Palestinians protesting on the Gaza side of the border between Israel and Gaza, June 2018.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
As the fall arrives, the probability of a fourth Gaza war between Israel and Hamas is on the rise.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot decided on Thursday to reinforce troops along the tense security fence, citing the military’s policy of preventing infiltrations from the blockaded coastal enclave into southern Israel.
The reinforcements include snipers, as well as infantry and armored forces. The IDF has also deployed the Iron Dome missile defense system over concerns of mortar and rocket fire from the blockaded coastal enclave.
The decision was made ahead of the 29th week of violent Friday protests, out of concern over a possible escalation. The protests, which began March 30 and aim to force Israel to lift its blockade, have claimed the lives of nearly 200 Palestinians.
Six months in, the weekly protests have become ever more violent.
The internal dynamics in the Strip, especially the humanitarian situation, which continues to inch closer to its boiling point, has stoked the flames. In addition to the United States cutting all funds for UNRWA, unemployment is above 40%, hospitals are running out of fuel and supplies, and residents receive electricity for only six hours per day.
On Wednesday, the British newspaper The Telegraph reported that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said that the group was seeking a long-term truce with Israel. In return for the lifting of the blockade, he said, the group and other Palestinian factions would ensure that all rocket fire and other attacks from Gaza would stop.
According to Israel’s military, more than 430 mortars and rockets have struck Israeli territory in the past year, a significant increase from the 31 which fell in Israel the previous year, and 15 which struck Israel in 2016.
According to the report, Sinwar was “confident” that a deal could be reached by mid-October, but if not, Hamas would “cause chaos” along the border with Israel.
Egypt has been so far unsuccessfully attempting for several months to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas. On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany was “making efforts” to advance a long-term cease-fire arrangement between Israel and Gaza, without elaborating on what she meant.
In addition to the Gazan side of the issue, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett have clashed over Gaza. Bennett has accused Liberman of a having “weak and leftist” policy vis-a-vis Hamas, while Liberman charged that Bennett is trying to destroy the right-wing government and has begun his election campaign early.
Over the past few weeks, the protests along the border fence have increased in intensity, and Gazans have been hurling improvised explosive devices such as firecrackers and grenades at IDF forces. More than 100 explosive devices were thrown at troops last Friday alone.
Dozens of Gazans have managed to briefly infiltrate into Israeli territory, cutting through the fence with bolt-cutters to damage heavy equipment used by Israel’s defense establishment to build the underground barrier. Other successful infiltrations have seen Gazans damaging IDF posts.
While none of the infiltrations have led to any Israeli injuries or fatalities, one IDF soldier was killed by a Gazan sniper and several others have been injured.
Thousands of Palestinians have also begun to gather at different spots along the security fence every night, rioting until midnight. Incendiary balloons and kites are also still being launched into southern Israel, burning some 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of fields, forests and nature reserves.
In July, following a flare-up of violence that saw Hamas launch 200 mortars and rockets into southern Israel and the IDF strike more than 40 Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip, Israel reportedly issued an ultimatum to Hamas via Egyptian intermediaries, saying if the terrorist regime did not stop the incendiary aerial devices, Jerusalem would initiate a military offensive.
Three months later the arson weapons are still being launched, some have even landed in schoolyards, while others have carried explosive devices. Israel has yet to make good on its threat.
Nevertheless, both Gazans and Israelis are concerned that the situation is eerily similar to the last conflict, Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
One small miscalculation could lead to another deadly war. Only this time it won’t be during the summer.
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