Hamas is changing strategies and reducing marches to low boil the level of cofrontation
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Hamas appears ready to reduce its marches on Israel’s border fence with Gaza to a “low boil” level of confrontation after one-and-a-half years at a high level of confrontation, an intelligence center estimates.
In a report on Monday, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center stated that Hamas has already appeared to lower the flames of the border conflict in recent weeks, including with a flurry of statements in the Arab media that a retooling is in progress.
According to the Meir Amit center, the shift is part of Hamas’ sharp focus on achieving a minimal understanding with Israel that will increase its stability and stature, while avoiding any long-term deal which might limit its military options versus Israel.
“Hamas has come to the conclusion that the marches and their inherent violence have exhausted themselves. That is because Hamas is interested in achieving a short-term, minimalist arrangement in which there is no need to continue the marches in their current format,” said the report.
Moreover, the report said that, “the Gazans are showing signs of becoming tired of the marches (and Hamas is obliged to consider the public and its hardships).
At the same time, the intelligence center said that “Hamas has no interest in stopping the marches, which are inherently violent, and would prefer instead to hold them less frequently and with a lower level of violence.”
Regarding a loss of enthusiasm for the marches, the report said strong quantitative data supports this presumption.
Whereas at the height of the marches there were tens of thousands of marchers, then 10,000-15,000, then 6,000-7,000, during the past two weeks, the average dropped to around 2,400. There were also three consecutive weeks where no marches were held.
In the report’s assessment, Hamas wants to maintain some amount of protests as a tool for exerting pressure on Israel, although with less violence.
Further, Hamas wants to mitigate or prevent internal criticism from both Islamic Jihad, which wants to continue high level violence at the marches, and from the Palestinian Authority, which might label a complete cessation of the marches as a Hamas failure.
In media appearances, Hamas spokesman Abd al-Latif al-Qanua said in the Sawa publication on December 20 that the marches would not stop, but in a different format.
Senior Hamas figure Suheil al-Hindi told Arabi21 on December 16 that Hamas was considering limiting the frequency of the marches, but not ending them.
Finally, Senior Democratic Front figure and member of the Supreme National Authority Talal Abu Zarifa told the Safa outlet on December 21 that his group was holding comprehensive reevaluations about the nature of the marches and their strategic objectives, including reducing them to once a month or on nationally-marked days.
Hamas started its current policy to exert constant controlled violence against Israel in March 2018. This policy replaced Hamas’ policy of restraint which ran from after the 2014 Gaza War in September 2014 until March 2018.
The protests have mixed nonviolent and violent protesters to maximize pressure on Israel, while trying to portray a peaceful protest narrative to the world.
Violent aspects of the protests have included throwing IEDs, hand grenades and Molotov cocktails at IDF soldiers; launching IED and incendiary balloons and kites into Israeli territory; sabotaging the border security fence; attempts to break into Israel territory, and on occasion shooting attacks.
Since the Gaza border conflict stated in March 2018, Israel and Hamas have had nine rounds of greater escalation involving a spike in rockets from Gaza and airstrikes from the IDF.
The Meir Amit center attributes most of these escalations to the tense atmosphere that the marches have created, while at the same time noting both sides still have wanted to avoid another general war like in 2014.
According to the center, Hamas believes that reducing but maintaining the marches will save it from the risk of further escalations, help gain it some minimal Israeli concessions and preserve its flexibility to escalate in the future if the situation warrants.
Questioned by the Jerusalem Post, the Meir Amit Center said that it believed the new strategy was based solely on internal Gaza considerations and not due to outside pressures from other countries or due to potential future elections being discussed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.