This year the month of Ramadan, which concludes today, was marked by a great deal of violence in Israel—including the shooting of a security guard on Friday. Yet, notes Michael Koplow, the holy month passed far more peacefully than last year, when it saw the outbreak of a ten-day war between the IDF and Hamas, along with violent attacks on Jews in Israeli cities. Koplow argues that the more recent disturbances in fact reflect a deliberate change in strategy by the jihadist group ruling the Gaza Strip, which has learned a hard lesson from the last war:
While Hamas wants quiet in Gaza, events of the past few weeks demonstrate that Hamas is assiduously working to sow chaos everywhere else. Palestinians holed up in al-Aqsa mosque throwing stones and incendiary devices were decked out in Hamas’s green and flying Hamas flags. The IDF and the Palestinian Authority security forces have been arresting Hamas cells across the West Bank. Perhaps most disturbingly, the rocket that was fired into Israel from southern Lebanon on Sunday [April 24] was the work of a Hamas team operating on Lebanese soil.
It is to Hamas’s benefit to shift the battle from Gaza to Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Galilee, and other Israeli locales. Hamas needs time to recover from Israel’s bombardment of its infrastructure and positions a year ago, and also does not want to put Gaza’s reconstruction and economic upswing at risk. Fighting in Gaza is also politically risky for Hamas; on the one hand, there is often a rally-around-the-flag effect that leads to an uptick in Hamas’s popularity immediately following confrontations with Israel, but on the other hand, there is a tipping point at which Palestinians in Gaza will despair of a Hamas approach that leaves them in a permanent state of economic depression and surrounded by rubble.
If Hamas is indeed pivoting, Israeli policy will have to pivot as well. . . . If Hamas is counting on keeping the Gaza front relatively quiet and stable by initiating chaos in other places, Israel may need to rethink its strategy of treating Gaza as a wholly separate entity and begin to treat Hamas and its actions in a more holistic way.