Something relatively new is happening on the Gaza-Israel border, and it’s visible even to the naked eye: More and more armed Hamas troops are on the move just a short distance from the border fence, perhaps in an effort to accustom Israelis to their presence there.
It is hard to know why they are there. Some of the Hamas troops are carrying out ongoing security tasks, while others are training in camps very close to the border, such as the one established on the ruins of Dugit, a Jewish settlement evacuated in 2005.
One can’t rule out the possibility that Hamas’s purpose in getting troops on the Israeli side used to seeing armed Hamas men just 300 meters away from the border is to prepare for a surprise raid inside Israeli territory in case of war or escalation. Or perhaps the goal, particularly regarding the training that is going on inside the Hamas camps, is to create deterrence with Israel.
Whatever the purpose may be, it is clear that Hamas has been training its troops recently for more than launching rockets or carrying out commando attacks from the sea, as they did during last summer’s war. Hamas’s military wing has been conducting infantry and urban warfare exercises at the levels of platoon, company and even division. In other words, it is possible that together with its operating methods during the war — commando raids from tunnels, sea and air — Hamas will attempt in the next war to raid an Israeli community or army base, killing as many civilians or soldiers as possible.
The training in urban warfare that its troops are undergoing — throwing grenades into buildings, then shooting — is similar to the exercises of Israel’s own infantry troops. We can only guess Hamas’s intentions regarding these urban warfare drills. Its goal may be no more than to deter Israel from fighting in Gaza, since it is well aware that a raid by one of its companies on an Israeli community could end in dozens of dead on the Palestinian side.
The Palestinians did not come up with this relatively new model. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has spoken quite a few times over the past two years about “conquering the Galilee” should there be another war with Israel. He was not referring to an actual takeover of parts of Israel; he was talking about attacking a community near the border and killing as many people, civilians or soldiers, as possible.
Such an attack would have a devastating effect on Israel’s morale. That may be the reason why Hamas has begun efforts to train its troops for such action, with an eye toward taking the war into Israeli territory: to go on the offensive rather than the defensive. It made similar efforts during last summer’s war, attempting a raid from the sea and planning a large-scale terror attack using the tunnels it had dug near Kibbutz Kerem Shalom. Hamas may go a step further in the next war, and as part of starting that war may try to take Israel by surprise by having dozens of its troops storm the border fence and kidnap one or more Israeli soldiers.
Is this scenario an imaginary one? Perhaps. But it is worth noting that during one training exercise, more than a hundred of Hamas’s troops were seen practicing a forward charge.
Read more at Times of Israel.