The events of the past few months along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip show that Hamas’s strategy is to keep the conflict simmering, and thus keep the focus of international attention – while also keeping the conflict from boiling over into outright war.
For the first time in weeks, the aftermath of the sniper attack that killed Givati Brigade St.-Sgt. Aviv Levi on Friday led Hamas leaders to realize Israel was closer than ever to launching a major military operation that could end their 11-year misrule over the Gaza Strip.
This is why Hamas was quick to accept another Egyptian and UN-brokered truce with Israel. The massive IDF strikes on numerous Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip convinced the movement’s leaders that Israel has run out of patience and is determined to put an end to the attacks on its civilians and soldiers.
Although Gaza sources insisted the sniper attack was a “local initiative” by some members of the movement’s armed wing, Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas and other factions presented it as an “achievement.”
It’s important for Hamas to show its supporters that it is capable of making Israel pay for the attacks that led to the death of some of its members in the past few weeks. So Friday’s sniper attack allowed Hamas to send a message to its supporters that it will not sit idly by as Israel kills Hamas operatives.
These sources pointed out that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was on a tour of the Gaza-Israel border when the sniper attack took place. This, the sources said, proves that Hamas’s leadership did not have advanced knowledge of the shooting that killed the IDF soldier.
Also, Hamas members were still in their bases near the border when the shooting occurred – another sign that the movement’s leadership and armed wing did not know about it in advance.
“Hamas would not have sent one of its top leaders to the border had it known [in advance] about the sniper attack,” said a source in the Gaza Strip. “Hamas would also have ordered its men to leave their posts, as it regularly does, in anticipation of an Israeli retaliatory strike.”
Regardless of the identity of the group behind the sniper attack, Hamas achieved two objectives on Friday: First, an IDF soldier was killed, in what Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Gaza call their “eye-for-an-eye” policy vis-à-vis Israel.
Second, Hamas managed yet again to avoid an all-out war with Israel.
Hamas’s top priority now is to remain in power while keeping the conflict with Israel on a low-burning flame.
Hamas embarked on a risky strategy by launching the mass protests along the border with Israel in March. Hamas leaders say the protests will not stop until they achieve their number one objective: removing the blockade on the Gaza Strip. Hamas feels the protests have thus far achieved the goal of bringing Gaza’s crisis back to center stage in international coverage.
At this phase, it’s hard to see how Hamas could climb down from the ladder without being able to present its supporters with some sort of achievement for the 140 killed and thousands injured during the weekly protests. This is why there is no end in sight for the protests, which the Palestinians call the “March of Return.”
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