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Israel awaits outcome of talks before hitting Hamas leadership

Head of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh speaks at the Palestine National Council meeting on 30 April 2018 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

To deter the ongoing Great March of Return protests that started on 30 March, Israel’s occupation army and Shin Bet intelligence agency prepared to assassinate senior Hamas leaders, Haaretz reported on Sunday. This was, apparently, preferable to a wide-scale offensive on the Gaza Strip, revealed an Israeli defence source.

According to the newspaper, the Israeli military decided to wait for the outcome of the ongoing Egyptian and UN-brokered talks being conducting behind closed doors between the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement — Hamas — and Israel.

Commenting on the Haaretz report, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is a member of the high-level security cabinet, told the Kan public broadcaster, “Toppling Hamas is an option, and we are closer to it than ever.” If there had been a plan to kill Hamas leaders, though, why did Israel not implement it?

Speaking to MEMO, political analyst Dr Saleh Al-Naami stressed that this is not the reality on the ground. “Even if this was a real plan, it would have been ineffective because the Israeli military does not take any action without the approval of the political Israeli leadership,” explained the specialist in Israel Studies. “This might be a manoeuvre targeting the Israeli public which was clearly angry with a ceasefire before hurting Hamas’s power.” He noted that the Israeli leadership has been facing much “embarrassment” in this regard.

Israel minister: Assassinate Hamas leaders

So-called “targeted killings” would only be Israel’s precursor to a wide-scale offensive on Gaza, said Al-Naami. That is what happened in 2012 when the Israeli air force assassinated senior Hamas military leader Ahmed Al-Jaabari. “It was the trigger for Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defence.”

If Israel really wants to end Hamas’s control of the Gaza Strip, Dr Al-Naami pointed out, the assassination of the movement’s leadership would not be sufficient. “It would need a full-scale ground operation.” He insisted that this would not be an “easy choice” for Israel, for several reasons.

Apart from anything else, the report of the State Comptroller into the summer 2014, 51-day Israeli offensive on the Palestinians in Gaza, recommended that any future operation in the besieged enclave should very short. This would require, said the expert in Israeli affairs, a heavy bombing campaign and this would cause huge human and material damage which would draw massive regional and international criticism down on Israel.

Palestinian academic and political analyst in the occupied West Bank Abdel Sattar Qasim agreed with Al-Naami that the “assassination plan” is little more than a “manoeuvre” targeting a “fragile” Israeli public. He confirmed his belief that targeting the resistance leaders would ignite a wide-scale offensive because the Palestinians would not stay silent; they would have to respond.

Hamas: ‘We will break the siege once and for all’

At the same time, Qasim said that the Israeli occupation authorities are not prepared to carry out an offensive because of the reduction in self-discipline within the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and the possibility that the country will be caught between two fronts flaring up in the south and the north. The timing of such remarks by the Israelis, he suggested, is because they are using the same approach used during the talks with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, when most of its leaders made concessions as they were afraid of the Israeli threats against their own lives.

Furthermore, Qasim added, the brokers of the ongoing negotiations over Gaza want Hamas to accept the European carrot over the Israeli stick. “There are plans to revive the Gaza Strip, and they want to have Hamas agree that it is necessary to accept these plans in order to save their lives.”

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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