Despite some scattered rocket fire from Gaza in the past two weeks, argues Yoav Limor, Hamas does not want to escalate from within that territory. Instead, writes Limor, its current strategy is to use its cells in Judea and Samaria to plan attacks on Israelis. A recent report from the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal-security service, detailing hundreds of foiled attacks—mostly originating from the West Bank—makes this clear:
The most dramatic data in [the Shin Bet report] centered on the 148 Hamas terrorist cells apprehended in Judea and Samaria this year. This number means that, . . . in Judea and Samaria, [Hamas] has its foot firmly on the gas pedal, doing its utmost to carry out attacks. These efforts include a substantial financial investment and intensive recruitment in search of new human resources—the kind who would have a better shot at succeeding, like east Jerusalem Arabs and even Israeli Arabs.
The Hamas efforts are aimed at achieving three key objectives: keeping the conflict away from Gaza, perpetuating the conflict [overall], and destabilizing the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the rival Fatah faction. These objectives are intertwined. . . . Hamas is willing to make short-term sacrifices in order to achieve its long-term endgame: taking over the Palestinian Authority (PA) and gaining enough power to fight Israel and win. . . .
Hamas is playing a double game with Abbas on a number of different playing fields: engaging in reconciliation talks designed to give Gaza a much-needed lifeline, and waging battle—an overt diplomatic battle and a covert military battle—against him in the West Bank. Over the last year, the terrorist plots thwarted by the Shin Bet were mainly directed at Israelis, but also at the Palestinian Authority. . . .
A large-scale terrorist attack [from Judea and Samaria] will obligate Israel to retaliate. The Israeli response will make sure that Hamas suffers in the West Bank, but the Palestinian Authority will suffer, too. The attack will reinforce the [Palestinian] public’s view of their leadership as weak, an empty vessel. While Hamas takes action against the occupation, . . . the Palestinian Authority will look like it collaborates with the Israelis, [which it has been doing to curb Hamas’s infiltration of its territory]—depriving it of even more support and halting whatever momentum it has managed to gain. In practice, it will only make Hamas stronger.
Indeed, Limor concludes, a single terrorist attack that slips by the Shin Bet could be enough to topple the PA and start a war.