Hamas may wish to emulate Hezbollah, but Gaza is no Lebanon

Palestinian terror group acknowledges its weak position by avoiding escalation of violence over IDF airstrikes, trying to earn points by saying it ‘banished’ IAF jets

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.

File: Masked operatives from the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas terror group, ride vehicles as they commemorate the 30th anniversary of their group, in Gaza City, December 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
File: Masked operatives from the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas terror group, ride vehicles as they commemorate the 30th anniversary of their group, in Gaza City, December 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

A few minutes after Israeli warplanes struck a series of targets, mostly belonging to Hamas, in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, the terrorist group’s military wing published a statement saying its air defense teams had banished the “cowardly enemy’s” planes, implying there had been anti-aircraft fire toward them.

It wouldn’t be the first — or last — time anti-aircraft fire has been directed at Israeli fighter jets in Gaza. The Israeli air force has for years operated under the understanding that Hamas has relatively simple shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.

It is also not the first time Hamas has boasted of anti-aircraft abilities it probably doesn’t possess.

But this time around, the remarks have added significance in light of the downing of an Israeli F-16 jet a week ago by the Syrian army in the north.

In other words, Hamas is striving to be — or  to be perceived as — militarily comparable to the Syrian army, or Hezbollah at the least.

Quite apart from the sometimes pathetic attempts by Hamas to liken itself to Hezbollah, which has become one of the world’s most well-armed armies, the Gaza-ruling Palestinian Sunni group that threatens Israel from the south and the Lebanese-Iranian Shiite group that threatens Israel from the north have become remarkably close over the past few months.

Things have changed since the overt conflict in 2011 between the Hamas leadership then in Damascus headed by Khaled Mashaal and the “axis of evil” headed by Iran, despite the natural enmity between the two organizations due to their contrasting religious affiliation.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, right, meets with the political leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal, left, in Beirut’s southern suburb, Lebanon, January 15, 2010 photo credit: AP)

Hamas’s leaders abroad, such as its deputy political chief Saleh al-Arouri and foreign relations chief Osama Hamdan, have been staying in Lebanon under Hezbollah’s protection.

Arouri lives in Dahieh, the Hezbollah-ruled Shiite quarter in Beirut. Hamdan is active throughout the Arab world but mainly in Lebanon. He has been posting near-daily photos of his meetings in and out of Lebanon, including with Hezbollah members and associates. Several months ago, Hamdan’s brother was injured in a mysterious explosion in southern Lebanon, in what was alleged to be an assassination attempt by the Israeli Mossad spy agency.

This warming of ties re-raises the possibility of cooperation between Hamas and Hezbollah in the event of a war with Israel, paving the way for a multi-front conflict.

Declarations along these lines have recently been voiced by several Palestinian figures, not only from Hamas but also from the Islamic Jihad, in the form of noncommittal statements suggesting that in the event of a war between Hezbollah and Israel in the north, the Palestinians in Gaza would join in.

Such a scenario obviously cannot be taken lightly, and indeed Israel’s security establishment is troubled by it. But still, Gaza  isn’t Lebanon and Hamas is no Hezbollah.

In this July 14, 2006 photo, Lebanese youths gather on a hilltop overlooking the city of Beirut in Lebanon at sunset to watch smoke continuing to billow from a fuel dump at Beirut International Airport, which was hit by an Israeli airstrike. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

The military damage caused to Hamas and Gaza in that event would be much more severe than the damage dealt to Hezbollah and Lebanon. Hamas’s military capabilities are far weaker than Hezbollah’s, and more importantly, Gaza’s economy doesn’t have the tools to deal with another war resembling that of the summer of 2014. Hamas chiefs in Gaza know this too; hence, the likelihood of a multi-fronted war against Israel remains low.

On Saturday we witnessed a demonstration of Hamas’s understanding of the weakness of its position. A bomb planted ahead of time by Palestinian “protesters” near the border fence, under a Palestinian flag, wounded four IDF soldiers.

The attack was probably committed by those groups described as “rogue” in the Strip, meaning not Hamas or the Islamic Jihad. Still, since it was committed during Hamas-organized demonstrations at the border, the terror group is also partly to blame for the incident. Such a scenario wouldn’t have been possible in Lebanon, where no group could carry out an attack against IDF soldiers without the knowledge of Hezbollah.

The Israeli reaction to the attack was swift, with several Hamas sites being targeted throughout the Strip. Hamas, having understood its weakness and the danger of escalating tensions with Israel, opted for restraint — restraint cloaked by a grandiose statement of its anti-aircraft “banishing” the Israeli jets.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed