Middle EastAssessment

Implications of Israel’s attack on Gaza tunnels

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Implications of Israel’s attack on Gaza tunnels

Introduction

On Oct. 30, 2017, the “Israeli” forces targeted a tunnel between the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948, specifically in the northeast of Khan Younis, through the use of deadly poisonous weapons for the first time.

During the Israeli raids, the Islamic Jihad Movement (the tunnel owner) lost contact with its fighters inside the tunnel. A number of fighters belonging to the Qassam Brigades and the Islamic Jihad rushed to rescue those stranded in the tunnel, but they were suffocated by poison gas and died immediately. Seven resistance fighters were martyred, including five from the Al-Quds Brigades – the military wing of Islamic Jihad Movement – and two from the Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas). Also, about twenty people were injured and search is still going on for other missing fighters, most likely killed. This aroused the anger of masses in Gaza who took to the street demanding revenge.

Targeting the tunnel at this time, the type of the weapon used, and the size of the massacre committed, put all the Palestinian resistance factions, the Palestinian Authority, and the Egyptian regime – the sponsor of reconciliation – in a great dilemma.

This paper attempts to answer the following questions:

– What does “Israel” want from this operation?

– How will the Palestinian resistance deal with the crisis?

– What is Egypt’s role in this regard?

– And finally, what is the Palestinian Authority’s attitude towards this?

First: the reasons behind the Israeli attack

There are many considerations that have motivated this attack, including:

1) The attitude of Israeli government towards Palestinian reconciliation:

It is certain that the “Israeli” government has its own stance towards the Palestinian reconciliation, which has been sponsored by Egypt recently, especially in light of its significant seriousness this time, unlike the previous agreements.

The Israeli government is most likely seeking to:

a- Foil the Palestinian reconciliation, as the continuation of the Palestinian political division along with the geographical division between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, is a strategic Israeli interest. But this view contradicts the idea that the reconciliation process is aimed at practicing pressures on the Palestinian resistance to give more concessions in favor of Israel; so, how could “Israel” seek to thwart it?

b- Take advantage of the reconciliation atmosphere to impose new facts and equations, thinking that the resistance is handcuffed.

c- Attempt to include the weapons of the Palestinian resistance in the reconciliation talks, especially as both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad still reject any prejudice to the resistance’s weapons.

d- Examine the capabilities of the Egyptian role in the Gaza Strip, specifically its ability to curb the resistance. It is known that the occupation state wants to confront Lebanon’s Hezbollah and tries to avoid explosion of the situation in Gaza at the same time.

2: Personal motives related to Israeli PM Netanyahu:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a desire to get rid of the burdens of successive corruption-related charges pursuing him, through exporting the crisis abroad.

Second: The Palestinian attitude towards targeting the tunnel

1: The Palestinian Authority’s attitude:

Apart from the attitude of the Palestinian Authority towards the incident of targeting the tunnel, which was “complete silence”, it is clear that the Palestinian Authority is fully aware of the nature of the difficult situation in the Gaza Strip.

However, this attitude raises this important question: Why didn’t the Palestinian Authority, which is the official government in Gaza, announce its official position towards the bombing?

This may explain the PA’s slow pace of assuming its responsibilities in the Gaza Strip, for several reasons, including that:

a) The Palestinian Authority has a prior position on the issue of the resistance weapons, and knows well that this issue is extremely sensitive to the Palestinian resistance and the segments of the Gazan society in general.

2) The PA is aware of its heavy burden in Gaza as it is required to address the effects of three wars and 11 years of the blockade,

3) The PA is afraid that after assuming management responsibilities in the Gaza Strip, a new war between the Palestinian resistance and the Zionist entity may erupt, which will put the authority in a political and economic crisis.

2: The attitude of Palestinian resistance factions:

(A) Hamas

According to official statements, Hamas says that Israel’s goal of the recent bombing at this timing may be an attempt to foil the Palestinian reconciliation. Therefore, they decided to insist on the reconciliation as a means of responding to the Israeli government. Also, they adopted the Egyptian view to foil the Israeli plans to drag it into a new war in Gaza. It is difficult to say that this position is adopted by all Hamas members, but it remains the movement’s official stance. However, this position of Hamas has its negative effects on the popular incubator of the resistance and the opinion of the street in this concern.

(B) Islamic Jihad

The Islamic Jihad Movement believes that this strike targeted its cadres, killing a number of them, and injured others; so it expressed its desire for taking revenge. However, Egypt and Hamas have exerted much effort in attempt to prevent their (Islamic Jihad) rush to war.  However, the Jihad movement’s response was unclear and closer to silence, which could be understood as a state of confusion in the the movement’s decision-making circles, due to:

a- Its belief that there is a need for a unified Palestinian resistance position against the Israeli occupation

b- Its desire to deny the Egyptian demands and to avenge the blood of its martyrs when the search for the missing fighters is completed.

Third: The Egyptian attitude

The Egyptian authorities know well that the outbreak of war at this particular time between the Zionist entity and the Palestinian resistance factions means that the reconciliation would enter a “difficult” situation close to failure, which could embarrass the Egyptian regime and raise many questions, including the following:

– What would the Egyptian regime say to the regional and international if it failed to fulfill the Palestinian reconciliation?

– What will the Egyptian position towards “Israel” be like if the latter foiled the reconciliation and instigated a devastating war, killing thousands of Palestinians?

– What would the future relations between Egypt and Hamas be like if that war broke out?

– Will the Egypt-Hamas relationship return to the “zero” square after the latest major development?

– Who would the Egyptian regime side with if Israel attacked Gaza again?

– And how would this affect the internal situation in Egypt?

Fourth: The Crisis – Where to?

In the light of these questions we find ourselves in front of two scenarios:

Scenario I: No war coming

This scenario is favored by Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas:

– Egypt seeks to preserve its reconciliation efforts and its role in the Palestinian cause.

– The Palestinian Authority does not believe in wars and armed resistance as a way to wrest the Palestinian rights from the Zionist entity.

– As for Hamas, perhaps the movement’s current position is heading towards this scenario. Hamas hopes to get rid of Gaza burdens and enhance its external relations seeking more political gains in the near future.

Also, there is a large segment of the population of the Gaza Strip that rejects engagement in war and wants to improve economic and living conditions. It is noteworthy that the Zionist entity may prefer this scenario as well; “Israel” wants to assassinate a Palestinian leader here, bomb a target there, and make new gains in light of the other party’s keenness not to engage in war.

Scenario II: War outbreak

This scenario is very likely due to several factors, including:

– That the Zionist entity has a strategic plan for: either to maintain Palestinian division for serving its interests or to eliminate the Palestinian resistance completely. This means that if the “Israel” sees that the Palestinian reconciliation will not achieve its ambitions, perhaps it will resort to the second plan i.e. to “eliminate the resistance”, especially that it previously expressed readiness to eliminate the resistance in Gaza to allow the Palestinian Authority to take over there, which has become a reality, as the Gaza Strip will be under the full control of the Palestinian Authority in the coming days.

 In the event of the recurrence of such incidents by “Israel”, believing that the assassination of Palestinian leaders or targeting the resistance could pass without punishment is committing a mistake. The Egyptian mediators, and even the Palestinian Authority, are still at the beginning of the process and have not yet reached a stage of great influence. Therefore, if the Israeli entity makes any more mistakes, such behavior will probably be an official declaration of war, especially that the Palestinian street in Gaza – despite its rejection of wars – would support any coming war against the Zionist entity if the Israeli government started it.

Conclusion

The second scenario remains the closest to reality (war outbreak), and the current Egyptian efforts for calming down the Palestinian resistance factions is only an attempt to postpone the war no more. The decision of war remains a pure “Israeli” decision; if Israel believes that war is in its favor, it will launch it without paying any attention to the Egyptian position or any other positions. A few days ago, there was a failed attempt to assassinate Tawfiq Abu Naim, the Hamas government’s chief security officer in Gaza. And now, there are seven martyrs, five missing, and twenty wounded after the recent “Israeli” attack.

The war scenario is likely to come:

a) After the resistance factions find their missing fighters, or

b) After the resistance factions launch a retaliatory strike against the Zionist entity, whether in Gaza, the West Bank or inside territories occupied in 1948, or

c) After a new crime is committed by Israeli forces inside the Gaza Strip in the coming days ( ).

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footnotes

(1) The views expressed in this article are entirely those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of EIPSS

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