By Tom Wilson
Since last summer’s war, things have been quiet along the Israel-Gaza border. But the calm is deceiving. No sooner had the fighting halted than Hamas was once again making preparations for its next war with Israel. Those efforts are now well underway, and while the international community’s attention is elsewhere, Hamas is busily rearming, retraining, and rebuilding the system of offensive terror tunnels from which it has launched previous attacks on Israeli border communities. Indeed, in recent days, Hamas’s armed wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, have boasted that their bases close to the Israeli border have been repaired and are ready to confront Israel’s military. So when hostilities break out once again, no one should claim to be surprised.
Preparing for the next round
With the smuggling of weapons into Gaza having been significantly disrupted, Hamas is increasingly manufacturing rockets in Gaza itself. These aren’t as powerful as some of the Iranian-supplied missiles that they have acquired in the past, but Islamist groups in Gaza have been test-firing rockets into the Mediterranean Sea, and some of these now have formidable range. At the same time, Hamas is believed to be once again diverting concrete designated for rebuilding people’s homes and using it to build tunnels and bunkers. Similarly, while the international community picks up the bill for Gaza’s humanitarian needs, Hamas has apparently found the resources to open some 18 new terror training camps since the war’s end.
Since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, there have been three major rounds of fighting between Israel and the Strip’s militants. Each time these hostilities erupt, the world reacts with surprise. Observers ponder how on earth this could have happened again, and they usually strike upon the same answer: that Hamas’s latest outburst of rocket fire must be some kind of protest at the border restrictions Israel currently places on Gaza.
Actually, it is true that there is a crushing blockade on Gaza right now. But that blockade isn’t being imposed by Israel – it is kept in place by Egypt. For weeks on end, Egypt has kept its Rafah crossing with Gaza for the most part firmly shut. This is because the current Egyptian government sees a Hamas-controlled Gaza on its border as a major security threat. Indeed, Egypt takes the threat from Hamas’s support of terrorist groups within its territory so seriously that in recent months Egypt has demolished more than 1,000 Palestinian homes on the Egyptian side of Rafah as part of its attempt to destroy smuggling tunnels there.
While the Egyptian blockade of Gaza has now become almost total, Israel is easing restrictions on the flow of goods and people across its Gaza border, recently relaxing regulations on the exports coming from Gaza and also upping the amount of building material being allowed into the Strip. Although Israelis remain understandably cautious about the risk of materials getting into Gaza that could be used for military purposes, it is now the case that almost everything (and everyone) that moves in and out of Gaza does so via the Israeli border crossings.
Digging for a motive
Frankly, if it was really objections to the limitations on Gaza’s imports and exports that were causing Hamas to fire rockets and dig terror tunnels, then they would be targeting Egyptian territory, not Israeli. While the border restrictions clearly increase hardships for Gaza’s civilian population, this is quite evidently of no concern to Hamas. As we have seen with Hamas’s notorious use of human shields, Gaza’s militant rulers know perfectly well that the more the people of Gaza are seen to suffer, the more Hamas can grab the world’s attention for its cause.
That cause is not the betterment of the Palestinian people, but rather to wage war on the Jewish state until it is eradicated. Such an objective is made clear in Hamas’s racist and annihilationist founding documents, and there is simply no evidence to suggest that the organization has moderated since those documents were written.
Wishful thinking on the part of Westerners will do nothing to change this reality, and yet as was evident during the war this summer, there’s a great deal of attempted whitewashing that still goes on about Hamas. Most popular has been the claim that Hamas is the democratically elected government of Gaza. Yes, Hamas did win the Palestinian legislative election all the way back in 2006, but having murdered much of the opposition in Gaza, and having never held any subsequent elections, no one genuinely concerned with democracy could use that word in defense of Hamas.
Then there have been claims that the West should engage with Hamas’s political wing, just not its military one. But to believe this could work is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of Hamas. In reality, the various wings of Hamas are indivisible. Hamas’s political leadership conceive of themselves as committed Jihadists and issue the orders for the acts of terror that the military wing carries out.
More recently there has been the suggestion that Hamas has moderated and would be prepared to make a temporary truce (a Hudna) with Israel in return for certain concessions. The problem is that the concessions Hamas demands are inevitably aimed at allowing it to rearm more effectively. The truces offered are never about moving toward a sustainable coexistence, but rather about allowing Hamas to live on to fight another day, and to fight all the more fiercely once the truce is ended.
This was where many Western leaders went wrong during previous cease-fire negotiations. The emphasis was always on which of Hamas’s demands Israel should be persuaded to grant so as to end the fighting as quickly as possible. Interestingly, Egyptian mediators on the other hand understood that Hamas must be granted no rewards for initiating violence, and so last summer Cairo didn’t appear to be in any hurry to broker an agreement.
Making concessions to Hamas not only greatly undermines Palestinian moderates, it also incentivizes Hamas to provoke further conflict in the future. Those incentives have now been heard loudly and clearly in Gaza, where Hamas is hard at work assembling the means to fight a fourth war against Israel. To avoid that happening, and for the sake of civilians on all sides, the international community must put in place a comprehensive plan for disarming Hamas. Instead, most world leaders appear to be looking the other way.