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Is Israel Ready for War with Hamas?

Is Israel Ready for War with Hamas?
Because it’s coming.
By Hugh Fitzgerald

Hamas is preparing for war with Israel. Israel is preparing for war with Iran. Is Israel also doing enough to prepare for war with Hamas, and not just in Gaza? That question is considered here: “Hamas Is Planning the Next War; Is Israel’s Current Government Ready?,” by Grisha Yakubovich, Algemeiner, February 24, 2023:

For the past year, Israel and the Palestinians have been in escalation mode, a phase that began under the previous Israeli government.

Ever since March 2022, after a period of relative quiet, the Palestinians have increased their terror attacks on Israeli civilians, and in response, the IDF has been much more aggressive in seeking out Palestinian terrorists in their lairs in the northern West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin.

The sparks that lit the current escalation are unrelated to whether a right-wing or center-left government is in power, but Hamas is prepared to use the new right-wing Israeli government as justification for further conflict and violence if it finds it necessary to do so.

The upswing in Palestinian attacks began months before the “right-wing” Netanyahu government took power, and thus was unrelated to it. Nonetheless, Hamas has begun to suggest that any increase in violence between Israelis and Palestinians should be blamed solely on that “right-wing” government that has been anathematized by so many in the Western world, including the New York Times, The Washington Post and, of course, the Bidenites.

The escalation originates in a calculated strategy by Hamas, which envisioned, with considerable foresight, a Palestinian civil war — a scenario that appears to be around the corner — and a new opportunity to both weaken its rival, Fatah, in the West Bank, and ignite a regional explosion against Israel.

The PA has lost a great deal of its authority. More young Palestinians in the West Bank are joining Hamas, which they regard as steadfast in maintaining the resistance against the Zionist enemy, while the PA is seen by many as positively treasonous because its security services are widely believed to be collaborating with the Israelis. Furthermore, Mahmoud Abbas is seen, rightly, as a despot. He canceled democratic elections in 2020, elections that he had originally called himself, when he realized he would lose, overwhelmingly. He deals ruthlessly with those opposed to his rule. He had his goons beat to death Nizar Banat, who had been the most effective of his critics on social media. Now entering the nineteenth year of his four-year term, Abbas is also famously corrupt, having amassed a family fortune with his sons Tarek and Yasser that amounts to $400 million. He allows his cronies to also help themselves to some of the aid money meant for ordinary Palestinians, albeit on a far smaller scale than he allows himself.Abbas also provides the relatives of his loyalists with well-paid jobs – sinecures — in the PA administration.

While some observers have attributed the deterioration in the security situation to the power vacuum in the northern West Bank, where the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority (PA) is indeed losing control, the more significant catalyst driving it is the clash between the narratives promoted by Hamas and the PA, led by Mahmoud Abbas.

Both Hamas and Fatah ultimately seek to rule the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, yet both are realistic in understanding that Israel will not vanish any time soon — and neither for that matter will the Palestinians. While Hamas believes that in the long run, it will succeed in destroying Israel, it still needs to answer the question of how it envisions the Palestinians living alongside Israel in the same land in this current phase of history.

Hamas’ answer to this question is, first, to reject any possibility of a peace treaty. Due to this position, Abbas’ PA has felt unable to enter into any real substantial diplomatic process with Israel over the years, and Abbas has rejected Israeli two-state offers made in the past, such as the one put forward by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008.

Hamas and Fatah share the same goal – the destruction of the Jewish state – but they differ on tactics and timing. Fatah believes in the constant use of terrorism, that will demoralize Israelis, and ultimately so weaken Israel that a united Palestinian force – under Hamas’ direction — will be able, with Arab allies, to defeat the Israelis and expel them from all the land “from the river to the sea.” Hamas has no interest in peace treaties, and its opposition to such agreements has caused Abbas to walk away even from the most generous offer of a territorial settlement that Ehud Olmert made him in 2008. Hamas is breathing down his back for being too accommodating with the Israelis, and he cannot appear to be willing to make a peace deal with the hated Zionist enemy that does not squeeze Israel back within the 1949 armistice lines.

Abbas realizes that he will never be able to defeat Hamas. While Israel is powerful enough to deal with any threat posed by Hamas, Fatah’s existence as a ruling party is under direct threat from it, as the Hamas coup against Fatah in Gaza 2007 so clearly demonstrated.

Abbas is afraid of Hamas. He remembers how his Fatah men were defeated so handily by Hamas in Gaza in 2007, with hundreds of Fatah members killed by Hamas, while many others were forced to flee the Strip for the safety of the West Bank. He also knows that Hamas men are now thick on the ground in the West Bank, where young Palestinians are choosing to join Hamas or PIJ rather than Fatah. Abbas has learned from public opinion polls that nearly 80% of Palestinians want him to resign. So he’s staying away from any peace overtures that could be criticized by Hamas.

As a result, Abbas has settled for the vision of seeking a more comfortable existence for Palestinians in the West Bank. At the same time, he is resigned to the division of Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank, and to the idea that he is not strong enough to reach an agreement with Israel.

Abbas has lately been mostly a fund-raiser for the people in the West Bank, managing to persuade the Bidenites to contribute $940 million to UNRWA for the care and feeding of the Palestinians. He has persuaded Israel to allow 100,000 Palestinians in the West Bank to acquire permits so that they can work in Israel. Through an amelioration of the Palestinians’ economic situation, Abbas hopes to win back some of the support he has lost through the years because of his corruption and mismanagement. He knows that Hamas has entrenched itself in Gaza, and there is no possibility of healing the Hamas-Fatah division in a way that he would favor. Such a healing of the divide between Palestinians in Gaza and Palestinians in the West Bank could only come about in one way – if Hamas were to engineer a takeover of the West Bank. This is Abbas’ constant worry.

Hamas, for its part, promotes the ukawama, the Arabic word for resistance, a word often misunderstood in the international community to mean resistance against occupation, when in fact it is resistance to acceptance of Israel — and the promotion of terrorism.

Since Ismail Haniyeh left Gaza to become the head of Hamas’s political bureau (he is now based in Qatar), the organization has decided that it wishes to be the legitimate representative of all Palestinians at the global level.

As Hamas navigates the region, reaching tense understandings with Egypt, while also moving closer once again to Syria’s Bashar Assad — after years in which it backed the anti-Assad rebels in Syria — it continually maintains its resistance narrative, claiming that it is leading Palestinians on the path to the destruction of Israel.

Hamas has been patching things up with former enemies, as part of its campaign to be recognized as the sole leader of the Palestinians. Though Hamas is the Gaza representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Muslim Brotherhood is the arch-enemy of the El-Sissi regime in Egypt, Hamas has nonetheless held talks with Egyptian leaders that appear to have ended the fighting between the Egyptian army and Hamas in the Sinai; in return for an end to Egyptian attacks on Hamas, Hamas likely has pledged to end its alliance with the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Similarly, in Syria Hamas – which for ten years had backed the Syrian opposition against Assad – has recognized that the Syrian dictator has essentially won his civil war, and that to protect the interests of Palestinians living in Syria, it ought to make its peace with Assad. And Hamas has done so, by restoring relations with Damascus.

To market this narrative further, Hamas sparked an intense conflict in May 2021 in order to present itself as the defender of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Yet a little over a year later, in July 2022, it cleverly sat out a clash between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), as the IDF pulverized PIJ operatives and positions. Hamas was able to get the message across to Palestinians: Only Hamas can challenge Israel, fire rockets at Jerusalem, incite riots among Israeli Arabs, and create Palestinian unity. Only it can lead the fight against “the Zionist enemy.”

In May 2021, Hamas took part in a brief war against Israel for supposedly “endangering the sanctity” of Al-Aqsa Mosque. There was no such “endangerment,” but that did not stop some Palestinians from hysterically insisting that the Zionists were trying to take over all of the Temple Mount, in order to destroy Al-Aqsa and build a Third Temple in its place. The PA’s Fatah took no part in the fighting, and this allowed Hamas to present itself as the champion of the Palestinian cause. A year later, however, Hamas itself stood back when Israel went to war against Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), allowing the IDF to crush the rival terror group. The PIJ’s defeat conveyed the message: Fatah won’t, and the PIJ can’t, fight the Zionists. Only Hamas has both the will, and the strength, to do so. Only Hamas, not Fatah nor PIJ, is able to summon Israeli Arabs onto the streets to riot. Only Hamas can unite the Palestinians and lead the fight against the Zionist enemy.

In order to maintain the PA’s position vis-à-vis Hamas, Abbas has had to become more openly opposed to the Zionist enemy. He has allowed — though not encouraged — Fatah members to join other Palestinians fighting the IDF. And the PA now glorifies dead terrorists with ”martyr” posters. The PA also provides dead terrorists with state funerals. PA officials, to prove they are bonafide enemies of the Zionists, now declare that they will no longer continue any security coordination, no matter how limited, with the Jewish state.

Hamas has set itself up as the “moderate” terror group, as opposed to the hotheads of the PIJ. It hasn’t joined in the recent rocket attacks on Israelis by the PIJ, and has instead stopped the PIJ – possibly by prearrangement — from continuing its attacks.

Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, after routing Fatah, and killing or expelling many of its members. In May 2021, Hamas militants fought Israel. The violence was prompted birthed supposed Zionist threats to Al-Aqsa and to Palestinians in east Jerusalem, thus allowing Hamas to present itself as the Palestinian protector of Jerusalem and the Haram al-Sharif. Now, keenly aware of how unpopular Abbas has become – 80% of Palestinians want him to quit – Hamas has been recruiting new members in the West Bank. Once it can overthrow – by violence – the PA and its superannuated leadership, it will lay claim to being the sole representative of the “Palestinian people.”

In order to keep Western aid flowing, once it is in charge in the West Bank, Hamas will have to work to end its designation as a terror group. Perhaps it really will be able to blame all Palestinian terror attacks on the PIJ, and prove sufficiently convincing to gullible Westerners that it really has decided to end its use of terrorism as a weapon. It could even do something very dramatic, like ending the PA’s “Pay-For-Slay” program that rewards past, and incentivizes future, terrorism, to prove it is no longer a terror group.

Hamas wants to keep the Gazan front quiet as it tries to take power in the West Bank, but events could spiral out of its control. For example, the latest IDF raid into Nablus resulted in 12 dead and more than 100 wounded. It was impossible, under those circumstances, to prevent Hamas members from responding to those deaths by firing rockets into Israel from Gaza. So far that hasn’t led to a major conflict, but only because the Hamas rockets caused no casualties.

Hamas understands that it can use to its advantage the widespread perception that Israel now has a “far-right” government. Even when Israel takes exactly the same actions now against Hamas terrorists that it took under the previous “moderate” government of Bennett and Lapid, Hamas can nonetheless claim that this “right-wing” Zionist government is out of control, and that it is Hamas that is trying to tamp down the violence. As usual, this will be a flat-out lie, but when has that ever stopped the Palestinian propagandists?

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