May could be an eventful month for the Israeli security establishment, and the Israel Defense Forces.
Tensions are expected to rise during the month, as major events on the Israeli and Palestinian calendars collide, while other Israeli-Palestinian conflict-related issues could also fuel violence.
The most immediate flashpoint potential could occur if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas calls off the election for the Palestinian Legislative Council, now set to take place on May 22.
Such a move could cause Hamas – which is expected to make the biggest gains in the election – to point the finger of blame at Israel, and foment violence.
Another event is Laylat al-Qadr – the night on which Muslims believe that the Quran was first given to Muhammad. It is considered one of the holiest nights of the religious calendar.
On a normal Laylat al-Qadr, some 250,000 Palestinians attend prayers and events in Jerusalem’s Old City and at al-Aqsa Mosque.
Following the clashes near Damascus Gate last week, there could be another rise in friction this year with a spark setting off more violence.
Additionally, Laylat al-Qadr could take place around Jerusalem Day, when Israelis hold marches and parades in the Old City.
Another upcoming event is Nakba Day, May 15, a day usually fraught with tension that always presents a potential for violence.
In the past week we have witnessed an escalation, to some extent, from Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The peak was last Friday night, when over 30 rockets were launched into southern Israel. Officials tied this to the events in Jerusalem, and pundits also linked them to the possible cancellation of the election.
However, a Walla News report on Thursday said that IDF officers believe that such a move would not lead to an escalation in Gaza. It did say, however, that Hamas would make efforts to raise tensions in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem.
Lt.-Col. (Res.) Alon Eviatar, an expert on Palestinian affairs and a former adviser to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), said that Hamas would not stay silent if Abbas decides to cancel the vote.
“Hamas has something in its hand,” said Eviatar. “It had the election, which it was supposed to gain from, and it lost it. In such a case, Hamas is holding an asset – the threat [to carry out violence]. It will have to do something in order to compromise over what it lost. It could fire rockets, and then present itself as the hero, in comparison with the Palestinian Authority and Abbas, which will look like the losers in this situation.
“On the other hand, it could also try to squeeze benefits from the Egyptians and the Israelis, things like restoring the discourse around freeing prisoners, economic relief, opening the passageways, and things of that nature.”
Eviatar said he believes that both sides have an interest in the situation remaining calm, but such an eventful month could become a turning point.
Eviatar mentions two red lines that Israel needs to keep an eye on in order to prevent an escalation.
“The first red line is casualties,” he said, implying that violent riots at Damascus Gate or on the border with Gaza could cause a chain reaction that leads to riots throughout the country.
“The other red line is friction between Jews and Arabs, situations in which you have Lahava on one side and Arabs on the other.”
Eviatar’s remarks portray a clear image: Israel’s security forces should pay great attention to what’s happening in the streets.
The event at Damascus Gate were a perfect example: protests over metal fences that blocked stairs led to rockets in Gaza.
Planning and thinking ahead, asserting dominance, and avoiding such situations during the upcoming month are crucial if things are to end without major incident.