Palestinian Hamas supporters take part in a rally marking the 30th anniversary of Hamas' founding, in the West Bank city of Nablus December 15,.
(photo credit: ABED OMAR QUSINI/REUTERS)
While the Shin Bet has kept Hamas in check in the West Bank, the terror group has maintained a destabilizing conflict with Israel via Gaza, a new intelligence center report said.
The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Center report, obtained and published first by The Jerusalem Post, summarizes a wide range of Palestinian terror trends for 2018, while also making predictions for 2019.
On the Gaza front, the report said that the volume of rocket and mortar attacks had skyrocketed to 1,119 in 2018, as opposed to 31 in 2017 and 15 in 2016.
However, even that massive increase has been highly inconsistent with several quiet months with almost no rocket fire interspersed with sudden spikes and then a return to quiet. From January 2018 to April 2018, the center said that there were only seven rockets fired. In May 2018, there was a jump to 150 rockets, followed by 394 rockets between June and August.
Then September and October fell back down to only 40 rockets, said the report.
This was followed by the largest escalation of 460 rockets between November 12 to 13, when Israel and Hamas almost went to war.
After quiet was restored in mid-November, the intelligence center said that there have been only three rockets fired from Gaza for nearly a two-and-a-half month stretch into 2019.
According to the report, Hamas was far more involved in the larger escalations like in November, whereas smaller volumes of rockets may have been from smaller terror groups like Islamic Jihad.
Comparatively, the “escalation” of more rockets being fired in December 2017 when US President Donald Trump announced he was moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem only reached 11 rockets.
Why did rocket fire escalate so much more in 2018 than in 2017?
The Meir Amit center said that Hamas’s broad strategy is now to maintain an almost constant level of low-grade conflict with Israel.
This conflict started with the March 2018 “March of Return” on the Gaza border – a mix of violent and nonviolent protesters trying to breach Israel’s border with Gaza in several areas simultaneously. Though Hamas’s attempts to breach the border have seen ups and downs since then, at no time have they stopped completely. Sometimes conflict on the border has led to escalations with increased rocket fire from Hamas and a larger number of airstrikes from Israel.
The November 12-13 escalation was deemed particularly serious as it followed a blown Israeli covert operation in which a senior Hamas official was killed. Hamas was especially outraged with the confrontation and fired the largest rocket barrage since the 2014 Gaza War. But eventually it returned to its general strategy of violence staying at a low flame, while avoiding widening into a general war.
In contrast to the increased violence in Gaza, the report said that terror emanating from the West Bank continued to trend toward a steady decrease as it has since 2016.
Whereas there were 82 significant violent attacks in 2017, in 2018 that number was down to 55. This followed a drop from 134 significant violent attacks in 2016.
Despite the continuous drop in terror from the West Bank, the Meir Amit center said that this masked a potential eruption in the area lying just beneath the surface.
In fact, the report said that from the fact that the Shin Bet thwarted 480 attempted significant violent attacks, the number of attacks that were not prevented, 55, seems to downplay how much violence there could have been.
Without the Shin Bet’s vigorous crackdown on Hamas, the center suggested that Hamas may have destabilized the West Bank the same way it has Gaza. The report also credited the Palestinian Authority security services’ cooperation with the Shin Bet in keeping a ceiling on Hamas emanating from the West Bank. In addition, there has been nothing in the West Bank resembling the March of Return protests trying to breach the border from Gaza, though there are smaller scale protests.
Looking forward, the report said that the number of violent attacks from the West Bank in 2019 which get past the Shin Bet may rise. This could happen, it said, because many trends may reduce the level of cooperation between the PA forces and Israeli security forces.
One of these trends could be ongoing jockeying over who will succeed PA President Mahmoud Abbas, should his deteriorating health finally force him to step down.
The report also contended that Abbas and his Fatah movement have indirectly supported some of the wave of violence against Israelis, calling it “popular resistance” – though not going as far as former PA leader Yasser Arafat, who provided direct support.
The center cited the PA’s paying funds to “martyrs,” how many Palestinians view terrorists who attack Israelis, naming locations after martyrs, undertaking honorary visits to families, hospitals and burials of martyrs, and giving speeches honoring them as helping create an atmosphere for violence.
The intelligence center has an unusual number of members and contacts with current and former top Israeli intelligence officials, and its report from last year was largely accurate in its forecast for 2018.