Two incidents on the Israel-Gaza border in recent weeks drew attention to a little-known Hamas unit dubbed the Restraining Force, established prior to the 2014 Gaza war with Israel. According to Israeli assessments, the unit numbers several hundred armed personnel who serve as a type of border patrol. The policing unit, as its name implies, is tasked with thwarting rocket attacks or terror attacks against Israeli targets by rogue organizations that could embroil Hamas in a war with Israel it does not want. Hamas regards the force as a guarantee of its own interests in controlling the conflict with Israel, allowing it to fan the flames some of the time and impose restraint at others.
Following the launch of mass Palestinian demonstrations along the Israeli border in March 2018, which resulted in Egyptian-mediated understandings between Hamas and Israel, Hamas tasked its armed wing — the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades — with forming a buffer between the border fence and the focal point of the demonstration. In other words, the armed Hamas wing that usually trains for war against the “Zionist enemy” was being ordered to defend the enclave’s border to ensure Israel’s security.