The March 30 Great March of Return to the Gaza border fence was nothing more than Act 1 of an unfolding drama, a dress rehearsal or possibly a pilot for what one can expect to see in the very near future. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are now preparing for April 17, Palestinian Prisoners Day, also the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers, and for May 15, Nakba Day, also the day after the United States is expected to open its new embassy in Jerusalem. Further complicating matters, the latter event coincides with the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The Great March of Return was initiated and orchestrated by Hamas in an attempt to change the rules of the game, create a new balance of power and send a message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the struggle for the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people is far from over. Hamas is alive and kicking, and it is marching as well.
Hamas is in the process of losing its tunnels as a weapon. The IDF and Egypt have also successfully prevented the group from smuggling into Gaza rockets, missiles and other arms that could break the balance of power. Facing the most threatening dead end ever, Hamas found a way to reinvent itself: a popular, mass march by tens of thousands of people, all heading to the Israeli border at the Erez checkpoint, where they would trample the fence, break the Israeli siege and move on toward Jerusalem or at least to the southern town of Ashkelon. Images of IDF tanks and helicopters firing at civilians marching for their freedom would be Israel’s worst imaginable nightmare. That is why the IDF has decided not to let that happen.