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How serious are Israel's threats to reoccupy Gaza?

Palestinian resistance forces and the Israeli occupation army had a fresh confrontation in mid-March as part of the ongoing unrest. This new episode included the firing of tens of missiles into Gaza and onto Israeli settlements

This round, like its precedents, was supposed to end with mutual statements between Gaza and Tel Aviv, but the latter escalated its statements this time with unprecedented threats regarding the possibility of reoccupying the Gaza Strip in order to cleanse it of the military arsenal and missile powers it has, as was stated by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

But fears in Gaza were heightened after the pace of these threats was picked up and they were made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon and the Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defence Forces Benny Gantz.

Coinciding with these threats, the Al-Qassam Brigades revealed a video tape showing its surveillance of Ya'alon's visit to Gaza's eastern borders, not specifying the date of the visit, while showing that he was in shooting distance of its snipers.

At the same time, the Israeli army held a military training exercise on March 19 in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, with participation from different fighting units, in order to raise the level of their military preparedness.

This was followed by Israel announcing the next day that it had discovered another tunnel that connects Gaza to its territories, which is meant to be used for attacks. The tunnel extends hundreds of metres and has been dug with the purpose of carrying out an armed attack. It is 6-8 metres deep and large cement pieces were used in its construction. The Al-Qassam Brigades explained that the discovery of the tunnel was made thanks to the rain and is not an Israeli achievement.

On March 22, Hamas took the initiative, the first of its kind, of sending text messages to tens of Israeli mobile phones, threatening to abduct the users and carry out military operations against them.

Gaza reacted to the threats of reoccupation quickly; the Hamas government's Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh threatened, in front of hundreds of thousands of the movement's supporters in Hamas' festival in the middle of Gaza on March 23 on the commemoration of the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yasin, founder of the movement, that "any new attack against the Strip will cost Israel a high price, because the abilities hidden by the resistance are much more than Israel's estimation."

Political and military groups in Gaza have taken the threats of reoccupying the Strip seriously, because these threats coincided with military activity, whether at the borders with Gaza or through internal exercises for the army, because any expected attack will be linked to regional and international support. Also, Gaza lacks strategic depth as it lies in the range of fire. It is a besieged area that can be militarily invaded and occupied and all its defences can be destroyed through military pressure and field draining.

Al-Jazeera, which is heavily watched by Palestinians, published a survey on its website asking if the latest Israeli escalation is the beginning of an invasion of Gaza.

Although the majority in Gaza believe that the developments that were mentioned in this analysis speed up the Israeli decision of invading Gaza, Hamas said the "surprises" it is preparing make it think that it is unlikely for Israel to reoccupy Gaza. It considers these threats to be a rouse, because such a step would mean that Israel will remain responsible for the Gaza Strip, which is something it does not want at this point.

Also, Israeli reoccupation of Gaza comes at a high price that Israel is not willing to pay and this whole thing is nothing but messages it is sending to the resistance groups in order to stop their hidden military escalation which they are carrying out underground and in tunnels. Palestinian resistance groups described Netanyahu, Ya'alon and Lieberman's statements as being part of the psychological warfare they're waging against Gaza.

Palestinian media outlets were busy with the threats to reoccupy Gaza; hosting military experts to put a possible scenario for the supposed reoccupation, fearing a possible escalation in case there is limited confrontation with Hamas. This, they feared, may take place with financing and encouragement from Arab countries wishing to end Hamas' rule in Gaza. Also, the possibility of reaching an agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel calls for ending the only obstacle that stands in the way of its implementation; the Hamas government.

On a military front and to face the proposed invasion, Palestinian armed wings are carrying out daily military training exercises to face any possible attack, especially in the area called "freed land" which is what used to be settlements that Israel withdrew from in 2005 in the middle and south of the Gaza Strip.

Translated from Felesteen newspaper, 31 March, 2014

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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