Former Head of IDF Intelligence: Punishing Hamas by Force is Possible, Not Worth the Price

While Hamas and the Islamic Jihad share the common interest of fighting Israel, they do not see eye-to-eye on how to achieve their goal, according to a former head of the IDF intelligence corps. Israel has the means to invade Gaza and punish terror groups, but no Israeli government will do so, fearing global repercussions.
  1. Hamas-Islamic Jihad Battle? Impossible
  2. Israel Can't Do Much

The Islamic Jihad has denied their involvement in the launch of ten rockets that hit Israel on Friday night, Jerusalem Post reported, citing Palestinian Al Quds newspaper. But Hamas, in controlling the Strip, continues to blame the rival group, holding it responsible for the attack.

So does Miri Eisin, a former head of the Combat Intelligence Corps of the Israel Defense Forces, who served as an assistant to the director of military intelligence. "Hamas wanted to be a resistance movement not an authority that needs to take responsibility. Now when they are in power, they will need to take responsibility for their actions," she said, adding that it also means tackling rival Islamic Jihad.

Hamas-Islamic Jihad Battle? Impossible

Eisin believes that confronting the Islamic Jihad is not in Hamas' interest. 

"Islamic Jihad's activity plays into Hamas' hands as launching rockets lets them vent their anger and appease the masses. That's why Hamas will never confront the group openly, simply because the two groups seem to share the same goal - fight Israel's occupation. They might not see eye-to-eye when it comes to how they achieve this goal, but their idea is similar," she said in a phone interview.

But while the two groups appear to be on the same page, in reality their end-goal is different and, according to Eisin, as a result, tensions abound.

While Hamas has interlaced notions of Palestinian nationalism and religion, its rival, the Islamic Jihad, considered second largest militant group in the Gaza Strip, offers a different worldview, according to Eisin.

Islamic Jihad considers Hamas too complacent, too mild and too local. "The former seeks to be more extreme in the way they handle the Israeli enemy," said Eisin.

For them, the notion of nationalism, she believes, is almost non-existent, with an emphasis put on Islam that is in the center of their universe.

But apart from ideology, there are other differences, including their size. While Hamas boasts tens of thousands of fighters, its rival reportedly has less than a thousand battle-ready militants, according to Counter Extremism Project (CEP), an international organisation that was formed to combat the growing threat of terror, although the group claims it has several thousands.

Regarding cash resources, Islamic Jihad's relations have mostly been stable with Iran, as mainstream media claim, with the Islamic Republic allegedly providing most of the group's budget.

According to CEP, headed by Mark Wallace, a former US diplomat who served in several positions under the George W. Bush administration, back in 2014, Islamic Jihad received between $100 million-$150 million in cash from Iran, in addition to weapons and training. 

Although the Islamic republic trimmed the Islamic Jihad's funding in 2016 with a mere $70 million, the CEP reported, the support Tehran gives Gaza fighters remains meaningful.

Another key difference between the two groups finds Hamas to be hierarchical, abiding by the orders of its top leaders, some of whom reside in the enclave and others in exile, while Islamic Jihad is anarchic, with Gaza leadership often making decisions on its own.

"This competition results in who fires more rockets on Israel and who uses more ruthless techniques," said Eisin, adding that Israel doesn't have too many options to deal with the threat.

Israel Can't Do Much

"We develop the Iron Dome or such missile defense systems as the Arrow. We carry out pinpointed assassinations and once in a while we hit the militants hard so that the terror will lower its head, but there is nothing else we could do," she complained.

A few days ago, amid a meeting of Israel's Security Cabinet, the country's minister of energy, Yuval Steinitz, warned that Israel might start a full-fledged operation in the Strip "to get rid of Hamas' top leaders," something that can only be done by the use of a ground invasion.

Eisin says a ground invasion is unrealistic. "Israel doesn't want to control 2 million residents of Gaza. We have been there before and we don't want to go back," she declared.

"Politicians talk and Israel has the ability and the means to re-conquer Gaza but I can tell you that the human price Israel will need to pay to do that will not be worth it, and there is no party in Israel that will want to take this responsibility on itself," she asserted.
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