Hamas likely to increase violence, expert says

The current escalation has turned attention away from Abbas's call for a referendum.

Haniyeh talks 288.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Haniyeh talks 288.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas will find it difficult not to resume attacks on Israeli targets given the current circumstances, Ephraim Inbar, head of Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. After a 16-month self-imposed cease-fire, Hamas's stature has been weakened while other Palestinian terrorist groups have carried out attacks, raising their popularity, said Inbar. The timing of the current escalation has helped the group by turning public attention away from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's controversial call for a referendum on the prisoners' document and from increasing violence between Hamas and Abbas's Fatah party. But Hamas faces a dilemma as it struggles to pay government workers' wages and to gain international legitimacy in the eyes of Western countries, while its grassroots domestic supporters find "a battle against Israel popular," Inbar said. "It [Hamas] wants respect," Inbar said, "but what it really needs is money." The latest onslaught of Kassam rocket attacks was likely to lead to an Israeli military escalation, Inbar said, adding that more IDF ground operations inside the Gaza Strip would be inevitable. One scenario would see Israeli forces regain control of former Israeli settlement areas that abut Gaza's northern boundaries and are currently being used as Kassam rockets launching areas. Hamas's threat to renew attacks within Israel must be taken seriously, concurs Ely Karmon, a senior researcher with the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya. Hamas had set a precedent of fulfilling similar threats in the past, he said, referring to a spate of suicide bombings that followed Israel's killing of the group's key bomb maker, Yihye Ayyash, in 1996. And while Hamas's actions are certainly aimed at sabotaging Abbas's attempt to create a consensus through the referendum, the group is also influenced by larger regional players such as Iran and Syria, where Khaled Maashal, the group's "leader-in-exile" is located. But with no inclination to be forced into a compromise with Fatah or to work toward a comprehensive peace deal while avoiding an internal Palestinian civil war, the group's only option is to turn toward armed conflict with Israel, Karmon said. In Hamas's current position, a military escalation with Israel would not be in the group's interest, however, and a large Israeli ground operation in the Gaza Strip, while costly to both sides, would be devastating to Hamas, he said. Nevertheless, Dr. Hillel Frisch of the Begin-Sadat Center argued that a return to previous levels of violence is not inevitable, and Hamas, under pressure both from Israel and Fatah, may opt to maintain its harsh rhetoric and inaccurate Kassam rocket fire but avoid an overall escalation. "They'll buckle under an Israeli and Fatah onslaught," Frisch said, and Hamas could not afford Israeli attacks on its leaders, many of whom now hold ministerial-level positions in the Palestinian government. However, while some experts argue that the group may have used its "time-out" to further amass arms and explosives, Frisch said Egyptian authorities had cracked down on smuggling routes into the Gaza Strip recently, as it has become more wary of Palestinian military capability.