A Palestinian protester argues with IDF soldiers during a protest marking Nakba Day, May 15, 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF Intelligence Directorate head Maj.-Gen. Herzl Halevi warned on Sunday of a possible Palestinian “explosion” ahead of Israel’s 70th anniversary.
“The month of May, with the days of independence and nakba [catastrophe], signal that a possible explosion is coming, [driven on the Palestinian side by] growing frustration and hopelessness,” he said at a conference organized by Yediot Aharonot to mark the upcoming Independence Day.
Halevi’s warning comes one week before Palestinians mark Land Day, with thousands of Gazans expected to set up several “tent cities” as close as they can to the border fence and to remain there until Nakba Day, on May 15, as a form of peaceful resistance. Land Day commemorates the pivotal events of 1976 in the Palestinians’ struggle over land ownership.
On Sunday, the security cabinet debated the situation in the South. It heard briefings from security officials regarding how to deal with various scenarios that may develop around protests being planned for Land Day and the coming weeks to coincide with Independence Day and the movement of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
While the IDF has warned that any damage or infiltration attempts will be responded to with force, Halevi said: “This period will demand determined fighting against terrorism and that we make a clear distinction between civilians and terrorist operatives.”
“Hamas is at its lowest point because there are civilian and infrastructure crises,” he said, adding that because of the dire humanitarian situation, “Hamas runs into the arms of Iran and uses civilians by sending them to the security fence that divides Gaza and Israel.”
According to IDF assessments, Iran has increased its funding to Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, such as Islamic Jihad, by $60 million to $70m., after its financial support was frozen when it refused to support the Assad regime in 2012.
“Iran has launched a Shi’ite arrow that has split the region asunder,” Halevi said. “Hamas must understand that running to [Iran] will only worsen its condition.”
The United States and European countries lifted sanctions against Iran in January 2016, releasing roughly $100 billion in assets after international inspectors found that Iran had dismantled large parts of its nuclear program.
Palestinians clash with IDF during Nakba Day protests, 15.5.17 (credit: REUTERS)
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“Since the signing of the nuclear agreement, Iran has more boldly launched rockets and incited acts of terrorism,” Halevi said, adding that Tehran is “using Syria’s territory to operate against Israel, openly and completely against Syria’s interests.”
He warned that while Israel was not interested in any conflict, especially on the northern front, there were two scenarios that could lead to an escalation in the coming year.
The first main challenge has been the strengthening of Hezbollah in Lebanon, a situation that was the responsibility of the Lebanese government, Halevi said.
“Israel has no belligerent intentions toward Lebanon; the gaps between us are small and can be bridged,” he said. “Lebanon must consider its economy, one of the largest in the region, and not Iran’s and Hezbollah’s interests.”
The second scenario that could lead to an escalation, Halevi said, was the Iranian entrenchment in Syria – a redline for the Jewish state, which “has adopted a policy of non-interference” in the country’s eight-year-long civil war.
“The policy proved to be very correct, and now Iran’s consolidation in Syria threatens to upset the balance,” he said.
“This is perhaps the best opportunity since the signing of the agreement to put pressure on Iran to change its behavior, and the West understands that the potential for change has come,” Halevi said. “While not everyone agrees how correct it is, the more the world presents a unified position, the greater the chance of change.”Herb Keinon contributed to this report.