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Hamas Counts Its Gains After Operation Breaking Dawn

Palestinian Islamic Jihad has taken such a beating from the IDF during Operation Breaking Dawn that it is no longer a serious contender with Hamas for power in Gaza. Instead, Hamas is now the undisputed power in Gaza and the likely successor to the Fatah faction as leader of the Palestinians in the West Bank. A report on how Hamas will now fare is here: “The PIJ-Israel Conflict Places Hamas in a Trap,” by Grisha Yakubovich, Algemeiner, August 9, 2022:

The latest round of conflict between Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Israel has produced a key conclusion: Hamas is the only “resistance” element in the Palestinian arena that can have a real impact on Israel.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad has been seeking to copy Hamas: It tried to mimic Hamas’ strategy of linking the West Bank to the Gazan arena, and responding to events in the former by threatening and activating force from the latter.

The IDF’s killing of the PIJ head in the West Bank, Bassam Saadi, led the PIJ to prepare two anti-tank squads to attack the IDF. Israeli intelligence discovered this plan, and the result was the IDF’s preemptive strike in Gaza, killing the entire top echelon of the PIJ, including the two commanders Tayseer Jabari and Khaled Mansour. The PIJ launched 1,100 rockets at Israel, but 190 of them fell short, in Gaza itself, killing – by Israel’s estimate – about 25 people, including 14 children. As for the rockets that did enter Israel, the Jewish state’s fabled Iron Dome anti-missile defense managed to intercept 97% of the rockets that the IDF had calculated might have done damage had they landed, thus bettering the 90% rate of successful interceptions reached in the May 2021 campaign. PIJ’s threats to avenge Sa’adi’s death in Jenin with attacks from Gaza proved hollow. The only damage to Israel were three IDF soldiers, slightly wounded. The PIJ rockets that were deliberately not intercepted by Iron Dome landed harmlessly, as calculated, on open fields.

But PIJ has failed in this task. On the one hand, this failure strengthens Hamas, because it provides proof that the ruling faction in Gaza has the sole ability to challenge Israel through its terrorist army in the Strip.

There is, however, a flip side to this coin: Hamas is under pressure to join the PIJ-style fighting and prove its credentials as a “resistance”movement. Therefore, Hamas is in a bind.

Operationally, there is no doubt that the Israeli action against PIJ in Gaza has been beneficial for Hamas. Israel has been targeting PIJ, a competitor to Hamas that is seeking to position itself as a resistance entity, and steal some of Hamas’s prestige.

Hamas did not lift a finger to join the PIJ in its fight against Israel. Hamas was in fact pleased to see its rival so bloodied, though it could never admit to such a feeling.

PIJ has been able [before Operation Breaking Dawn] to take a lead position in the northern West Bank, particularly in Jenin, and it is seeking to bolster its position in Gaza too. This troubles Hamas.

Hamas, though it will never admit it publicly, could not ask for a better result than the battering PIJ has received from Israel. This strengthens Hamas significantly, and Israel has understood this sensitive situation very well. This understanding was reflected in its precise, cautious targeting of PIJ targets in the Gaza Strip.

Israel realized that as long as it did not hit any Hamas positions or fighters, the terror group was content to stay out of the fight and let PIJ absorb the IDF’s punishing blows, including the killing of the entire top echelon of PIJ fighters.

Israel’s efforts to keep Hamas from entering the fighting worked. The IDF made sure that Hamas realized that it was determined not to touch a hair on the head of any Hamas operative or attack any of its weapon storehouses. . .

Both Hamas and PIJ represent the thinking of Palestinian Muslims, many of whom reject the path chosen by their secular brethren (an acceptance of living side-by-side with Israel).

Now, with PIJ weakened by Israel, Hamas can not only rest assured that it has an exclusive lead position in Gaza, but it can also begin to fill a void in the northern West Bank, where Israel has arrested large numbers of PIJ operatives.

The PIJ has been so weakened by Israel’s attacks that it can no longer be a rival to Hamas in Gaza. And the inroads the PIJ had been making in the West Bank at Hamas’ expense, especially in Jenin, have now been reversed by Israel’s aggressive campaign of arresting or killing PIJ operatives everywhere in the West Bank. Hamas is quite content to having the IDF remove its rival as a serious contender for power in both Gaza and the West Bank.

The PIJ has been so weakened during Operation Breaking Dawn that it will take years for it to recover. The position of Hamas, as. a consequence, has been greatly strengthened. It need not worry about Fatah remaining in power in the West Bank; Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah and President of the PA, is hated by most of the PA’s population; in opinion polls he now does not score over 20%, no matter what opponent might hypothetically run against him, and his unpopularity has rubbed off on the man he has anointed as his successor, Hossein al-Sheikh.

Hamas believes that because it was still standing after its 11-day war with the IDF in 2021, that counts as a “victory.” Or at least so it claims to believe. In a military sense that is absurd. But in other ways Hamas can point to improvements in its position. More investments from abroad were made in Gaza after the war to help in the rebuilding of dits infrastructure, for which Hamas has claimed credit. And Israel agreed to increase the number of Gazans allowed to work in Israel to 15,000, providing a significant number of jobs, at much higher wages than are paid to workers in Gaza. Hamas has deliberately kept things quiet in Gaza since May 201, reaping what benefits it can from its long-running ceasefire with Israel.

With the PIJ having been smashed by the IDF, Hamas now is in unchallenged control of Gaza and will almost certainly rule the Palestinians in the West Bank, too, just as soon as Mahmoud Abbas, who is 86 and in poor health, leaves the stage. The question at that point: Will Hamas continue to preserve in the West Bank the quiet with Israel it has observed in Gaza since May 2011, or will the temptation to again engage in terrorist attacks prove too strong for Hamas to resist?

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