Hamas changing strategies, reducing marches to low boil - intel center

In a report on Monday, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center stated that Hamas has already appeared to lower the flames of the border conflict in recent weeks.

HAMAS MEMBERS in Gaza. (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas appears ready to reduce its marches on Israel’s border fence with Gaza to a “low boil” level of confrontation after a year and a half of tense confrontations, an intelligence center estimates.
In a report on Monday, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center stated that Hamas has already appeared to lower the flames of the border conflict in recent weeks. Arab media has also issued a flurry of statements about a retooling of Hamas’s tactics in the protests.
According to the Meir Amit center, the shift is part of Hamas’s sharp focus on achieving a minimal understanding with Israel, one that will increase its stability and stature, while allowing the terrorist group to avoid any long-term deal which might limit its military options in a conflict with Israel.
“Hamas has come to the conclusion that the marches and their inherent violence have exhausted themselves. That is because Hamas is interested in achieving a short-term, minimalist arrangement in which there is no need to continue the marches in their current format,” the report stated.
Moreover, the report said that “the Gazans are showing signs of becoming tired of the marches (and Hamas is obliged to consider the public and its hardships).”
At the same time, the intelligence center said that “Hamas has no interest in stopping the marches, which are inherently violent, and would prefer instead to hold them less frequently and with a lower level of violence.”
Regarding a loss of enthusiasm for the marches, the report said that strong quantitative data supports this presumption.
At the height of the marches in 2018 and earlier this year, there were between 10,000 and 15,000 marchers. During the past two weeks, the numbers dwindled to between 6,000 and 7,000. There were also three consecutive weeks in which no marches were held.
In the report’s assessment, Hamas wants to maintain some protests as a tool for exerting pressure on Israel, although with less violence.
Hamas also wants to mitigate or prevent internal criticism from both Islamic Jihad, which wants to continue high-level violence at the marches, and from the Palestinian Authority, which could call a complete cessation of the marches a Hamas failure.
In media appearances, Hamas spokesman Abd al-Latif al-Qanua said last week that the marches would not stop, but would continue in a different format.
Senior Hamas figure Suheil al-Hindi told Arabi21 earlier this month that Hamas was considering limiting the frequency of the marches, but not ending them altogether.
Finally, senior Democratic Front figure and member of the Supreme National Authority Talal Abu Zarifa said last week that his group was holding comprehensive reevaluations about the nature of the marches and their strategic objectives, including reducing them to once a month or on nationally marked days.
Hamas began its current policy of exerting constant but controlled violence against Israel in March of last year. This policy replaced Hamas’s policy of restraint, which it carried out from after the 2014 Gaza War until March 2018.
The protests have both nonviolent and violent protesters to maximize pressure on Israel, while trying to portray a peaceful protest narrative to the world.
Violent aspects of the protests have included throwing IEDs, hand grenades and Molotov cocktails at IDF soldiers; launching incendiary balloons and kites into Israeli territory; sabotaging the border security fence; attempting to break into Israel territory; and on occasion perpetrating shooting attacks.
Since the Gaza border conflict started in March 2018, Israel and Hamas have had nine rounds of greater escalation involving a spike in rockets from Gaza and airstrikes from the IDF.
The Meir Amit center attributes most of these escalations to the tense atmosphere that the marches have created, while at the same time noting that both sides still want to avoid another major conflict like the one in 2014.
According to the center, Hamas believes that reducing but maintaining the marches will save it from the risk of further escalations, and help it gain minimal Israeli concessions while preserving its flexibility to escalate if the situation proves beneficial for its aims.
The center said that it believes the new strategy is based solely on internal Gaza considerations and is not because of pressure from other countries. It is also not due to potential future elections currently being discussed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.