In the past few months, the IDF has significantly raised its level of alert on the northern front. IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot keeps challenging the Northern Command with frequent surprise exercises: A war exercise was held in the Galilee Division last week, and this week, according to a report in Cyprus, the Commando Brigade will visit the island for an exercise simulating fighting in mountainous areas. While it is very important to be prepared in the north, in the short run all eyes should be on the Gaza Strip.
Internal discussions, both in the IDF and in the Shin Bet, are starting to veer toward the possibility of an upcoming escalation in the strip. There is no need to read intelligence reports written the Military Intelligence Directorate’s Research Departments; it’s enough to look at the changes and trends on the ground to understand which way the wind is blowing.
First of all, the humanitarian situation in the strip is deteriorating because of infrastructure problems, which affect the water and electricity supply and the pressure exerted by the Palestinian Authority on Hamas.
Furthermore, Qatar—Hamas’ main sponsor and the base for the organization’s political leadership—is dealing with a diplomatic boycott and growing international pressure, which could affect its financial support for Hamas and make the situation in the strip even worse. As a result, there is concern Hamas will take aggressive measures to improve the economic situation and its position in the Arab world. Difficult images from an initiated conflict with Israel could definitely help the organization achieve that goal.
In addition, in the coming weeks Israel is expected to start working on its underground barrier, which will essentially destroy the Hamas military wing’s tunnel project. It’s hard to believe the organization won’t try to disrupt this activity. Only several days ago, UNRWA workers discovered part of a Hamas tunnel under an UNRWA school in central Gaza.
According to a security source, Hamas is doing everything in its power to launch terror attacks in the West Bank and is willing to apply any means to achieve its goal. At the same time, members of the organizations are stepping up the protests near the border fence in Gaza, and last Friday a protestor was killed from IDF fire.
The potential for escalation is high, and Hamas will likely use the first opportunity it has to allow rebel organizations in the strip to fire at the workers of the underground barrier project in a bid to disrupt it. Israel has relayed messages that it won’t let the project to be stopped, even at the cost of another escalation. The next crisis with Israel will be led by Yahya Sanwar, the movement’s new leader, who is known for his hawkish approach, and it will be the first time his leadership will be put to the test.
What Israel needs is intelligence for deterrence and prevention both in the West Bank and in Israel. At the same time, it must work to reduce the economic pressure in the strip and prepare for an escalation in the short run, as the writing is already on the wall.