PALESTINIAN Insights By Avi Melamed

Palestinian Insights by Avi Melamed

Saturday, 7 October 2023

Hamas And The Islamic Jihad Organization Launched A War Against Israel

At this stage, I would like to offer some assessments regarding the situation.

First, from an immediate military standpoint, the question is whether this is an opening move as part of a broader Iranian scheme for a multi-front war against Israel?

As part of its hegemonic vision, Iran is advancing a military plan to eradicate Israel. A central component of the Iranian plan is the creation of a “ring of fire” in three areas bordering Israel – the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and Syria.

Today, the Gaza front was activated.

We must now pay close attention to the other fronts – Especially Hezbollah in Lebanon. Will they join the war?

In addition, we need to closely monitor developments in the West Bank under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

And we must keep our finger on the pulse in Israel itself – especially in mixed Arab-Jewish communities and along the seam lines between Jewish and Arab communities.

Why did Hamas initiate the war?

Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, is ideologically and militarily committed to the destruction of the State of Israel.

The reality that Hamas has created in Gaza for the Palestinians in Gaza has worsened. And with it, the criticism from Palestinians and the Arab world towards Hamas has grown.

Over the past year, against a backdrop of a dire socio-economic situation in Gaza, this criticism has translated into open calls by Gaza residents to overthrow Hamas.

In light of this reality, Israel significantly eased the entry of tens of thousands of workers from Gaza, thus alleviating their plight. The Israeli policy served Hamas’s interest in calming tensions in Gaza.

So why did Hamas initiate a war?

The explanation, in my estimation, lies in a combination of two processes – one internal Palestinian and the other regional.

Internal

From the internal Palestinian perspective, Hamas competes with the Palestinian Authority for the leadership of the Palestinians.

The core narrative of Hamas is that it protects the Palestinians and that it will lead Palestinians – through armed struggle – to a Palestinian victory over the State of Israel.

The Palestinian Authority criticizes Hamas for this approach, arguing Hamas has led Gaza towards devastation and despair.

Hamas has recently faced increased criticism not only for its responsibility for Gaza’s dire reality. But also because, during two violent rounds between Israel and the Islamic Jihad organization in Gaza, Hamas sat on the fence and did not intervene. This criticism has severely damaged Hamas’s image.

All of this has put pressure on Hamas.

Regional

The Abraham Accords and the rapprochement process between Israel and Saudi Arabia deepen feelings of frustration, disappointment, and despair among the Palestinians, who feel the Arab world has abandoned them.

This sentiment has been exacerbated by the fact that Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince, openly speaks about an Israeli-Saudi agreement. But he does not condition an agreement upon the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, nor does he condition it on finding a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.

Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority and also the head of the Fatah organization (the largest party in the Palestinian Authority), cautiously criticized bin Salman’s position.

By launching this war, Hamas made the decision to send a clear message: We will not be sidelined. It is the Palestinians who will dictate the course of events.

The Israeli Response

Israel is in shock.

 The scenario of the occupation of Israeli settlements was always one of Israel’s worst nightmares. Today, this scenario has come true.

Israel’s military defense strategy against the threat from Gaza has failed. This failure will have many and not simple repercussions for Israel in many respects and over time.

In the first stage, the war initiated by Hamas, and its achievements, highlights Israel’s dilemma vis a vis the threat from Gaza. Should Israel come to terms with a constant threat that escalates from time to time? Or should Israel act militarily to topple Hamas’s rule?

So far, the prevailing approach was that Israel should avoid reoccupying the Gaza Strip. Given the severe outcomes of the attack, the public’s shock and anger, the government’s severe crisis facing widespread public criticism, the fact that Netanyahu’s right-wing government partners openly call for the overthrow of Hamas, and the fact that Netanyahu positions himself as the one who guarantees Israel’s security – there might be a decision to topple Hamas’s rule through military action.

The coming days will answer the question of where Israel is heading…

The war could have almost conflicting implications for the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On the one hand, assuming that the Hamas regime does not collapse, Hamas can leverage and maximize its achievement in several ways.

Assuming that Hamas is holding Israeli prisoners, it could lead to the release of thousands of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel. This will position Hamas as the unrivaled leader of the Palestinians. Hamas will aim to overthrow the Palestinian Authority and take over the West Bank, thus positioning itself as a regional player supported by a regional power – Iran, which has an operational, ideological, and political interest in constantly fueling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This means that the chance for a stable agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, which is already weak, will become even weaker.

On the other hand, the war initiated by Hamas, aiming to dictate the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, might produce an outcome that could be counter to Hamas’s and Iran’s interests.

It is possible that the war, whatever its consequences, will expedite – not delay or stop – an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel, the USA, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian Authority have a significant interest in neutralizing Hamas and Iran’s achievements.

The war initiated by Hamas against Israel on October 7, 2023 is a significant turning point in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in the regional context. We are in the early stages of the shock waves.

This is a pivotal moment whose ramifications are regional.

July 2, 2023

Navigating the Volatility: A Delicate Balance for Israel and the Palestinian Authority

The recent terrorist attack in the West Bank, which claimed the lives of four Israeli civilians, highlights the volatile situation in the Palestinian Authority (PA) areas and underscores the escalating security tensions in the region. Several factors contribute to this process.

Firstly, the PA’s control over its territories has weakened due to internal political power struggles within the Fatah cabinet, the loss of legitimacy resulting from corruption allegations, and the failure to address the economic and welfare needs of the population.

Secondly, armed Palestinian militias have emerged within the PA territories. Groups like the Islamic Jihad openly control areas such as the Jenin refugee camp, using them as bases for launching attacks against Israeli targets. Additionally, independent militias like the Lion’s Den in Nablus have emerged, operating outside the influence of major Palestinian factions.

Thirdly, violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the West Bank have exacerbated tensions and contributed to the escalation.

Lastly, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), with support from Iran, are actively working to create ongoing violence in the West Bank, aiming to undermine the PA and its political rival, Fatah. The recent attack was carried out by Palestinians associated with Hamas.

As a response to the weakening control of the PA and growing threats from its territories, Israel has intensified its military activities in the region to suppress terrorism and prevent further attacks. Under the Oslo Accords, Israel has the authority to act in PA territories to counter terrorism if the PA fails to do so. However, such military operations often result in Palestinian casualties, fueling revenge-driven aspirations and further attacks against Israeli targets.

The recent attack and the overall escalation present a dilemma for both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

From Israel’s perspective, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has built his political image around uncompromisingly fighting terrorism and ensuring security. However, under his government, terrorism has intensified. Right-wing elements within his coalition demand a broad military operation in the PA territories as a revenge-driven response. Netanyahu faces personal and political distress, with opposition growing within the Israeli public, strained relations with the Biden administration, and a deepening divide with American Jewry. While a military operation may demonstrate control and initiative, it risks escalating violence, straining relations with the US, and playing into the hands of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. It is likely that the Israeli military and intelligence establishment do not support such an operation.

The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, derives its legitimacy from the Oslo Accords and international recognition and support. To maintain its position, it must actively combat terrorism within its territories. However, doing so aggressively could lead to internal conflicts and the disintegration of the PA. Conversely, refraining from action would deepen the escalation and further weaken the PA.

In the current circumstances, it is unlikely that a broad Israeli military operation will follow the recent attack. Both Israel and the PA share a common goal of stabilizing the situation and avoiding further escalation. As a result, the foreseeable future will likely involve deepening intelligence cooperation between the two sides to target and neutralize Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants within PA territories. The PA may also exert non-military pressure to restrict the activities of known terrorists. Efforts to strengthen the PA, particularly economically, will be important, and recent discussions about gas production cooperation in the Gaza field demonstrate potential avenues for collaboration. It is also possible that Israel may exert leverage on Hamas in Gaza to discourage violence originating from PA territories while sparing Gaza from the escalation.

In conclusion, the security escalation in the West Bank poses a significant risk of the Palestinian Authority’s disintegration and potential Israeli military intervention to prevent the rise of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other militant elements. However, for now, both sides have room to maneuver and a shared interest in stabilizing the situation and avoiding further violence. This will shape their tactical policies, focusing on intelligence cooperation, non-military pressure, and measures to strengthen the PA economically. It remains to be seen how these efforts will unfold and whether they will effectively address the underlying issues driving the current escalation.

June 21, 2023

The terrorist attack (June 20), in which four Israeli civilians were killed in an area under Israeli control in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria (June 20), highlights the volatility of the situation in the Palestinian Authority areas of the West Bank and reflects an accelerated process of security escalation in the West Bank.

This process is due to several factors :

  1. The weakening of the PA’s control over the areas under its control, against the background of a political power struggle in the ranks of the Fatah cabinet, the backbone of the Palestinian Authority, the loss of legitimacy of the PA in the eyes of the Palestinian public due to corruption, and the failure to meet the needs of the population in Rasha, first and foremost in the areas of economy and welfare.
  2. The appearance of armed Palestinian militias in PA territory. Thus, for example, the Jenin refugee camp has become a stronghold openly controlled by the Islamic Jihad, which builds an infrastructure for initiating terrorist attacks against targets in Israeli territory and against Israeli targets in the West Bank in attempts to create a rocket threat similar to the model of Gaza. A militia called the Lion’s Den appeared in the city of Nablus, which is not affiliated with Hamas or Fatah or the Islamic Jihad organization.
  3. Violent friction between Palestinians and Israeli civilians living in the West Bank in communities known as settlements
  4. Focusing efforts on the part of Hamas and the PIJ, with active Iranian support, to create ongoing and escalating violence in the West Bank, with the interest of bringing about the disintegration of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, their ideological and political rival. The attack on June 20 was carried out by Palestinians identified as Hamas operatives.
  5. The weakening of the PA’s control and the increasing threats from PA territory lead to intensive Israeli military activity designed to suppress both terrorists and thwart the initiation of terrorist attacks. When they come to the Oslo Accords, Israel has the legitimacy to act in the Palestinian Authority territories to downplay terrorism if the PA fails to do so. Military activity in PA territory causes a large number of Palestinian casualties – the vast majority of them militants, fueling Palestinian revenge aspirations, manifested, inter alia, in attacks carried out by individuals against Israeli targets, mainly in the West Bank.

The attack – and the escalation process in general – places Israel and the Palestinian Authority in a dilemma.

The Israeli Angle:

Benjamin Netanyahu markets himself as someone who fights terrorism uncompromisingly and as someone who will bring security and stability. But the facts are that in the current era of Netanyahu’s government, terrorism has greatly intensified. Israeli extreme right-wing elements on which Benjamin Netanyahu’s government relies demand that he carry out a broad Israeli military operation in the Palestinian Authority (a demand reflecting an impulsive response of revenge). Netanyahu is in severe personal and political distress. His government’s agenda, dictated in large parts by his right-wing partners, is provoking outrage and opposition in large parts of the The Israeli public. Netanyahu’s absolute control over the Likud party has weakened considerably. The Biden administration refuses to host Netanyahu, and at the same time the rift between Netanyahu and the central leadership of American Jewry is deepening. The attack presents Netanyahu with a dilemma. On the one hand, Israeli military action could theoretically meet Netanyahu’s need to demonstrate control and initiative. However, on the other hand, there is a very high probability that the achievements of such a military operation could be a Pyrrhic victory. Military action could completely collapse the PA regime, feed a greater cycle of violence, and deepen the rift between the Biden administration and Netanyahu. No less important, such a military operation would play into the hands of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. It can be assumed that the Israeli military and intelligence establishment does not support such an operation – and rightly so.

The Palestinian Authority’s angle:

The Palestinian Authority derives its legitimacy from the Oslo Accords and from the official recognition and massive support for it by the United States and the European Union. This recognition and support entails fulfilling the obligations of the PA, including its commitment to act to thwart and eradicate terrorist attacks from the territories under its control.

The escalation process presents the PA with a cruel dilemma. If it acts aggressively to eradicate terrorism in the areas under its control, there is a very high probability of an internal Palestinian bloody clash that could lead to a violent disintegration of the PA. If it refrains from working to eradicate terrorism, the escalation process will deepen and, with it the disintegration of the Palestinian Authority.

Conclusion and forecast

The security escalation process in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) is liable to lead to the disintegration of the Palestinian Authority and an Israeli military move aimed at taking over PA territory to prevent the takeover of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other Palestinian militant elements.

I do not foresee a broad Israeli military action following the attack.

For now, the PA and Israel still have room for maneuvering, and the two have a common goal – to stabilize the situation and avoid further escalation.

This goal will dictate for the foreseeable future a tactical policy of both sides, the main ones of which are:

  1. Deepening intelligence cooperation that will be translated into targeted Israeli military operations against Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in PA territory.
  2. Non-military pressure on the part of the Palestinian Authority to restrict the activities of terrorists well known to the PA
  3. Israeli Refraining from a Broad Military Operation
  4. Measures aimed at strengthening the PA, especially from the economic aspect. In this context, it should be noted that Netanyahu recently declared Israel’s willingness to promote, in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, the production of gas from the Marin Gaza gas field
  5. One cannot exclude the possibility that at the same time, Israel will exert leverage on Hamas in Gaza in order to make it clear to Hamas that the equation it seeks to dictate of encouraging and/or initiating violence from the PA territories against Israel and Israelis while keeping Gaza out of the circle, is an equation that is unacceptable to Israel.

December 15, 2022

WILL HAMAS’ NEW STRATEGY BACKFIRE?

To celebrate its 35th anniversary, Hamas presented a special logo and slogan, “We Are Arriving as A Roaring Flood.”

Hamas, which has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007, has two political strategic objectives. It wants to position itself as a reliable regional and to crown itself as the unquestionable leader and representative of the Palestinian people, to beat its rival Fatah, the backbone of the Palestinian Authority (PA) government which rules most of the Palestinians in the West Bank.

Hamas believes the combination of a right-wing Israeli government, the deepening inner-Palestinian crisis, increasing criticism of the PA, and the escalating power struggle over Mahmoud Abbas’ successor, is the perfect storm.

Hamas’ strategy is to leverage this opportunity by fanning the flames of the conflict in the areas controlled by the PA – and leaving the Gaza Strip – ruled by Hamas – out of the circle of escalation.

But Hamas’ plan to instigate violence in the West Bank could backfire. By fueling the flames in the West Bank, Hamas could find itself in a serious dilemma that could drag it directly into a military collision with Israel and might even bring it directly into a serious domestic conflict with Islamic Jihad in Palestine – the 2nd most powerful player in Gaza.

Hamas’ strategy could find itself jeopardizing its rule in Gaza which would make all of its other objectives obsolete. Playing with fire – Hamas might get burned.


Palestinian Insights by Avi Melamed

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Avi Melamed
Avi Melamedhttps://insidethemiddle-east.com
Avi Melamed is an expert on current affairs in the Arab & Muslim World and their impact on Israel & the Middle East. A former Israeli Intelligence Official & Senior Official on Arab Affairs, Fluent in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence & Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities & communities - often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. He is the Founder & CEO of Inside the Middle East | Intelligence Perspectives - an apolitical non-partisan curriculum using intelligence methodology to examine the Middle East. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides Intelligence Analysis, Briefings, and Geopolitical Tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policymakers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs.

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