Empty threats from Istanbul, but in Gaza things are heating up for real

Over a dozen rockets fired at Israel in a matter of days can only mean one thing: Hamas has given its blessing for the attacks

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

A picture taken on December 10, 2017 shows a tear gas canister falling amid Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli forces near the Israel-Gaza border east of the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis. (MAHMUD HAMS/AFP)
A picture taken on December 10, 2017 shows a tear gas canister falling amid Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli forces near the Israel-Gaza border east of the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis. (MAHMUD HAMS/AFP)

As Arab and Muslim leaders talk themselves blue in the face at a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, making grandiose statements and threats against Israel, there are those in Gaza who are less content with mere words, and are actively working to bring about another war between Hamas and Israel.

The Gaza-based terrorist group supposedly does not want such a war, but the firing of over a dozen rockets at Israel in less than a week can mean only one thing: Hamas has given its blessing to these attacks for its own reasons.

It’s not just US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, though that is part of it. The announcement spurred anger in the Strip, seen in the Hamas-facilitated daily demonstrations along the border fence with Israel. Hamas media outlets are working to maximize the sense of conflict at the group’s rallies, encouraging Gazans to flock to the border en masse to protest the changed US policy.

Meanwhile in the West Bank, the “Intifada for the liberation of Jerusalem,” as Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh called it, has refused to take off or gain any meaningful momentum, but has not entirely disappeared either. Every day has seen demonstrations, riots and other violent incidents. Participation rates are low, but so long as the low-level protests continue, the potential for escalation there remains as well.

But Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem is only one of several factors shaping Hamas’s tactics.

On Thursday, Hamas will mark 30 years since its founding, and in such tumultuous times, it cannot afford to be seen as preventing or discouraging other groups from firing rockets at Israel. While it has stopped rocket fire by other groups in the past, it would be embarrassing for Hamas to be perceived as holding back rival Palestinian groups on its anniversary and in the wake of Trump’s announcement.

Palestinian protesters prepare to burn a picture of US President Donald Trump in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on December 6, 2017, ahead of US
President Donald Trump’s expected announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Add this to the wide-reaching humanitarian crisis in Gaza that has not abated in recent months despite the reconciliation talks between Hamas and its West Bank-based rival, Fatah.

Talks between the two Palestinian factions are ostensibly ongoing, but so far nothing has been solved in Gaza. In fact, electricity shortages have worsened in recent days. On Wednesday, Gaza residents had three hours of power followed by around 24 hours of blackout. Egyptian trucks transporting diesel fuel to the Gaza power plant have stopped arriving due to internal problems in Egypt, further exacerbating the shortages.

In addition, as of mid-December, the November salaries for some 45,000 Hamas employees in Gaza had yet to be paid. The Ramallah leadership is refusing to pay the salaries until Fatah and Hamas resolve their outstanding disagreements.

And so, ironically, while Arab and Muslim leaders — including those seen as Hamas allies such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — speak of Jerusalem, Gaza is forgotten.

Suddenly, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation and wage disputes have disappeared from the Arab agenda, only to be replaced by futile discussions and empty statements regarding the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

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