Yahya Sinwar on Saturday said Hamas had only displayed half its strength during the most recent round of fighting with Israel, and denied the Israeli military’s claim that a significant portion of the terror group’s tunnel network had been destroyed.
“We showed only half our strength. We managed to launch 130 rockets on Tel Aviv in one barrage and we only launched our old rockets in the last campaign,” Sinwar said in comments at a conference in Gaza. “We shook Tel Aviv — there are a lot of things hidden from the public.”
Sinwar referred to the recent normalization between Israel and Arab countries, seen as a betrayal by many Palestinians. “Arab leaders made Tel Aviv the direction of their prayers. We turned it into a rag,” he said.
During May’s 11-day conflict, southern Israel suffered the majority of rocket hits. Most of the rockets fired at Tel Aviv and its suburbs were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, with a few getting through. Three people were killed — two in Rishon Lezion and one in Ramat Gan. In all, 13 Israelis (12 civilians) were killed during the conflict that saw thousands of projectiles fired at southern and central Israel.
The terror leader also said that any future fighting would “reshape” the region, and cited the need to “defend” Jerusalem.
“Every Palestinian will defend us remaining in Jerusalem and in Sheikh Jarrah,” Sinwar said. “If the conflict breaks out again — the shape of the Middle East will change. We have proven that there are those who defend the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Sinwar threatened last week to resume rocket attacks if Israel “violates” the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, while a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing told a crowd of supporters that it will respond to any Israeli escalation in kind, after some Israeli officials called for a harsher response to the terror group, including the renewal of assassinations of Hamas leaders.
Hamas used violence in the capital as a pretext to launch rockets on Jerusalem last month, sparking 11 days of intense fighting that saw more than 4,000 rockets fired at Israel and the IDF carry out some 1,500 retaliatory strikes on Gaza.
The initial barrage was fired by Hamas during the controversial flag parade in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 10. Parade organizers said Friday they plan to hold a new march on June 10, including through the Muslim Quarter. It is not yet clear whether police will allow it to go forward.
Sinwar also pushed back against Israel’s claims that it had destroyed a significant part of the terror group’s Gaza tunnel system in recent fighting, known in the Israeli defense establishment as Gaza’s “metro.”
He said that “not even 3 percent was destroyed.”
The comments came a day after the Al-Jazeera network aired footage filmed in the tunnels in an apparent bid by Hamas to refute Israel’s claim that it had severely damaged the network.
In the footage, cited by the Kan public broadcaster, a Hamas operative admits that there was damage to the tunnels but asserts that it was limited and that the system has already been repaired.
Al-Jazeera said the footage was filmed after the end of the most recent round of fighting between Israel and the Gaza terror groups.
The report showed the concrete-lined walls of tunnels and a command and control room that was said to have been used during the recent fighting, as well as ammunition stores.
The claims by the terror group contradict the IDF, which has said that it destroyed upwards of 100 kilometers (60 miles) of Hamas tunnels in the Gaza Strip in recent fighting.
This rendered unusable large swaths of the terror group’s subterranean infrastructure — roughly a third of it, according to IDF assessments — and, more importantly, demonstrated to Hamas’s operatives that they were vulnerable to attack in their underground bunkers.
The IDF’s assault on Hamas’s tunnel network kicked off in earnest with a massive round of airstrikes on the fourth night of the conflict, which was accompanied by an elaborate ruse that was meant to convince the terror group that Israel was about to launch a ground invasion of the Strip and that it should therefore send its fighters into the passages beneath northern Gaza.
Defense officials initially boasted they believed hundreds of fights had entered the tunnels and been killed in the subsequent bombing. However, it eventually became clear that the ploy saw only limited success, and that perhaps several dozen Hamas men were killed.
Israel’s ability to consistently strike subterranean targets was also said to be aimed at sending a message to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which maintains its own massive underground complex of tunnels and bunkers.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.