Analysis

Gaza Strikes Ruined Hamas’ Plans, Too

Over the past year Hamas adopted a tactic of “popular resistance,” expressed most prominently in the weekly protest at the Gaza border. Friday is the one-year anniversary and they might have to tone it down

A ball of fire billows above buildings in Gaza City during reported Israeli strikes on March 25, 2019.
AFP

An examination of the behavior of Hamas over the past year suggests the organization adopted a tactic of “popular resistance,” expressed most prominently in the weekly protests at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel. It later turned to incendiary balloons and kites, which could wreak damage but are less lethal, and therefore less likely than rocket attacks on Israel to provoke a massive military response.

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Adopting this tactic does not mean that Hamas (and the other organizations in Gaza) neglected the military option and the expansion of their arsenals — the opposite is the case. But as Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar said, one has to adapt the type of resistance to achieve the desired result. Sinwar understood that a military confrontation like the one in 2014 would not serve the interest of Hamas, which is struggling to combine its activities as a resistance organization with governing the lives of 2 million people.

Palestinian demonstrators climb over Israeli border fence during a protest east of Gaza City February 15, 2019.
\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

Friday is the one-year anniversary of the weekly protests at the border, which created an image of popular resistance led by Gazans, young and old. Hamas leaders didn’t hide their satisfaction, and claimed that they had scored a victory by raising the issue of the Israeli blockade of the territory and the humanitarian crisis to the top of the agenda in both Israel and the Arab world (and to a large degree in the international community). Images in the media of large numbers of civilians facing Israeli army snipers across the border fence delivered the message.

Israelis could not claim the marches were clear acts of terror, and in the absence of rocket fire that endangered civilians it was hard to convince even many Israelis of the need for broad military action — even after the incendiary and explosive kites and balloons began coming over the border. Hamas officials felt they had found a middle way, a modus operandi that would annoy Israel while also showcasing Gaza’s problems.

The spirits of Hamas officials were elevated additionally by coups such as the suitcases filled with cash brought by Qatar’s ambassador to Gaza, Mohammed Al Emadi; the humanitarian aid plan led by the United Nations envoy to the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, and the frequent visits of the Egyptian intelligence delegation to Gaza City and Tel Aviv.

All these developments are presented as the beginning of the path to break the blockade. Despite the optimism, Hamas still struggles to deliver to residents, but as far as they see it the process hasn’t run its course. So, they have called repeatedly this month for tens of thousands of people to attend a celebratory march on Friday. The nighttime demonstrations have also grown in intensity to add to the effort, and in this atmosphere it seems the firing of the rockets into Greater Tel Aviv, south of the city on one occasion and north of the city most recently, were exceptional incidents that interfere with plans for the march rather than bolstering them.

The pressure created in recent days in Gaza is pushing Israel to demand a reduction of activity this weekend. On Monday, most likely under Egyptian pressure, the events on the northern coast and the nightly demonstration were canceled. Since the rocket fire, Hamas militants have tried to talk again about the rocket fire as a malfunction, but they realized that it is impossible to sell this explanation time after time.

In the best case, it attests to a series of errors, and in the worst case it shows a lack of control over other groups in Gaza or in the chain of command in Hamas. As a result, militants in Gaza, particularly Hamas, are busy with the questions about who was responsible for the fire and who stands behind it — not out of love for Israel but rather because of the interest of Hamas in the short term.