Is­raelis fear next Gaza war is not far off

Ha­mas tun­nelling back at pre-2014 lev­els Ter­ror group re­build­ing mis­sile stocks Iran in­creases fund­ing for Gaza mil­i­tants

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY ANSHEL PFEFFER

AF­TER A rel­a­tively calm year around the Gaza Strip, Is­rael is con­cerned that an es­ca­la­tion down south is ap­proach­ing once again.

In re­cent weeks, Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence has up­dated its as­sess­ments of the progress made by Ha­mas in re­build­ing the tun­nels de­stroyed by Is­rael dur­ing the 2014 Gaza con­flict.

The IDF now thinks that the ter­ror group’s tun­nelling in­fra­struc­ture is at least as ex­ten­sive as the net­work that ex­isted be­fore the war.

Is­raeli se­cu­rity of­fi­cials also be­lieve that Ha­mas’s mil­i­tary wing plans to use the tun­nels at the start of the next con­fronta­tion to carry out a widerang­ing at­tack on civil­ians and mil­i­tary bases.

Ha­mas has de­voted a large part of its re­sources to re­plen­ish­ing its mis­sile arse­nal, and re­cently car­ried out test launches to­wards the Mediter­ranean.

In 2015, 27 rock­ets were fired to­wards Is­rael, but al­most all came from smaller Salafist groups, some of which are aligned with Daesh. Ha­mas has of­ten blocked or — in some cases — ar­rested them.

Last Wed­nes­day, Is­raeli air­craft at­tacked a team try­ing to lay ex­plo­sive devices on the bor­der fence, north of Gaza. They were iden­ti­fied as mem­bers of a Salafist group, but Is­rael has de­tected a grow­ing re­luc­tance on the part of Ha­mas to stop them.

While Ha­mas’s political lead­er­ship is more fo­cused on keep­ing in­ter­nal con­trol and re­build­ing civil­ian in­fra­struc­ture, the mil­i­tary wing, now

Mem­bers of the al-Aqsa Mar­tyrs Brigade at the fu­neral of a man killed in an Is­raeli strike on the Strip last week re­ceiv­ing in­creased fi­nan­cial sup­port from Iran, is plan­ning the next round of fight­ing.

Within the Is­raeli lead­er­ship, mean­while, there is dis­agree­ment over the best ap­proach to­wards Gaza.

The of­fi­cial line is that Is­rael should con­tinue iso­lat­ing the Ha­mas-dom­i­nated Strip, in co-or­di­na­tion with the Egyp­tian govern­ment, which re­gards Ha­mas as a hos­tile force in ca­hoots with Daesh in Si­nai.

Some ex­perts in the de­fence es­tab­lish­ment be­lieve that Is­rael should en­cour­age in­fra­struc­ture projects in Gaza — even though some of the build­ing ma­te­ri­als are cer­tain to be used for Ha­mas tun­nel-build­ing — in the hope that it will give the Pales­tini­ans an in­cen­tive not to re­sume fight­ing.

Ha­mas has re­mained largely on the side­lines of the vi­o­lence be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans in re­cent months.

Its spokes­men have en­cour­aged civil­ians to at­tack Is­raelis and con­grat­u­lated ter­ror­ists who suc­ceeded in killing civil­ians and sol­diers — but due to its lack of a mil­i­tary in­fra­struc­ture in the West Bank, it has largely failed to carry out its own ter­ror mis­sions.

In Gaza, Ha­mas has largely made do with en­cour­ag­ing civil­ians to march to­wards the bor­der fence, where con­fronta­tions with Is­raeli sol­diers have re­sulted in dozens of ca­su­al­ties. On Fri­day, in one such demon­stra­tion, two young Pales­tinian men were killed and 10 oth­ers in­jured, ac­cord­ing to Pales­tinian health min­istry, when the IDF opened fire on a group try­ing to tear down the fence.

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES (S)

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