Hamas is under growing pressure-again-in the Strip. The rockets fired in the past two weeks are meant to pass that message to Israel
Two rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip, one week apart from each other. While the IDF shrugged off the first, blaming it on bad weather, it’s now clear. It was not a mistake. It was a message. Hamas is under pressure, and it’s getting worse.
The coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc in the blockaded enclave, and Hamas – which is in no mood for conflict with Israel – tends to send messages in the form of incendiary balloons or rockets when it is under pressure and needs aid.
Though the group was able to effectively deal with the deadly virus during the first wave, the blockaded coastal enclave is suffering from a harsh second wave of the coronavirus, with more than 5,517 total cases and 65 deaths, the majority since September.
The Strip’s weak healthcare infrastructure, with fewer than 3,000 beds, is unable to cope with all the sick, and is also seeing a record number of daily new cases – on Saturday alone the Health Ministry said there were 891 new cases.
Fathi Abu Warda, adviser to the Palestinian health minister in Gaza, was quoted by Wafa news agency as saying on Sunday that there was an “unprecedented hike” in the number of cases and that the European Hospital in Khan Yunis in the south of the Gaza Strip has reached its limit in receiving coronavirus cases.
Thanks to the international aid Israel has let into the Strip, Hamas has been able to increase its testing capabilities from 200 a day during the first wave to 3,500 a day, and the number of ventilators has risen to 160.
Abu Warda also said two truckloads of “urgent medical aid,” including respirators and medication for those with chronic illnesses, will enter the Strip in the coming days.
But it’s still not enough.
In addition to the coronavirus crisis, the economy is still a disaster – with the unemployment rate in Gaza close to 50%, with those who are employed earning close to nothing. The average monthly income has fallen from $244 to $29 since March.
Israel’s defense establishment and Southern Command have warned several times that there is a direct link between a worsening economy and rocket fire or incendiary balloons.
Hamas is also becoming further isolated, including from the Palestinian Authority, which recently resumed security cooperation with Israel following the victory of US President-elect Joe Biden. Following the resumption of security ties, Palestinian security forces in the West Bank are expected to renew their arrests of Hamas operatives in the territory.
The normalization of ties between Israel and Gulf states has also placed a strain on Hamas.
And that, the IDF fears, will lead to closer ties with Israel’s enemy on its northern border – Hezbollah. Already following the deal with the United Arab Emirates, Ismail Haniyeh, who heads Hamas’s political bureau, met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut.
There have been more than a dozen rounds of violent clashes between the IDF and terror groups since 2018, with thousands of rockets fired toward Israel and thousands of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets struck by the Israel Air Force in retaliation.
But all of them ended without any tangible solution, leading the IDF to change its concept toward a new approach, called “Southern Wind,” which would use higher-quality intelligence and firepower to shorten the length of an operation.
A new concept is all fine and dandy, but when push comes to shove and a large-scale military operation takes place, neither side will end up as a winner. You just have to look at the recent history of the military operations in the Gaza Strip where nothing changed, except that both sides experienced more death and destruction.
So why did the IDF echo Hamas’s lightning excuse when two rockets were fired toward central Israel?
Neither side wants a large-scale military operation, and the IDF believes that Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in the Strip, as well as the head of its military wing, Mohammed Deif, still prefer to follow the status quo and avoid confrontation with the IDF.
The rockets fired by Hamas are a message sent by Sinwar, a message that has been received and understood by Israel before. The pressure is rising and something needs to be done before the situation explodes.