Is Hamas sending a message to Israel it's ready for war?

For now, Hamas remains as stubborn as ever in its refusal to allow Abbas and his government to return to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar attends a rally in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip January 7, 2016 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar attends a rally in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip January 7, 2016
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Although Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar on Thursday said that he did not grant an interview to the daily Yediot Aharonot, he did not deny the statements attributed to him, including the one that his movement does not want another war with Israel.
A statement issued by Sinwar’s office said that Italian journalist Francesca Borri had requested an interview with the Hamas leader on behalf of two newspapers, one Italian and the other British.
The statement said that a Hamas probe prior to the interview “proved that the journalist was neither Jewish nor Israeli and had no previous working relations with the Israeli media.”
Sinwar’s office denied that he had granted a direct interview to an Israeli newspaper and said the journalist sent her questions to the Hamas leader, who subsequently provided his answers. “Unfortunately, the journalist did not honor her profession and apparently sold the interview to Yediot Aharonot,” the statement added.
Hamas leaders and spokesmen stopped talking to the Israeli media and journalists more than a decade ago.
When Hamas was established three decades ago, its leaders used to grant interviews to Israeli journalists and media outlets on an almost weekly basis. Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and other senior officials such as Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Zahar never hesitated to talk to Israeli journalists in order to send a message to the Israeli public and government.
This policy changed after Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip and the toppling of the Palestinian Authority regime there in the summer of 2007. Hamas has justified its decision to boycott the Israeli media by arguing that the Israeli media is “hostile” and serves as a “propaganda arm of the Israeli occupation.”
DESPITE THE BAN, some senior Hamas officials in the West Bank, including the movement’s top leader Sheikh Hasan Yusef, have sometimes granted interviews to Israeli media outlets. Some Palestinians claim that the Hamas representatives in the West Bank are much more pragmatic than their colleagues in the Gaza Strip.
But even if Sinwar did not know that his interview would be published in an Israeli newspaper, it’s evident that his statements were aimed at sending a message to the Israeli public.
The message is that Hamas is not interested in another war despite the ongoing tensions along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
“A new war is not in the interest of anyone,” Sinwar told the Italian journalist. “It’s surely not in our interest. In war, you don’t achieve anything.”
The Hamas leader’s statements were not directed towards the Italian or British public; his words were directed towards the Israeli public and government. Sinwar was sending a message to Israel, not to Italy or Britain.
In fact, there’s nothing new in his statements.
Several Hamas leaders have openly stated in the past few months that they are not interested in another war with Israel. Hamas is also reported to have told Egyptian intelligence officials and United Nations envoys that it does not want another military confrontation with Israel.
As Sinwar told the Italian journalist, Hamas’s main goal now is to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip in the context of a new truce agreement with Israel. “My responsibility now is to cooperate with anyone who can help us end the blockade,” he explained. “Under the current circumstances, an explosion is unavoidable.”
HAMAS DOES not want another war because it paid a very heavy price during the 2014 Gaza war, also known as Operation Protective Edge, in which over two thousand Palestinians were reportedly killed and thousands more injured. However, Hamas is hoping that the weekly demonstrations along the border with Israel, which began last March, will force Israel to ease restrictions imposed on the coastal enclave while avoiding an all-out military confrontation.
Hamas fears that another war with Israel will end its rule over the Gaza Strip and result in the elimination of many of its top leaders. Some Hamas leaders are convinced that this is precisely what Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wants, and this is why they are prepared to accept a long-term truce with Israel under the auspices of Egypt and the UN. In this regard, Hamas appears to be in agreement with Israel that Abbas is pushing the two parties towards another military confrontation.
Abbas has reached the conclusion that neither his economic sanctions nor the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip will force Hamas to relinquish its control over the coastal enclave. He is strongly opposed to a truce agreement between Hamas and Israel because he’s worried that such a deal would allow the Islamist movement to consolidate its control over the Strip. Abbas wants to see Hamas defeated and humiliated, and he’s now hoping that Israel will do the job for him.
For now, Hamas remains as stubborn as ever in its refusal to allow Abbas and his government to return to the Gaza Strip. The most Hamas is prepared to offer Abbas there is civilian control. Hamas has made it clear to Egypt and other mediators that it will never disarm or allow Abbas’s security forces to assume full control in the Gaza Strip.
Sinwar is hoping that his public statement that Hamas is not interested in another war will convince Israel that the only way to end the ongoing violence along the border with the Gaza Strip is for both sides to ignore Abbas and strike a new truce deal. He is also hoping to send a message to the international community that Hamas did its utmost to prevent another major military confrontation with Israel.