In ‘cash for calm’ bid, Hamas shows it’s ready to fight

The terror group’s vast networks of tunnels give it endurance as it rains rockets on Israel — in a bid to extort concessions at a sensitive time

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 from the southern Israeli village of Netiv Ha'asara shows rockets fired from the Gaza Strip on May 4, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)
A picture taken from the southern Israeli village of Netiv Ha'asara shows rockets fired from the Gaza Strip on May 4, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Even after firing over 450 rockets at Israel since Saturday, Hamas continues to demonstrate it maintains disciplined control over its arsenal, and has escalated the conflict with Israel in a measured and deliberate way.

The terror group’s long-range rockets have not yet been deployed — a message to Israel that there is still room for talks, and that the current crisis can be ended quickly. The group’s chief demand for doing so: allowing donated cash to enter the Gaza Strip with the start of Ramadan, which begins Sunday or Monday in different parts of the Muslim world.

In another sign of Hamas’s remarkable control over the situation, in the first day and a half after the group started firing at Israel, not one of its operatives or fighters were hurt. Indeed, despite over 200 strikes by the Israeli Air Force on targets tied to the group in the Gaza Strip, its military wing did not suffer a single casualty.

That’s not because Israel’s aim is getting worse, but because Hamas is working hard to demonstrate a high level of military discipline and a dramatic improvement in its ability to operate under fire.

A picture shows the remains of a building in Gaza City on May 5, 2019, after it was hit during Israeli retaliatory air strikes on Hamas targets in the Palestinian enclave. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The entire organization has gone underground — literally, into the endless tunnels that crisscross the Gaza Strip.

Hamas has been preparing those tunnels for years in expectation of war, all the while showing it has the capacity to rain rockets continuously on Israel despite a massive air campaign against it.

At the moment, there’s no obvious way for either side to back away from the dangerous precipice on which they are perched. Despite the fact that Hamas’s top officials, including Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar, are in Cairo at the moment, alongside Islamic Jihad head Ziad Nakhla’a — ostensibly for talks on returning to the ceasefire — the terror groups don’t appear eager to end the fighting. They seem thoroughly unimpressed by demands for quiet from Egyptian intelligence officials.

A picture taken in Gaza city on May 5, 2019 shows rockets fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The Qatari envoy Muhammad al-Amadi, who was able in the past to resolve such impasses, is in the US for medical treatment, and the lack of a mediator and envoy who can restore calm — for example, by facilitating the transfer of $15 million in cash in a suitcase — is felt on the ground.

It is no longer possible to continue ignoring the woeful decision taken by the government over six months ago that created the current predicament: when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to allow suitcases into Gaza carrying $15 million in cash each month that were destined for Hamas’s coffers.

It was that decision that created the current equation of cash for calm, and which is now exacting a high cost from Israel to ensure the cash continues to flow. As soon as the cash was delayed, the deterioration was only a matter of time. Hamas understands it can extort Israel and threaten it during this week of Memorial Day and Independence Day, and with next week’s Eurovision contest.

Israeli police sappers wearing gas masks inspect the remains of a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip at the southern Israeli Kibbutz of Yad Mordechai on May 4, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The calendar, and the government’s keen desire to see the Eurovision contest go off without a hitch, limit Israel’s ability to respond to Hamas’s rocket-based taunting.

That realization has put wind in the terror group’s sails, convinced as it is that it has a window of opportunity to raise the cost for Israel of its blockade and obtain more concessions in exchange for quiet.

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