Gaza: An equation of quiet

Despite the relative stability, the next round of conflict is always around the corner

Lt.-Col. Israel Chetrit, Deputy Commander of the IDF’s Northern Territorial Brigade overlooking Gaza (photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
Lt.-Col. Israel Chetrit, Deputy Commander of the IDF’s Northern Territorial Brigade overlooking Gaza
(photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
A month after the last round of violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip ended with yet another de-facto ceasefire, a tense equilibrium of calm and stability pervades the area.
“There’s an equation that’s been set between Israel and Gaza,” Lt.-Col. Israel Chetrit, deputy commander of the IDF’s northern territory brigade told The Jerusalem Post as we stood at a position that overlooks the northern part of the coastal enclave.
“We can stand here now, with no protective vest or helmet, but last year I’d say, 'no.' Last year, there were marches and tensions were high. The equation was different last year. It’s not as if it can all change in a moment, but it has been more stable in the last few months,” Chetrit added.
Despite the relative calm that the area has experienced, several rockets were launched at southern Israel as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed normalization agreements with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in Washington last month.
Israel’s military struck Hamas targets in northern and central Gaza including facilities used for military training and making weapons.
That response was relatively restrained, as the military is not looking to embark on another round of fighting with groups in the blockaded strip and they are also not looking for a confrontation with the IDF.
Since the “Great March of Return” demonstrations began in 2018, several rounds of violent clashes between the Israeli military and terror groups have taken place, all of them ending without a decisive outcome.
But since the marches died down last year, the border region has been less tense. The involvement of Qatar and Egypt and the feared coronavirus pandemic have been factors that have contributed to the relative quiet.
Apart from the rockets launched by terror groups, Gazans have also sent countless incendiary and explosive devices first carried by kites and then by balloons and condoms. They devastated hundreds of hectares of crop fields, forests and brush land.
According to Chetrit, over the two years since they became part of the attacks, the IDF has found the way to deal with the balloons but rockets and guided anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) are more of a worry than the incendiary devices that float across the border, he said.
“It’s easier to launch a rocket than an ATGM. Every militant, even Salafi militants, can have a rocket, but for an ATGM you need an order from above,” he said. “ATGMs are another level, another story.”
And according to Chetrit, despite the current stability, the next round of violence could occur at any time.
“If someone tells you that they know when the next round will be, then they don’t understand the situation along this border. It could be in the next 30 minutes or in the next six months,” he said as we climbed back into an armored jeep and drove along the security fence.
Israel’s new fence along the 66-km-long Gaza border includes an underground barrier together with the maritime border. It is equipped with advanced sensors and monitoring devices to detect infiltrating tunnels. It is similar to the 6 meter-high fence that stretches along the Israel-Egypt border.
Since construction began in 2017, a sizeable part of the work has been completed, although some important work is still in progress.
“It takes time to finish, there’s still work to be done,” Chetrit said, adding that once the fence is completed, the army will be less concerned about attacks and infiltrations into Israeli territory.
Infiltration attempts are common along the border, with many Gazans looking to get arrested by IDF troops rather than remain in the Strip, which is verging on a humanitarian catastrophe as severe economic, social, and infrastructure crises worsen.
Passing by a spot where two Palestinians were arrested last Thursday, Chetrit said that the average age of Gazan infiltrators between 16-22, and while most are men, some women have also tried to make it across, including one who recently tried to swim into Israel.
Some of the infiltrators are armed, like the two who were caught on Thursday, but many are returned to the Strip after questioning, as the military understands that they are not looking to attack troops or civilians.
“It’s like a game,” he said, adding that “if we put them all in prison, hundreds would come every day. Instead, we question and investigate before returning them to Gaza.”