Analysis: A boiling pot waiting to explode

The IDF assesses that Hamas is not interested in a major conflict; its main concern is the stability of its rule in Gaza.

December 29, 2011 01:09
4 minute read.
Members of al-Kassam brigades.

A member of the Kassam Brigades. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ismail Zaydah)


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Fifteen-to-20 percent.

That is the increase in amount of weaponry the IDF believes has been smuggled into the Gaza Strip in 2011 in comparison to the previous year as a result of the revolutions in Egypt and Libya.

A wide variety of weapons is involved, but the concern is primarily about two types – sophisticated, Russian-made antitank missiles, such as the laser-guided Kornet, and shoulder-to-air missiles, like those that have gone missing from Libyan warehouses.

The other main concern for the IDF is that a soldier will be abducted. Now that the Schalit deal has been completed, the army believes there is increased motivation within Gaza to abduct another soldier, and that tunnels are being dug into Israel to that end.

This is the situation on the Gaza front three years after Operation Cast Lead – there is an increase in weaponry and a new threat from anti-tank missiles, but at the same time, the Southern Command believes Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not interested in a large-scale conflict, at least for the time being.

In general, the IDF sums up the past year along the Gaza border as a success. It says 100 Palestinians were killed over the past year in military operations and that nine were civilians.

This is nearly a 1:10 civilian-to-combatant ratio that is unprecedented in any other conflict in the world.

The United Nations, for example, estimates an average three-to-one ratio of civilian-to-combatant deaths in conflicts worldwide. That is three civilians for every combatant killed. Over the past year in Gaza, it has been one civilian for almost every 10 combatants killed.

The IDF continues to maintain a high-level of alert along the border and to train its troops to know what to do in the event they are attacked and one of them is abducted. Shooting at the getaway car even at the risk of hitting their comrade is expected, senior officers explain.

It also requires the IDF to get ready for another offensive in the Gaza Strip, one that Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said on Tuesday will happen either “sooner or later.” The operation will likely be different than Cast Lead but will be based on two similar principles – first to take Hamas by surprise with a devastating opening salvo and second to aim for a restoration of deterrence and several more years of quiet.

The IDF knows, though, that when it enters Gaza, it will face a different adversary than the one who repeatedly ran away from it during the January 2009 ground offensive.

Take Hamas’s Rafah Brigade as an example.

It numbers around 2,000 fighters who are divided into four battalions. The next time the IDF enters Gaza it expects to meet small squads of terrorists each, spread out throughout the urban areas and laying in ambush. The challenge will be to locate them and remove their element of surprise.

Currently, the IDF assesses that Hamas is not interested in a major conflict. The first reason is the organization’s draw to diplomacy and international relations, demonstrated by Ismail Haniyeh’s fund-raising trip to Qatar, Egypt, Libya and other countries.

Haniyeh is not the only Hamas official traveling overseas these days. Ahmed Ja’bari, the group’s supreme military commander, has been spending a significant portion of every month in Egypt.

Hamas’s main concern is the stability of its rule in Gaza, challenged today by Islamic Jihad, which receives more Iranian support and funding than Hamas, as well as from the direction of Mahmoud Abbas whose unilateral moves at the UN caused Hamas to feel left behind. That is why it is moving forward with the efforts to reach a reconciliation agreement with Fatah, even though it will likely not last for long.

Where Hamas does operate or turn a blind eye to others is in Egypt, which is turning into one the IDF’s greatest concerns for 2012. A visit to the Israeli-Egyptian border on Wednesday clarified just how concerned Israel is. Bulldozers work there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, clearing mounds of sand to be able to lay cement and erect a six-meter fence.

If the fence was initially built to stop African infiltrators in search of work, the main focus now is stopping the next terror attack from Sinai. The last one, in August, claimed the lives of eight Israelis.

Hamas is to some extent, caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, it works to stop attacks against Israel to prevent a large IDF offensive, but at the same time turns a blind eye to attacks from Sinai or even along the Gaza border against military targets so it will not be accused of neglecting its commitment to armed resistance.

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