Israeli threats escalate against Hamas

Israeli officials have recently increased their threat of a wide-scale military operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, prompting the movement to take precautionary measures.

al-monitor Flames and smoke are seen during an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 24, 2020.  Photo by REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

Mar 5, 2020

Israel issued in February a series of threats against Hamas in the Gaza Strip that would include a harsh military operation. Although Hamas has repeatedly heard such statements in the past, the recent threats include new and recurring terms such as “sudden operation” and “hot spring.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened March 1 in an interview on Channel 12 to launch a sudden operation on Gaza. He said, “We will not hasten to a war, but we have surprises in store — like toppling Hamas.”

On Feb. 14, Netanyahu said during his visit to Ariel settlement in the central West Bank, “God help the Palestinian factions if we choose to fight them. We will adopt new and surprising unprecedented measures, and the operation will not last one or two days.”

In an interview with the Israeli Army Radio Feb. 18, Netanyahu said that Hamas has two choices: “complete calm or a blow beyond its imagination.”

On Feb. 19, Israeli Minister of Defense Naftali Bennett threatened Hamas during an interview with Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper, saying, “A painful spring awaits you.” He revealed his plans to radically change the situation in the Gaza Strip, and on Feb. 9, he had threatened during security talks with senior army officials to wage a fatal attack on Hamas leaders. He said, “We will not reveal where and when, but the operation will be different from previous ones, and nobody will be immune to targeting.”

Mahmoud Merdawi, a Hamas leader in the West Bank and former commander of its military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, told Al-Monitor, “The Israeli threats to Hamas have not stopped, and Israel implemented its threats during its three wars on Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014. We cannot deny that Israel executes its threats. Neither of us [Hamas nor Israel] will have it easy, but implementing the threats is a possibility that we have not lost sight of. Hamas decision-makers are aware of the hazards and we are taking security precautions to avoid Israeli foul play. Meanwhile, we continue to pressure Israel to alleviate its blockade on Gaza.”

Netanyahu was not the only one to threaten Hamas; his ministers issued similar threats. Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz told the pro-settler Channel 7 on Feb. 25, “Gaza will remain a problem, and we have prepared a comprehensive and tough plan that is quite different from our previous achievements in Gaza so far. We might spend weeks there to topple Hamas.”

Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan said in an interview with Kan radio on Feb. 24, “We are closer than ever to a wide-scale operation in Gaza that includes a ground invasion.”

Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces Aviv Kochavi said in a speech at the honoring of the Israeli army’s reserve soldiers Feb. 24, “The security situation is delicate and we might face a wide-scale military operation soon.”

Ibrahim Habib, professor of security studies at Al-Awda University College in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Any wide-scale Israeli military operation in Gaza might result in casualties that Israelis cannot bear. In the wake of such an operation, Israel will have to address the issue of who will handle Gaza’s governance if Hamas is overthrown.”

Habib added, “Gaza does not constitute a strategic threat for Israel, and Israel can put it on hold for a few more years. But the sudden operation against Hamas might consist of an intelligence operation, targeting the rocket system and assassinating first-rank Hamas military leaders. Abducting Hamas officials from outside Gaza is also an easier possibility [for Israel] because Gaza has a small surface area, and Israeli forces cannot move inside it.”

In an article in Felesteen newspaper Feb. 26, Fayez Abou Shamala, a journalist close to Hamas, wondered whether the possible Israeli operation aims at deporting Palestinians from Gaza to the Sinai Peninsula to implement US President Donald Trump’s peace plan — known locally as the "deal of the century." Hamas is vigilant to Israel’s threats that coincide with the publication of the results of an Israeli opinion poll Feb. 26 that assessed the Israeli policy in the Gaza Strip. According to the poll, 55% of Israelis are not satisfied with Netanyahu’s policy, and 48% are not satisfied with the work of Bennett.

Palestinian military expert Youssef al-Sharqawi told Al-Monitor, “Israeli threats against Hamas are serious and the movement’s disarmament might be a condition for implementing the deal of the century through a strike on the rocket warehouses and a shock and terrorization strategy to restore the image of Israel that was tarnished when Hamas discovered an Israeli unit in Khan Yunis in November 2018 and killed its leader. Assassinating Hamas leaders is the most likely option, after which a wide-scale war on Hamas will begin. Israel will use an unprecedented amount of fire and cut all connections between the Gaza Strip and other areas to further tighten the noose on it.”

It seems Israel is preparing for a rough confrontation with Hamas, but nobody knows when. Threats of a sudden military operation against Hamas might include airstrikes targeting senior Hamas leaders to kill as many of them as possible, infiltration of Israeli special units to Gaza with air coverage or abduction of Hamas political and military leaders. 

Emad Abu Awad, Israeli affairs’ expert at Vision Center for Political Development in Turkey, told Al-Monitor, “Israel's threats against Hamas are linked to the Israeli elections. Nobody knows if the [operation] might be imminent or might happen next year. Hamas’ military strength is increasing and Israel does not have a successful strategy to deal with it. Therefore, the Israeli operation is at a standstill.”

He added, “But the increasing pressure on Hamas in Gaza will expedite the process, despite the assumption that Israel has a regional inclination to stir an internal coup in Gaza against Hamas through a popular uprising against the living conditions in the besieged enclave.”

Palestinians and Israelis agree that dangerous narratives are in store for the Gaza Strip. Hamas is beefing up its intelligence work, deploying security checkpoints and imposing field control, in addition to increasing police patrols to anticipate any security loophole that Israel might take advantage of. Still, there are no guarantees that Hamas is safe from the Israeli strike, or that such a strike would topple the movement.

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