Prioritizing Violence Over Development, Hamas Resumes Arson Attacks to Coerce Concessions
Tensions are on the rise between Israel and Hamas after the terrorist group recently resumed its arson terrorism campaign, encouraging Palestinians to launch incendiary balloons and kites into Israeli territory.
Israeli aircraft and tanks targeted several terrorist sites in Gaza last week following a sustained campaign of arson attacks over the past week that ignited more than 80 fires in Israel.
Residents of Sderot, an Israeli city bordering Gaza, reported hearing explosions from these airborne weapons. Suspected explosive devices mounted to balloons were also recently found in other neighboring Israeli communities.
Two years since adopting the tactic, Hamas continues to deploy incendiary devices to agitate Israel and impose heavy costs on the Jewish state. However, the most recent escalation is mainly driven by a desire to coerce Israel into adhering to Hamas’ demands — including open border crossings and financial transfers.
Hamas told Egyptian and Qatari mediators that it is prepared to escalate violence for what it sees as Israel’s failure to adhere to understandings in a 2018 ceasefire, a Hamas official told Al-Monitor. The Hamas official acknowledged that the latest arson terror campaign is aimed to force Israel into offering further concessions.
Hamas started to plan and encourage arson terrorist attacks in March 2018, with the onset of riots on the Israel-Gaza border.
The terrorist group initially used arson terrorism as a pretext to provoke Israeli retaliation on Hamas targets in Gaza. Following Israeli reprisals, Hamas could then claim that the group was justified in launching barrages of rockets and missiles at Israel. By fueling arson terrorism and violent demonstrations on Israel’s border, Hamas was seeking to establish new “rules of engagement” with Israel, framed as a legitimate tit-for-tat confrontation.
Hamas leaders also openly acknowledged the group’s role in stoking violence on Israel’s border as a means to distract the Palestinian population from internal political problems.
Considerable evidence, including statements from its own leaders, confirms that Hamas controls the tempo of these types of attacks despite being previously framed as popular or sporadic responses from ordinary Palestinians.
Over the past two years, many of these incendiary devices landed on Israeli territory, sparking destructive fires that burn thousands of acres of crops and natural forest area. Containing the fires is a major strain on Israel’s resources, and significantly disrupts civilians’ lives.
Despite facing a growing financial and political crisis in Gaza, Hamas continues to prioritize its terrorist campaign against Israel to provoke retaliations and coerce further concessions.
But Hamas’s strategy may be backfiring. Israel restricted non-essential goods from entering Gaza through the Kerem Shalom commercial border crossing last Monday and cut Gaza’s fishing zone from 15 to eight nautical miles in response to the latest cross-border terrorist campaign. Following more terrorist attacks, Israel prohibited fuel imports to Gaza on Thursday.
Despite these measures, Israel continues to work towards improving Gaza’s deteriorating economic situation. Mossad head Yossi Cohen reportedly asked Qatari officials to continue sending money to Gaza to alleviate the economic situation in the Palestinian enclave. Qatar’s financial transfers to Gaza are set to expire in September.
But financial transfers and humanitarian projects will not fix Gaza’s financial and governance crisis as long as a terrorist organization continues to prioritize fighting Israel over the well-being of its population.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh recently told Qatar’s daily Lusail that Hamas rejected a $15 billion deal to build major economic projects in Gaza in return for disarming its military wing, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center reported.
While this agreement would benefit the people of Gaza, Haniyeh acknowledged that Hamas’ main priority is to enhance its terrorist infrastructure and facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state “from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river” — a common call for the destruction of Israel in any form.
Haniyeh’s response mirrored comments by another Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal, who previously stated that “most of Hamas’ funds and efforts are invested in the resistance and military preparations.”
Despite ongoing ceasefire negotiations with Israel, Hamas has no interest in implementing a long-term peace agreement. It only seeks to exploit a potential ceasefire to buy time and strengthen its terrorist capabilities.
Since firmly taking control of Gaza in 2007, Hamas has continuously diverted international aid and financial transfers meant for civilian reconstruction efforts to build its military capabilities — including upgrading its missile arsenal, expanding its offensive tunnel infrastructure, and developing elite units meant to infiltrate Israel.
Provocation, diversion, and coercion are just some of the reasons Hamas uses violence against Israeli civilians to remain in power and ensure a constant stream of financial assistance from abroad. This strategy may help protect Gaza from imminent collapse. But it will not lead to a sustainable resolution to Gaza’s woes.
Steve Emerson is Executive Director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, where this article first appeared.