Analysis |

Hamas Takes Israeli Threats Against Gaza Leader Sinwar Seriously

Hamas believes Israel does not plan on assassinating the Palestinian leader ahead of Biden’s visit, but fears Bennett could cave to pressure from the right

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, in Gaza, last week.
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, in Gaza, last week. Credit: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The mutual threats traded between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Gaza last week did not see the Strip preparing for a military operation. On the ground in Gaza, the belief is that despite the belligerent terminology used by the leaders, neither side is interested in a heads-on clash at this time.

However, Palestinian voices in Gaza expressed fear that right-wing pressure could force Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to act against Hamas and its leader.

A senior Hamas official told Haaretz that the security situation in the Gaza Strip has been stable for months, citing the issuance of permits to Palestinians working in Israeli cities and improvement in humanitarian conditions. Simultaneously, the Egyptians and the Qataris have been working on preventing escalation, especially rocket fire from Gaza.

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said the "big battle" for Al-Aqsa will begin after Ramadan if Israel "does not cease its aggression" at the mosque. The official said this statement was mainly directed at the West Bank and the Arab population in Israel, pointing out that this was a declaration intended to express support but not to lay the groundwork or activate sleeper cells.

The scene of the attack in the Israeli city of Elad, on Thursday.

Hamas and the other factions in the Gaza Strip are capable of using means such as incendiary balloons and organizing rallies near the border fence with Israel but are not doing so, a Hamas official said, adding that the rockets fired from Gaza during the month of Ramadan were isolated incidents and that Hamas even acted to prevent them.

Senior Hamas officials and other factions in Gaza have also come out against any attempt to fire rockets without coordinating with the joint command headquarters of all the factions in the Strip.

In Gaza, the Israeli response to the latest attacks is perceived as "measured," with Israel only striking military targets. Hamas' response to Israel's aerial attacks with anti-aircraft missiles was only aimed at demonstrating their weapons capabilities.

A senior official in Gaza, who met with the Hamas leadership, told Haaretz that they had both the tools and the reasons to start acting against Israel if they wanted to. However, he said there is no interest in escalating the situation specifically on the southern front. Hamas and the other factions realize that the situations in the West Bank and Jerusalem are entirely different.

"The Jordanians and the Palestinian Authority are players with influence," the official said. "Hamas and Islamic Jihad can make threats when addressing the West Bank and Jerusalem, but they're not alone in the game." In Hamas, this refers mainly to statements by former Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Haniyeh spoke on Thursday, on Israel's Independence Day and after Jewish worshippers began ascending the Temple Mount escorted by a heavy police detail. He said that what happened at the compound proves that the battle against Israel concerns all areas of Palestine and that in every incident there are means to deal with Israeli aggression.

Clashes on the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem, on Thursday.Credit: AMMAR AWAD / Reuters

Haniyeh's statements might explain why the organization did not go ahead with Sinwar's threats: Hamas and the other factions are expected to continue encouraging terror attacks in the West Bank and praising every such action, although without taking direct responsibility.

The Hamas military wing took responsibility for the attack in Ariel about a week ago, but even the organization's activists in the West Bank realized that this was not a planned action directed by a hierarchy. In a statement in the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam, associated with the Palestinian Authority, a senior source with knowledge of the contacts between Hamas and Egypt quoted Hamas saying that incidents in the West Bank were mainly individual actions and "a response to Israeli crimes."

The report in the Palestinian newspaper stressed that the Egyptians had managed to achieve an agreement to prevent rocket fire at Israel and continued talks with Israelis and Palestinians even after the attack in Elad on Thursday. The report also said that both sides are leaning toward returning to pre-Ramadan quiet.

Nevertheless, Gaza is taking the threats against Sinwar and other faction leaders seriously. Israeli Prime Minister Bennett might cave in to political pressures, which explains why Hamas sent their military wing's spokesperson to issue a threat.

A strike against Sinwar or any other commander of the factions in Gaza could start an earthquake in the region and an unprecedented Palestinian response.

However, Gaza believes that assassinating Sinwar is only a threat for now rather than an actual plan ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden's visit to the region and with Bennett's government deep in crisis.

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