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Hamas training in Gaza (Archive photo: AFP) Photo: AFP
Hamas training in Gaza (Archive photo: AFP) Photo: AFP
 
 

Hamas waiting for showdown

Hamas avoids Qassam fire to show it still wants lull, saves rockets for future clash

Ali Waked
Published: 12.22.08, 00:23 / Israel Opinion

At the time of writing this, and as opposed to other Gaza groups, Hamas has not yet fired even one Qassam rocket at Israel since the end of the lull. The group's military wing, Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades has not fired rockets at Ashkelon or Sderot, instead making do with mortar fire at Gaza-region communities. Mortars can kill too, yet Hamas is using them to send a message: We are still interested in a lull, but under new terms.

 

Israel is closely familiar with Hamas' demands - a complete opening of the Gaza crossings and significant mitigation of the blockade. Israel does not accept the demands made in Gaza, and therefore Hamas allows other organizations to fire rockets. The return of massive fire enables the group to reclaim the title of "resistance movement," which had been somewhat forgotten in recent months. In order not to stay out of the cycle of resistance and fire, Hamas is taking part in the armed struggle by using mortars.

 

However, Hamas is saving its rockets for the moment where the possibility of an Israeli military operation shifts from words to actions. Gaza groups are saying that the attacks are a response to Israeli actions, yet with the exception of the elimination of one Jihad man in the West Bank last week, there was no immediate reason for the fire. Therefore, the main objective is clearly to change the rules of the game - the rules of the lull.

 

Hamas is taking into consideration the fact that on the eve of elections in Israel, there are officials who are tempted to embark on a large-scale operation, yet the group estimates that before such operation gets underway, the Egyptians will calm the tensions. The problem is that Hamas-Egypt ties have greatly deteriorated since the lull went into effect. Egypt will not necessarily object to Israel delivering a blow against Hamas, whose supporters have been organizing protest rallies outside Egyptian embassies worldwide in recent days.

 

Hamas has much to lose

Hamas members have much to lose. Should the lull not be renewed, and should Israel decide to embark on a truly broad operation, Hamas may end up losing Gaza. The Strip is perceived as a political-diplomatic-military base used to continue the group's effort to turn into a legitimate and important regional and international player. In addition, the Strip carries immense importance in respect to Hamas' Islamic strategy, as an Islamic base that can be expanded in the future to the West Bank and elsewhere in the region.

 

Hamas' desire to maintain its hold on the Strip was the reason that it launched an all-out war against anyone who attempted to violate the lull. The problem is that the Israeli elections are approaching, and even before that, the date where Hamas will no longer recognize Mahmoud Abbas' presidency - January 9th. The calculations of other players in the region may prompt a wide-scale operation that would aim to topple Hamas' Gaza regime. Hamas’ response to an Israeli operation will utilize means such as attacks inside Israel, and mostly an effort aimed at dismantling the Palestinian Authority.

 

The paradox is that a military operation that fails to eliminate Hamas would only serve to boost its popularity, and the continuation of the lull would enable Hamas to reinforce its Gaza regime. A Gaza

commentator told Ynet that Palestinian experts believe that Hamas can be hit, but that it would be difficult to eliminate it. He said that an operation, even if it is broad and painful, would not change the internal Palestinian order, which is what influences the situation vis-a-vis Israel. Any progress on that front would only be achieved through dialogue, which is also not on the horizon.

 

Therefore, if there is no Egyptian or European initiative aimed at mediating between the sides, and if election considerations continue to dictate a refusal to discuss a new lull, the rockets will continue to land, while the Palestinians wait for an Israeli operation.

 

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