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October 16, 2018 5:58 am

Hamas Probes Israel’s Defenses, Ups Ante With Crossbows

avatar by Yoni Ben Menachem / JNS.org

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Tear gas canisters are fired by Israeli troops at Palestinian demonstrators during a protest marking al-Quds Day, (Jerusalem Day), at the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City, June 8, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Mohammed Salem.

JNS.org – Friday was particularly violent on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip. Around 15,000 people participated in demonstrations in which seven Palestinians were killed and 250 wounded. An especially severe incident occurred in the vicinity of Bureij in central Gaza.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh made a surprise appearance at one of the demonstrations, fanning the flames further.

Hamas announced the next day that it was responding to violent incidents on the Gaza border, stating “the Palestinian people have a strategic arsenal of unending heroism and fighting ability, which is making the Occupation’s attempt to conquer it impossible.”

The announcement continued: “The great struggle at the Gaza border expresses real progress in standing against the enemy at point-blank range.”

From an IDF investigation, it emerged that Palestinians detonated a large explosive device on the border fence. The explosives blew a large hole in the fence, through which around 20 terrorists infiltrated into Israel under the cover of a dense cloud of smoke created by burning tires. An IDF force fired at them to push them back. Most of them returned to Gaza, but three of them continued to move on toward a military outpost, where they were shot and killed.

It appears that this was an attempt to test the IDF’s reaction to see if a deadly attack or kidnapping of soldiers on the Gaza border could be carried out to change the balance of the conflict, giving Hamas the upper hand. After abducting soldiers, the Palestinians would demand the complete removal of the embargo on the Gaza Strip.

The violent events at the Gaza border are no surprise. Anyone who believed that the diplomatic-security measure of allowing Qatari industrial fuel into the Gaza Strip to increase the electricity supply would calm the situation was much mistaken. Appetite increases with food, and Hamas did not launch its “March of Return” war of attrition against Israel on March 30 just to be satisfied with the minor step of increasing the supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas interpreted the entrance of Qatari industrial fuel to Gaza as the beginning of Israel’s capitulation. But six months of ineffective demonstrations have not achieved anything connected with easing the embargo. Therefore, Hamas has decided to increase military pressure on Israel. The ultimate goal of Hamas has not changed. It is the complete removal of the Israeli embargo, and until this is achieved the violent demonstrations at the border fence will continue.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced the halt of industrial fuel supplies into Gaza in response to the violence at the border on the weekend. This step follows a restriction on the fishing zones permitted to Gaza fishermen, but these measures will not put a stop to Hamas’s strategic decision to continue the demonstrations.

An attempt to gain bargaining chips

Over the past few weeks, Hamas has intensified the violence on the border after the failure of talks with Egyptian intelligence services in Cairo on reconciliation and calm, and the refusal of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to remove the sanctions that he imposed on the Gaza Strip.

The number of participants in the demonstrations has risen to 20,000 people. Extensive use has been made of lethal tactics such as throwing explosive charges and grenades at IDF soldiers, and there has been a rise in terror attacks caused by sending incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.

On Oct. 12, 2018, Hamas began to deploy a new archery unit in the Rafiah area called “the arrow unit,” with crossbows aiming arrows at IDF soldiers.

At the same time, Hamas supplemented its burning tires and started to use smoke generators at the border to create heavy smoke screens to shield Gazan rioters and allow them to get closer to the border fence and infiltrate into Israel.

Hamas has turned the violent demonstrations at the Gaza border into 24/7 events to get IDF soldiers accustomed to the ongoing presence of Palestinian activists at the fence, including at night.

These nightly activities are carried out by a special unit called the “night confusion units,” which burn tires, sound sirens, blind IDF soldiers with lasers, and more.

Hamas’s overall objective is to take the IDF by surprise by blowing up the fence at several points and infiltrating into Israeli territory to harm IDF soldiers or abduct them and take them into the Gaza Strip.

Hamas is making significant efforts to take the IDF by surprise. The precedent of the Gilad Shalit deal in 2011 — in which one Israeli soldier was traded for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners — has strengthened the feeling among Hamas that Israel is prepared to pay a heavy price for bringing back captured soldiers alive.

Therefore, the objective of Hamas is to cut through the fence under a heavy smokescreen, creating a diversion so that it can get into Israeli territory and kidnap soldiers from their outposts along the border fence.

At the same time, under the ground, Hamas continues its tunnel digging. On Oct. 11, Israel uncovered and destroyed another Gaza tunnel (the 15th in the last year) that penetrated 100 meters into Israeli territory. Using such a tunnel in 2006, Hamas abducted Shalit.

Attrition of the IDF

In the internal dispute among the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, the winning side has been those who believe that the border demonstrations should not be moderated to reduce the injuries among Palestinian youth from IDF fire. They seek to keep the nature of the demonstrations “peaceful and non-violent” to gain the support of the international community.

Hamas has concluded that the absence of violent friction with the IDF reduces pressure on Israel, and therefore the demonstrations must be extreme.

The establishment of the “night confusion units” is intended to bother the IDF at all hours of the day and night, making it harder for it to strike at the demonstrators operating under cover of darkness.

Sources in Hamas claim that the continuing “March of Return” campaign is disturbing the sense of security of the residents of the Israeli communities bordering Gaza, deterring more “settlers” from coming to live in the towns along the border. This way, the campaign is scuppering Israel’s plans to expand the population of the Negev and the southern parts of the country.

Hamas believes that the campaign is also strengthening its position in Palestinian society and is getting the international community to understand that the Palestinian problem is still alive and that the residents of Gaza need to receive their full rights.

The Hamas leadership is not interested in an all-out military confrontation with Israel. The Gaza street is strongly opposed to this, and the Hamas leadership understands that a new war with Israel will result in substantial damage to the organization. Therefore, the idea is to continue with the “March of Return” campaign, which will not cost the organization too much and will maintain its rule without paying too high a price for terror.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

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