Analysis by Jotam Confino.
It seems as if Israel and the UN can agree on one thing; The situation in Gaza is a disaster and will soon become a humanitarian crisis, if it isn’t already one. According to Israel, Hamas is responsible for the failing infrastructure, including electricity blackouts and water that is undrinkable. The conclusion of the situation in Gaza by Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai from the IDF, is not far from the 2015 UN report, which predicted Gaza would become uninhabitable by 2020 if the economic trends were to continue. So far, the economic trends have continued, which is also the conclusion of the World Bank:
“Donor support has significantly declined in recent years, and naturally aid cannot sustainably make up for inadequate private investment, anyway constrained by weak investor confidence because of ongoing restrictions and the lack of political progress”.
Another vital aspect of the situation in Gaza is the unemployment rate among the youth, and the fact that a large part of the Palestinians are dependent on aid:
“Youth unemployment in Gaza is particularly worrying at 58%. And, although nearly 80% of Gaza’s residents receive some form of aid, poverty rates are very high”.
Sadly, it’s only a matter of time before the next Gaza war will erupt, and leave the civilians in an even worse situation than now. With a population that is growing tired of Hamas, the leaders of the group need to convince the Palestinians that Israel is responsible for the economic disaster, and Hamas is the only actor that can punish Israel.
The inevitable war
Although Hamas has tried to avoid a conflict with Israel since 2014, there is a limit to the patience of both the Hamas leadership and the Israeli government. A number of recent developments indicate that both Israel and Hamas will clash in the near future.
Last month, an unknown gunman killed a Hamas military leader, Mazen Fuqaha, in Gaza, but the Hamas leadership were quick to hold Israel responsible, stating, “it clearly bears Mossad’s fingerprints”. The military wing of Hamas, Iz al-Din al-Qassam, vowed to punish Israel for the alleged assassination, but an attack hasn’t been launched yet. The political as well as military leadership in Hamas may be punishing Islamic Jihad for firing rockets into Israel, but that doesn’t mean Hamas isn’t trying to attack Israel in other ways.
The Shin Bet security service chief, Nadav Argaman, recently said that hundreds of potential terror attacks had been averted last year, and that “the relative quiet at this time is a deceptive quiet, because Hamas and Global Jihad are trying to mount attacks in Israel every day”. Whether one chooses to believe the Shin Bet chief or not, it is true that Israel has arrested a number of Hamas militants during the past year, due to alleged terror planning.
More importantly, Yahya Sinwar was elected leader of Hamas in Gaza in February, replacing Ismael Haniyeh. Yahya Sinwar is considered a strongman of the military wing in Hamas, which could be a sign that a hardline position against Israel will influence decisions in the future. The new leader of Gaza was released from Israeli prison as part of a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas in 2011, serving a life sentence for the murder of Palestinians believed to be collaborating with Israel.
Last week’s execution in Gaza of three Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel, could very well be a sign that Yahya Sinwar is trying to show that the new leadership will not tolerate traitors. The Palestinian Authority condemned the executions and referred to Palestinian law that requires the President to approve executions.
In contrast to its restraint with regard to rocket firings from Gaza into Israel, Hamas issued a video in February, warning “rockets will reach you, Zionists, no matter where you are”. Shortly after the assassination of Mazen Fuqaha, another video was issued a video threatening to target Israeli officials, such as Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff, Gadi Eisenkot. In connection with the release of the video, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, announced, “We accept the challenge”.
The report on the Gaza war in 2014 by Israel’s state comptroller, Joseph Shapira, criticized the Netanyahu government at the time for poor decision-making, withholding information from the Security Cabinet, and not prioritizing the tunnels dug by Hamas.
Especially the latter is now being prioritized, with more than NIS 600 million invested in technology to detect and destroy tunnels, and training IDF soldiers in dealing with the threats from the tunnels. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned that the next Gaza war would be the last, as to indicate that Hamas will be destroyed, but in February this year, he offered Hamas to build a port, an airport and industrial zones, if they would give up firing rockets and building tunnels. Lieberman further said that Israel isn’t seeking a war but “any provocation will be met with a powerful response”.
Both Hamas and Israel are not hoping for a war, but they weren’t exactly hoping for one in 2014 either. In a tense situation as the Israeli-Palestinian, with almost daily killings on each side, things can change very quickly. The incidents that led to the 2014 war is the latest proof of that, and with a bad evaluation of the last war hanging over Netanyahu, he could very well end up trying to teach Hamas a final lesson. If there is one thing we have learned from Netanyahu, it’s that he will not let a chance pass by to show the Israelis how much he cares about their security. If Hamas succeeds in an attack inside Israel or Hamas abducts a soldier, a new war in Gaza will be an inevitable reaction. There are numerous scenarios of how Israel and Hamas might end up engaging in yet another war, but one thing is for sure; The civilians will pay the price once more, and the bleak prospects that both the UN and Israel gave Gaza will end up being true.
Jotam Confino is the editor of Republic Paper and has written extensively about the Middle East in the Danish media. He holds a BA in International Relations and an M.A in Security & Diplomacy.