What stopped Hamas from attacking Israel on Jerusalem Day?

“Instead of rockets, Hamas chose to attack Israel with fiery statements,” said a Palestinian journalist, adding that Gazans were expecting war.

 Palestinian Hamas terrorists attend an anti-Israel rally in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip May 27, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
Palestinian Hamas terrorists attend an anti-Israel rally in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip May 27, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)

Since the beginning of the week, Hamas officials have been struggling to explain why their group did not respond to the Flag March, which took place in the Old City of Jerusalem to mark Jerusalem Day on Sunday.

Prior to the march, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and other Palestinian groups warned of an “explosion” in the entire Middle East if the Israeli government would allow “extremist settlers” to raise the Israeli flag at Damascus Gate, the Muslim Quarter or the Aqsa Mosque compound. They also hinted that they would attack Israel if it “crossed the redlines.”

Hamas warned, but did not deliver

The tough warnings led many Palestinians to believe that the Israeli “provocations” would trigger another military confrontation between Israel and Hamas, as was the case last year.

But Sunday’s events in Jerusalem, during which thousands of flag-waving Israelis marched through Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter, ended without a single rocket being fired from the Gaza Strip.

 People hold up Israeli flags at the annual Jerusalem Day flag march. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) People hold up Israeli flags at the annual Jerusalem Day flag march. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Even scenes earlier in the day of Israelis raising Israeli flags during a tour of the Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount did not elicit a violent response from Hamas and PIJ.

There were many condemnations and threats, especially on social media, but that was the extent of the response from Hamas and its allies.

“Instead of rockets, Hamas chose to attack Israel with fiery statements and harsh rhetoric,” said a veteran Palestinian journalist from the Gaza Strip. “Because of the numerous threats issued in the days leading up to the Flag March, many people here were convinced that a war was going to erupt on Sunday.”

According to the journalist, many families in the coastal enclave began storing food and medicine in anticipation of a war between Israel and Hamas.

What happened to Hamas?

But now, many Palestinians are trying to guess why Hamas and the other terrorist groups did not carry out their threats.

Some Palestinians, especially those affiliated with Hamas’s rivals in the ruling Fatah faction headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, have even been scoffing at the “empty threats” made by the leaders of Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip.

What stopped Hamas from igniting another round of fighting with Israel?

So what stopped Hamas from igniting another round of fighting with Israel?

One theory is that Hamas has been deterred as a result of last year’s war. Hamas’s military infrastructure suffered massive damage, and the terrorist group is still working on repairing it. Moreover, Hamas lost many of its members during the fighting.

According to some reports, Hamas came under heavy pressure from Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations to avoid another military confrontation with Israel. European officials were also involved in the efforts.

On the eve of Jerusalem Day, the group’s armed wings were ordered to be ready and on high alert for an eruption of hostilities with Israel. However, the political leaders of Hamas and PIJ, most of whom are based in Qatar and Lebanon, are said to have faced immense pressure from various international mediators to avoid another war with the Jewish state.

According to sources in the Gaza Strip, the mediators warned that renewed fighting would result in the cessation of construction work to rebuild houses and buildings that were destroyed during the last war. They warned that the Qatari cash aid to the Strip would be affected if and when a new war erupts.

In addition, they warned that thousands of Gazans who recently received permits to work in Israel would be banned from returning to work, something that would increase the economic burden on the Hamas administration.

Many Palestinians also reportedly warned the leaders of the terrorist groups that the Gaza Strip would not tolerate another “disastrous war” with Israel, the sources said. These Palestinians said the residents of the Strip had paid a heavy price during last year’s 11-day war between Hamas and Israel.

Other sources close to the terrorist groups said differences erupted between Hamas and PIJ over the need to respond to the Israeli “provocations.” Some PIJ officials reportedly demanded an immediate response, including firing rockets toward Israel, while Hamas leaders did not seem enthusiastic.

Although the Joint Operations Room of the armed wings agreed on the need to “control the field,” PIJ did not appear to support the idea of refraining from attacking Israel, the sources told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds. Eventually, PIJ had no choice but to adhere to the unified position of the terrorist groups.

If Hamas wants, it can

This is a sign that Hamas is able to enforce its will on other terrorist groups if it so chooses.

“In light of the consensus within the resistance factions and their military wings to refrain from escalation at this stage, Palestinian Islamic Jihad decided to adhere to the consensus and not to provide the occupation with an excuse [to attack the Gaza Strip],” one of the sources said.

The sources denied that the terrorist groups refrained from attacking Israel out of fear of Israeli reprisal.

A Palestinian source in the Gaza Strip said Israel had threatened to resume targeted assassinations of Hamas and PIJ leaders if the two groups started firing rockets toward it. The threat was relayed to their leaders through Egyptian and Qatari mediators, according to the source.

The fear of a fresh wave of assassinations is also believed to be one of the reasons why Hamas and PIJ leaders chose not to engage in a violent confrontation with the Jewish state.

In an implicit reference to those ridiculing Hamas for its “empty threats,” the group’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said in a statement that “all options remain on the table, and we are ready for all scenarios.”

So what is Hamas's excuse?

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem attempted to justify his group’s failure to carry out its threats by saying that despite their efforts, the mediators had failed to obtain a promise from Hamas not to escalate matters in the future.

“The contacts with Hamas were intense in light of the violations against Islamic and Christian sanctities,” he said. “Hamas informed the mediators that our people will not tolerate any aggression against their sanctities. The mediators tried to obtain a pledge from Hamas not to escalate matters, and this is unacceptable. We will continue our struggle, jihad [holy war] and fight until the liberation of our land.”