An Israeli soldier sits next to tanks at a staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF is “deeply involved” in Israeli efforts to reach a long-term truce with Hamas in Gaza through talks via mediators, a senior security source told military reporters recently.
Military officials view an arrangement that paves the way toward years of quiet on the Gaza border as one of a number of possible tools that can push back conflict with the terrorist organization as far as possible, contributing to stability and serving Israel’s security interests.
Israel is pursuing the arrangement with Hamas while at the same time preparing militarily for the possibility that conflict erupts again. In that event, the source said, the army would follow a new operational approach aimed at the immediate targeting and destruction of Hamas’s military wing.
But should the current truce hold, the IDF believes in pursuing levers of influence that help preserve the quiet, including harming Hamas’s ability to rearm, facilitating reconstruction of Gazan civilian neighborhoods and encouraging economic growth, according to the source.
“It’s totally clear that Hamas is looking for this,” the source stated, describing Hamas in Gaza as “restrained and restraining [other terrorist factions].”
In some ways, an informal arrangement with Israel is already in place as Hamas deploys its armed forces along the border to prevent attacks by other Gazan terror outfits that threaten to undermine the year-long ceasefire by firing rockets at Israel.
Any arrangement with Hamas would need to take into account the Gazan regime’s demand for its own seaport.
One idea, which proposes a floating seaport for the Strip, carries too many security risks.
Other port solutions could be found for Gaza, which, while also risky, would be easier to place under reasonable security monitoring, the source argued.
Meanwhile, senior research fellows from the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv have called on Israel to stop playing along with Hamas’s “double game,” based on maintaining a truce in Gaza but promoting and seeking to launch terrorism in the West Bank.
A paper published by Kobi Michael and Udi Dekel on Thursday examined the threeway, double game played by Hamas, the PA and Israel, allowing them to navigate between ideology and pragmatism.
Hamas’s double game, they said, is based on its ability to pursue conflicting logics in the West Bank and Gaza.
In Gaza, Hamas “tries to restrain Salafist organizations and seeks to promote understandings with Israel in order to speed up reconstruction in the Strip. To that end, Hamas is prepared to commit itself to a long-term cease-fire.”
Yet, they said, in the West Bank, Hamas is doing its utmost to facilitate terrorism.
It “uses anything that looks like a strategic opportunity in the Palestinian arena to embarrass [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas, weaken the PA, accelerate its dissolution and replace it. Hamas is working hard to entrench its image as the leading resistance organization bearing the standard of the armed struggle against Israel, and, to that objective, expanding and strengthening its terrorist infrastructures in the area.”
As such, “Hamas is driving not only individuals but also organized cells to commit acts of terrorism orchestrated by the organization’s headquarters in Istanbul,” they said.
Some security experts, they added, “estimate that in the long run, the PA’s security services will be unable prevent the chaos liable to develop if the rate of attacks accelerates [in part as a result of radical ideas penetrating the West Bank] or stop Hamas from taking over the region without Israel’s routine security presence and activity in the area.”
The paper concluded with a call on Israel to avoid cooperating with the double game and to “treat Hamas as a unified entity, be it in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, and prevent it from establishing the rules of the game to suit itself. Israel must make it clear to Hamas that it will not promote any understandings that allow the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip if the organization continues to try to shift its main arena of terrorism to the West Bank and/or the Sinai Peninsula.”
According to Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) officials, there has been a 50 percent annual increase in “popular” unorganized attacks, from 683 in 2012 to 1,834 in 2014.
The agency said it foiled some 130 organized terrorist attacks in 2014 – most of them by Hamas – while, this year, plots by 60 organized terrorist cells have been thwarted.