IDF warns Gaza tensions could erupt into new conflict — report

Situation reminiscent of eve of the 2014 Gaza conflict, though Hamas not looking for a fight, defense officials reportedly tell ministers

Members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, take part in a rally in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 5, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, take part in a rally in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 5, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces has reportedly warned senior government ministers the situation in the Gaza Strip is incendiary and could lead to a new round of violence with Hamas.

Senior defense officials told ministers at Sunday’s briefing for the high-level security cabinet that the Gaza-based terrorist group has no interest in starting another conflict with Israel, but the situation may nonetheless get out of hand, Hadashot news reported on Tuesday.

Ministers told the TV station they were informed by the military of a feeling of despair in Gaza due to the persistent humanitarian crisis there, the failure of the reconciliation deal between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and the ongoing tensions in recent weeks over Jerusalem after US President Donald Trump recognized the city as the capital of Israel.

The military told the ministers the situation is reminiscent of the tensions on the eve of the 2014 Gaza conflict, Operation Protective Edge, according to the TV report.

During Sunday’s security cabinet meeting, ministers reportedly suggested bringing in workers from Gaza to work in Israeli communities near the border, in a bid to  defuse tensions. The Shin Bet opposed the plan.

Other proposals related to the transfer of goods to Gaza and a call to establish a seaport on an artificial island off the coast, an idea that has been floated in the past by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz.

Still from Al-Jazeera’s footage, broadcast on Wednesday, August 6, showing Hamas gunmen, weapons and tunnels in place ahead of Hamas’s breach of the truce on August 8 (MEMRI screenshot)

In response to the defense warnings, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayahu ordered the head of the Israel National Security Council to form a plan of action and present it to the security cabinet within three weeks, the report said.

Hamas responded to Trump’s December 6 announcement by calling for a new intifada or uprising against Israel. The terrorist group has urged Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers, and has allowed thousands of Gazans to confront Israeli troops at the Gaza border fence since the announcement. Its leader Ismail Haniyeh has urged the liberation of Jerusalem, and made plain the group was seeking to intensify violence against Israel.

Since the announcement, there was an uptick in rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, which has since mostly subsided.

According to the military assessments, Gazans are disappointed by the failure of its leaders to follow through on the much-hyped reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, which has been hampered by squabbling and the terrorist group’s refusal to give up its arms.

Hamas was also strained by the humanitarian crisis plaguing the enclave, the electricity shortages, high unemployment, and refusal by the Palestinian Authority to pay civil servants’ salaries. 

Palestinian children do their homework by candlelight during a power outage in Gaza City on September 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The terrorist group was also reportedly concerned by Israel’s recent successes in discovering and destroying cross-border attack tunnels extending into Israel.

Hamas has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the tunneling operations. But following the recent IDF destruction of two tunnels, Israeli officials have been confidently predicting the tunnel threat will soon be neutralized by a high-tech and physical barrier currently under construction. The barrier, a massive concrete wall that extends deep underground, also includes technologies to detect the tunnels.

Hamas has used tunnels to infiltrate Israeli territory and carry out attacks, including during the 2014 50-day conflict and in the 2006 abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Shalit was released after five years in captivity in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in a 2011 deal.

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