Hamas used COVID-19 as a weapon of war - analysis

“It is very clear that Hamas uses its own public as pawns,” said Dan Diker, project director for the Program to Counter Political Warfare and BDS at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

HAMAS MEMBERS in Gaza. (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Hamas terrorist organization used coronavirus as a weapon of war – and won a ceasefire agreement worth millions of dollars and a priceless amount of clout.
“It is very clear that Hamas uses its own public as pawns,” said Dan Diker, project director for the Program to Counter Political Warfare and BDS at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “Hamas has never been concerned about the suffering of its own population. Hamas always used the suffering of its population against Israel. In this case, it used coronavirus as a tool of war – a weapon.”
Diker spoke a day after Hamas and Israel reached an agreement to de-escalate the situation in the Gaza Strip with the assistance of Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi. The announcement came after more than two weeks of violence in which Hamas pummeled Israel with hundreds of explosive-laden and incendiary balloons, and Israel responded with targeted fire.
Diker explained that Hamas did not agree to the ceasefire out of humanitarian need for its population, which is suffering from a brutal second wave of coronavirus.
On Tuesday, the Hamas Health Ministry reported 44 new cases of the virus and one additional death. In total, there are 319 active cases in the Strip – the majority outside quarantine facilities.
Rather, Diker argued, Hamas used its sick population to advance its own strategic interest.
“If it happens to be coronavirus, they will use coronavirus to get out of Israel whatever they can and in order to solidify their own power,” he said.
On Tuesday, Hamas spokesperson Abdel Latif Qanou celebrated the deal, saying that “The Palestinian resistance achieved new measures to ease the siege and confront the coronavirus in the Gaza Strip, contrary to Israel’s desire.”
Qatar said it would double its financial grant to the coastal enclave this month to $17 million, with $7 m. being distributed to families impacted by the virus and $10 m. being spent on needy families.
Qatar will also supply the Strip with the necessary medical supplies and equipment to fight the pandemic.
“During the coming hours, an advanced device for examining coronavirus will be provided to the Gaza Strip, in addition to 20,000 testing kits,” al-Emadi said Tuesday, as trucks already began delivering fuel to Gaza for its power plant.
Israel halted delivery of fuel to Gaza on August 13 in response to the escalation. It also stopped transferring goods into the Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing.
The situation in Gaza’s hospitals is challenging as they often lack basic supplies and medications. According to the United Nations, 95% of the water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption, making it difficult to maintain sanitation.
Former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Ami Ayalon said that this latest outbreak of coronavirus was used by Hamas as “another tool” to maintain its grip over the people of Gaza.
Last week, before the ceasefire, Palestinian factions in Gaza warned that if the “siege is not lifted and all medical supplies are not brought into the Gaza Strip to confront this pandemic, the Palestinian people will not suffer alone.”
Diker said that threats like these paved the way for Hamas to strike a de-escalation agreement, making the new agreement look like it was the result of Hamas rhetoric and attacks. Israel, however, said that the ceasefire came as a result of Israel’s massive military operation in response to the balloon attacks.
“They are ready for the momentary slowdown in enemy hostility against Israel, so long as they can show the public that they… have secured a price from the Zionist enemy for giving up the attacks,” Diker said. “They used it as a way to shore up their own power opposite their own people – to coalesce people.”
Ayalon agreed. He said that “Hamas has a huge problem with the people in Gaza. They are far from being happy with Hamas.
“Hamas is not Al-Qaeda or ISIS,” he continued. “Hamas needs the support of the street to stay in power for the long run and Hamas is losing the support of the street day by day – this is a way to get it back.
“Did they do this to gain political support?” he asked. “It’s obvious – yes.”
At the end of the day, Diker said, when it comes to Hamas, Israel “goes with the least bad decision,” which in this case was going with the Qatari financial package to keep Hamas at bay and the people of Gaza out of the country’s hospitals.
“A coronavirus outbreak in Gaza is problematic for Israel because at the end of the day they are going to depend on Israel’s medical system, whether there is an agreement or not,” Diker added. “It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep the infection rate as low as possible in Gaza.”
Moreover, Ayalon said that while during the peak of the pandemic most countries are focused on their own crises, there is always a concern that the day after, the world will once again turn its attention to Israel and Gaza, and Israel could be blamed if too many Palestinians have died from COVID-19.
"At the end of the day, the legitimacy of the international community is one of the basic conditions for securing the future of Israel," he concluded.