On December 28, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and twelve other terrorist groups held massive joint military exercises in the Gaza Strip. Kobi Michael and Yohanan Tzoreff report:
In the large-scale exercise, rockets were launched toward the sea, attacks occurred on simulated IDF positions and included abductions of soldiers; drones and other technologies were displayed. The exercise took place against the backdrop of a severe crisis in Gaza caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the failure of the reconciliation efforts with the Palestinian Authority, Arab countries apparent sidelining of the Palestinian issue, and concerns of another military conflict with Israel.
This display of arms was meant, according to Michael and Tzoreff, to send a message of deterrence to Israel as well as to send a message “to the Palestinian public regarding the importance of unity and the continuation of the resistance to Israel as the forefront of the national struggle.” They add:
Hamas’s military show of force can be seen as an attempt to compensate for weakness vis-à-vis the local population in Gaza and rogue factions. The serious humanitarian plight in the Gaza Strip could fan the flames of popular protest, which, if it spirals out of control, could create suitable conditions for Israel and the Palestinian Authority . . . to retake control of the Gaza Strip and dismantle Hamas’s military infrastructure. The loss of Hamas’s main asset, control of Gaza, could set it back years. It could also critically damage Hamas’s standing as the leader of the “resistance.”
From Israel’s perspective, the exercise held in the Gaza Strip does not have far-reaching military or security implications. Nor does it indicate intentions of escalation on the part of Hamas: organizers are aware of the attention that any demonstration of force attracts in Israel and see the widespread media coverage and accompanying commentary as an achievement.