army believes that Hamas won’t start a war over damage to its tunneling capabilities. While this is serious damage to a strategic tool in which Hamas invested its money, time and manpower, the assessment is that Hamas will realize that it is losing that battle and will try to direct most of its efforts elsewhere, for example in improving its rockets and marine actions. 
“Hamas isn’t looking for a war and neither is Israel. But under the present circumstances, an incident could take place in which we’d find ourselves in a state of escalation. That’s not theoretical, it could happen tomorrow,” the officer said.

Meanwhile, the Military Police are still investigating the death of the amputee protester Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, who was killed at the Gaza border fence in mid-December. “On that Friday, the person who gave the order for sharpshooter fire was the sector’s brigade commander. We know exactly how much we fired and what the targets were. The investigation in the Command shows that he didn’t die from sharpshooter fire or from our directed fire. The subject is under investigation and will soon become clear,” the officer said.