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palestinian youth participating in military drills 370.(Photo by: REUTERS)
Analysis: Hamas grows stronger in Gaza, again
Hamas’s rocket arsenal places 70 percent of Israelis within range.
Eight months after the IDF’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, events in Syria, Egypt and Lebanon have turned the Strip into an arena of secondary importance for many observers.

Despite the relative quiet in the Gazan arena, much is taking place there. Hamas is entrenching itself further as the sovereign, and rearming itself with rockets. It once again has thousands of short-range rockets – around 5,000 of them – and possesses medium-range rockets which can strike greater Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Hamas’s rocket arsenal places 70 percent of Israelis within range.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Hamas broke away from the Iranian and Syrian orbit, and  has allied itself with (the now deposed) Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo, as well as with Turkey and Qatar.

Hamas views its close relationship with Cairo as a top strategic asset – an asset which looks to be under threat now, as Hamas’s fellow Islamists in Cairo were ousted from power by the Egyptian military.

Inside Gaza, Iran still possesses some influence due to its control of Islamic Jihad, a terror group financed and armed exclusively by Tehran.

Since the end of hostilities with Israel last year, Hamas has been enforcing the cease-fire on Islamic Jihad, as well as on the smaller jihadi terror groups, and hasn’t hesitated to use an iron fist on occasion, in the form of beatings of non-Hamas terrorists caught firing rockets at Israel.

In the future, though, Hamas may be pleased by the fact that it has an option to “unleash” Islamic Jihad on Israel.

Gaza today has some 25,000 armed fighters. Of those, 16,000 belong to Hamas divisions.

Islamic Jihad has 5,000 fighters, split into five divisions, and is armed with more than 2,000 rockets. Smaller terror groups count over 4,000 terrorists among their ranks, and are armed with dozens of rockets, as well as a large quantity of light arms.

Due to the disintegration of Hamas’s Damascus leadership, Hamas in Gaza has become the dominant center of the organization.

Gaza is where the group formulates policies and builds up its forces.

Turkey and Qatar are Hamas allies as well. Billions of dollars in Qatari aid is funding construction projects across the Strip.

For now, Hamas is keen on consolidating its sovereignty over Gaza. It demands the final say over when rockets are fired – and not fired – at Israel, by any organization based in Gaza.

Hamas is also now more sensitive to the complaints of the Gazan population. It publishes laws on Internet sites, levies taxes, processes cases in its courts, and is in the process of becoming a highly entrenched regime. This makes Hamas stronger in the West Bank, too.

Looking beyond the short term future, the group’s moves are anyone’s guess.

Israel is also keen on preserving the current ceasefire, and it, too, is busy preparing itself for the next round of fighting, during which it plans to inflict painful blows on the Islamist rulers of Gaza.

For the time being, the IDF’s aim is to reduce rocket fire on Israel to zero, a goal that looks attainable for the first time in many years.
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