Two years ago this month, Israel and Hamas were locked in the middle of a 50-day conflict, which saw southern and central Israel attacked several times a day with Hamas rockets, and the Iron Dome air defense batteries intercept the projectiles in midair. Despite the disruption and fear caused by sirens, civilians soon became accustomed to the idea that Iron Dome can defend them, and the Israeli home front found a way to resume normal routine despite being under daily fire.
Some 4,500 Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets were hurled into Israeli airspace, but the big majority of those heading into built up areas – some 750 – were destroyed by Iron Dome before they could sow death and destruction.
During that conflict, Hamas apparently learned that Israel’s vulnerability could be exposed not by making sirens ring out in Tel Aviv but by pounding southern Israeli communities near the Strip with projectiles, forcing the eventual evacuation of thousands of Gaza-border residents to the North a month-and-a-half into the war.
Short-range rockets caused those areas to become ghost villages, inhabited only by military personnel, and Hamas also seemingly learned that by pounding IDF staging areas near the border, it was able to inflict casualties among soldiers who could not seek cover in time.
Therefore it appears Hamas is currently trying to find ways of overwhelming Israeli air defenses in the next war, and one way it believes it can do this is by dramatically increasing the short-range rocket and mortar fire, and striking southern areas in a more targeted, precise manner.
Hamas is extremely deterred by Israel at this time, and the Gaza border is at its quietest since 1968. Gaza border communities, once pounded heavily by Gazan attacks, are now thriving and growing as they attract new members from other parts of the country.
But Hamas continues to exploit the current calm to prepare for war. Nor does Hamas seem to have abandoned its mid- and long-range rocket production program, which it continues to develop and mass produce in its weapons factories in Gaza, as well as trying to smuggle in projectiles from Sinai with the help of Islamic State.
Hezbollah in Lebanon and Islamic State in Sinai could, in solidarity with Hamas, fire rockets to set alight new arenas in a future escalation.
Hamas’s cross-border tunnel network continues to dominate the headlines; 32 such tunnels were destroyed during the 2014 conflict, and in recent months the IDF used innovative new technology to detect and destroy additional tunnels.
In the near future, when Hamas diggers try to enter Israel underground, they may find themselves facing a new Israeli subterranean wall, being built at this time around Gaza. The wall will have control rooms that detect suspicious activity and can mobilize the IDF to respond. The project is expensive though, costing roughly NIS 150 million per kilometer.
The Gaza-Israel border is 65 kilometers long, meaning the cost would run into the billions.
But one topic that receives less media attention is Hamas’s vast tunnel system inside the Gaza Strip, which it used in 2014 to move weapons and fighters around, out of sight of the air force, and to launch hitand- run guerrilla warfare strikes on ID F units operating in Gaza.
The IDF did not adequately prepare itself for Gaza’s internal tunnel network, and this is an area the military has spent the past two years improving upon, though how remains classified.
The IDF’s use of heavy armor that now comes protected with the Trophy active protection system, produced by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, will pose a very serious challenge to Hamas’s armed wing.
In 2014, IDF officers who fought in Gaza testified that there was not a single Hamas armed-wing member who was without an armor-busting RPG-29-type shoulder-fired weapon.
Such weapons resulted in deadly attacks on the IDF’s 1970s-era M113 armored personnel carriers, but they will not be able to destroy Trophy-protected Namer APCs, or the Merkava Mark IV tanks.
This month, the Armored Corps Battalion 82, which was the last conscripted unit to use the Merkava II, left its old platform behind and began using the Merkava IV.
Despite its pledge to unending jihad against Israel, Hamas today is regionally isolated, with no new allies or partners, and is facing financial crisis in the Strip. It also remains highly disturbed by Israel’s intelligence reach, of which it is aware.
Under the surface of the current calm, Hamas continues to prepare for war, and the IDF is watching these preparations like a hawk, while setting up crushing responses of its own.
The mere fact that both sides are readying themselves for the next round does not indicate that one is imminent. It does, however, mean, that any regional developments, such as an uptick in West Bank violence, could destabilize the delicate cease-fire, and Hamas and Israel could find themselves at war again in a week or five years or a decade from now.
The hope among most civilians in the South is for the current quiet to last as long as possible. After a decade of becoming adjusted to conflict, southerners have begun to get used to the quiet.
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