Hamas is preparing for the next round of fighting against Israel by building fortifications near the Israel-Gaza border, video footage filmed this week not far from the border fence shows.
Armed and masked, Hamas fighters are seen in the video digging and setting up outposts and training facilities only dozens of meters from the border fence. At some point, two armed and masked Hamas fighters are seen helping a man descend - possibly into the ground.
The video was not filmed covertly, or with advanced technology used by the IDF's top intelligence units - it was filmed with a regular video camera from inside Israel, several dozen meters from the houses of Netiv HaAsara, north of the Gaza Strip. The Hamas fighters are seen operating where the settlements of Elei Sinai and Nisanit once were, before they were evacuated as part of the Gaza disengagement.
The residents of Netiv HaAsara are accustomed to seeing Hamas men setting up outposts and levees near the border fence, but in recent days the men working have been armed and masked, with Hamas flags flying visibly overhead.
The Israeli residents across the border from these works are also concerned of recent night training Hamas has been conducting close enough for them to hear.
"Over the past week we've been hearing explosions every night and we have no doubt this is the sound of Hamas training. It's a very worrying phenomenon, which, conversely, did not exist before Operation Protective Edge. Before the operation, the area was completely empty, we didn't see any movement. Now they're building outposts and training facilities right under our noses," one of the residents said.
These activities have not escaped the IDF's notice. At the end of January, after the residents noticed an increase in activity beyond the border, they turned to the defense minister who asked the GOC Southern Command to go out to the area, examine the situation, and see how close is the activity to the border fence.
The GOC Southern Command and his officers arrived for a covert visit in Netiv HaAsara and climbed on the roof of one of the houses to observe the works beyond the border. At the end of the visit, the commander told residents that the Southern Command was closely following the Hamas activity, but was limited in what it could do about it.
This is quite the dilemma for the IDF, which knows Hamas is rebuilding its power and preparing for a possible future escalation, but at this point cannot respond and violate the calm that has been maintained since the end of the summer war.
The residents, who see and hear these preparations on a daily basis, also see the dilemma at hand.
"I believe the IDF should treat this phenomenon as if it were rocket launching," a resident of Netiv HaAsara said. "It can't be that they're rebuilding their offensive capabilities, we can easily see them do it - and nothing is done. We need to respond, and with force, not wait for the day everything blows up in our faces. They didn't do anything about the tunnels either - they knew about it and did nothing until the operation began. We shouldn't accept such a situation. This phenomenon keeps us residents up at night. I don't expect the State of Israel go to war over groundwork, but someone needs to pay attention to this."
The IDF spokesman said in response: "The IDF is constantly monitoring the Gaza Strip. IDF troops are deployed across the area and near the border fence and provide a wide blanket of protection using both visible and covert means. Even now, wide-scale security activity continues in the area and there's constant communications between the IDF and the residents of the Gaza border communities."