Is Hamas in the midst of an internal struggle, or just wary of war with Israel?

While it is believed that Hamas continues to dig tunnels and prepare for the next round of fighting, its military wing has also worked diligently to thwart rocket fire into Israel.

Palestinian militants of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas' armed wing, take part in a rally in Gaza City (photo credit: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
Palestinian militants of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas' armed wing, take part in a rally in Gaza City
(photo credit: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
While it is believed that Hamas continues to dig tunnels and prepare for the next round of fighting, its military wing has also worked diligently to thwart rocket fire into Israel.
We’ve almost made it to the end of this summer in peace. There is not much left. While our neighbor Turkey has been hit with mega-terrorist attacks, a coup attempt and has now sent troops into Syria, we have set out to conquer the beach resorts of Greece, the Prime Minister’s Office has opened a summer camp for journalists, and thanks to the quiet and the heat, our ministers can continue to come up with odd bills that are meant to strengthen the nation’s confidence.
This summer has finally proved that the word “inconceivable” no longer has a place in our lexicon.
Everything is conceivable: Russia is mediating between Turkey and Iran, the Egyptian foreign minister explained to a high school student that Israel is not guilty of terrorism, on the beaches of Europe they are seeking to make Muslim women take off their clothes and America may be making an old Saturday Night Live skit come to life by choosing Donald Trump as president.
It is still not clear how long Turkey’s operation in the country that was once Syria will last, but its target is already clear, and it’s not ISIS.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to prevent the Kurds from advancing beyond the Euphrates River and establishing territorial continuity south of Turkey. He has done this with the blessing of the Americans and the Russians. The weak US administration, which understands that it has no legal way of extraditing Erdogan’s rival and purported coup planner Fetullah Gulen to Turkey, is going out of its way to appease Erdogan, and in the process is sacrificing the Kurds, as usual. The Kurds of all people, the most effective force fighting ISIS and defeating it, are getting hit from all sides.
However, the confidence Erdogan is putting on display is trying to cover up great weakness. Someone who had a large scale coup planned right under his nose will never sleep soundly again. He is attempting to neutralize most of the battle fronts that he has opened in recent years: Russia, Israel and even Assad.
And again there is the feeling that we are seeing our mirror image.
Here as well, the prime minister is attempting to minimize conflicts: with the Americans, Turkey, Arab Israelis and, to a certain extent, with the media. Dozens of journalists who got to spend long hours with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month, most of which were dedicated to self-aggrandizement, are having a hard time determining if he is truly that arrogant, or just trying to compensate for something else.
From a security standpoint he has a lot to be proud of: This summer saw the continued decrease in the number of terrorist attacks, the borders are almost completely quiet, and the powder keg that is Gaza has not blown up, not even this past week when it had matches thrown on it.
Many in the media rushed to praise the IDF’s expansive attacks in Gaza last week and defined it as “a new deterrence formula,” or as new policy from Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is known for the slogan, “My word is my bond.”
The reality is far less dramatic: The IDF pounced on the opportunity that the rocket fired at Sderot provided, and hit Hamas assets. The fact that almost nobody was hurt in the massive attack and that it did not lead to great destruction is not a coincidence. The IDF knew that it was dropping 50 bombs on in Gaza, as did Hamas, and they are both keeping mum about it.
It is clear that for Avigdor Liberman this was also an opportunity to answer all of those mocking him because Ismayil Haniyeh is still alive, despite his promises to target him if he were ever made defense minister. But Liberman and the IDF leadership know well that Hamas cannot be deterred any more than it already is today. When Mahmoud Zahar says the day after a night of attacks in which all of Gaza shook that Hamas is obligated to uphold the truce with Israel, that says it all.
Many scholars tell me that Hamas is in the midst of an internal power struggle in which the military branch, under Yahya Sanwar, refuses to accept the authority of the political branch. However, reality teaches us something different.
Since August 2014, Hamas’s military branch has not initiated a single action against Israel, with the exception of one case of mortar fire when the IDF operated within Gaza to expose tunnels.
While it is believed that Hamas continues to dig tunnels and prepare for the next round of fighting, Hamas’s military wing has also worked diligently to thwart rocket fire into Israel. If they truly wanted to subdue the political wing and start a conflict with Israel, we would already be in the midst of a war.
Thirty-nine rockets have been fired since the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge. This is not complete quiet; it takes a toll on residents in Gaza border communities who are forced to run for shelter occasionally, but it is the quietest that the area has been in dozens of years.
Not a single Israeli citizen has suffered a scratch in the Gaza border communities in the last two years.
Sometimes, like last week, this was only because of luck. But the fact that Hamas is not firing, and is even preventing rocket fire at Israel, enables the communities in the area to continue to blossom and absorb new residents. MKs, who rush after every single rocket fired to release an angry statement calling on the defense minister to put an end to the “trickle” of rockets, especially those who live in the area, know well that nobody, not Liberman or Hamas, can ensure that no rockets are fired from Gaza.
Operation Protective Edge was not one of Israel’s most impressive wars, but with two years of perspective to look back, it appears that it changed Hamas’s thought process. It made the organization’s people begin to realize that there isn’t a lot to gain from another round of fighting, except for more tombstones and destroyed houses. The international community, and the Arab world in particular, is busy with other things, and even if Hamas manages to harm Israel, it will not add to the well-being of the Strip’s residents.
Hamas will not abandon the fight against Israel, but it prefers at this time to focus on designing the state that it has formed in Gaza, while continuing to rearm.
Talk of solutions to demilitarize the Strip is empty. Nobody in the Middle East stops arming itself and accepts demilitarization. The only thing that prevents more wars is our strength and the other side’s interests.
Israel, like Hamas, must learn the lessons of Operation Protective Edge. We can have countless more rounds of fighting, but they will not bring us to a better place. Last week we played with fire. It was a sort of gamble to launch an expansive attack on Gaza (whether or not it achieved the results we wanted remains to be seen), and the gamble succeeded. That doesn’t mean that Hamas will also let it slide next time we attempt to hit its assets.
Instead of this, Israel now has an opportunity to divide Palestinian nationalism. Israel is the one that created the artificial connection between Gaza and the West Bank 49 years ago. These are two entirely different populations, they are different cultures. Their defeat in 1967 pushed them to declare themselves as one nation. Now, with a de facto state in Gaza, hostile but effective, and functioning in Middle Eastern terms (which is more than can be said for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank), the separation between the two territories can be encouraged.
When the prime minister finishes his next briefing with journalists in Israel, it can be hoped that he will free up some time to decide on a Gaza policy. The proposal to build a port has the potential to take relations with the Strip to another level.
It won’t be love, but there will be a strong interest to avoid war.