These days are critical days in the field of security, and all the branches of the Israeli defense establishment are working to thwart Hamas’ expected response to the assassination of senior Hamas figure Mazen Fuqha in the Gaza Strip. This is also one of the tests of the security coordination between Israel and the PA that has been in effect, despite many challenges, since the 1993 Oslo Agreement.
The defense establishment estimates that Hamas’ response could come from the Gaza Strip in an attempt to kidnap a soldier or a civilian on the border, or alternatively, to target IDF soldiers by sniper fire from afar.
Israel’s security establishment assumes that Hamas will not launch rockets into Israel, which would elicit a strong response and deteriorate into another round of fighting. Hamas currently has no interest in launching a large-scale military confrontation.
The other expected scenario is that Hamas will respond via its “sleeper cells” in the West Bank to carry out attacks against soldiers or settlers in the West Bank or infiltrate Israel and carry out an attack in central Israel.
Hamas went out on a limb by committing itself to revenge, even though it has no evidence that Israel eliminated Fuqha. It does not want to back down, so a revenge attack is only a question of time.
Senior Hamas figure Osama Hamdan said on March 26 2017, “The killing of Mazen Fuqha will have consequences that are the opposite of what Israel thinks and much worse than it expects.”
Hamas Anger and Frustration
The Shalit deal was a great success from the Hamas point of view. Hamas was convinced it had managed to arrange an “insurance policy” for everyone who was released and who chose to return to terror activities. However, Israel did not allow this and has arrested 64 of the Hamas operatives who were released in the deal and who returned to terror.
If Israel did indeed kill Fuqha, then this is a message to Hamas about Israel’s determination to fight terror. One hypothesis is that he was a “ticking bomb” and there was no other way of neutralizing him other than by a physical elimination.
Hamas feels that the rules of the game have changed. There is also an Israeli message regarding the next prisoner swap. Every released Palestinian prisoner who joins the leadership of the military wing or deals with terror on the ground should know that Israel will pursue him.
The Secret War
At the moment a battle of minds and intelligence is being waged between Israel and Hamas over its plans for revenge.
The two sides are trying to close the gaps in their ranks. Hamas is trying to pinpoint the security and intelligence breach that enabled Israel to gather the necessary intelligence and carry out the assassination without leaving fingerprints, while Israel is trying to locate the security breaches through which Hamas could carry out an attack.
Israel’s counterterrorism intelligence, however effective it may be, cannot prevent the next attack 100 percent; it can delay it, but it will eventually occur.
This is where the PA, which controls Area A in the West Bank, enters the scene and has security apparatuses in the area that also collect intelligence information and carry out arrests and interrogations.
This time, intelligence cooperation with Israel is critical for Mahmoud Abbas because he feels he is being tested by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Abbas is scheduled to arrive at the White House next month for a meeting with President Trump and if Hamas succeeds in launching a terrorist attack from the West Bank against Israel before the meeting, it will be a great disaster for him and a blow to his prestige and status.
According to senior Fatah officials, this is why he instructed the heads of the Palestinian security services to provide the fullest intelligence and security assistance to the Israel Security Agency without any compromises or evasions.
This is also the reason why he and senior PA officials remained silent. They did not condemn the killing of Mazen Fuqha and did not even send condolences to his family who live in Tubas in the Jenin area of the West Bank.
If the Palestinian security services can make an important contribution to thwart Hamas’ revenge attacks, Mahmoud Abbas will gain much credit that he will try to leverage in his meeting with President Trump. He is definitely building on his ability to present himself as a fighter against radical Islamic terror, just like Trump himself.
In addition to the desire to avenge the death of Fuqha, Hamas is looking to carry out an attack whose impact will be such that Israel will reconsider its policy of targeted killings. Hamas is seeking to create a new deterrence against Israel.
Sources in Hamas claim that this was the first time that the Israeli Mossad operated in the Gaza Strip and carried out a “quality operation,” so it is so important that Hamas’ response be of “greater quality.”
In the meantime, Hamas has no clue as to how intelligence was gathered about the movements of Fuqha, the identity of the assassins, and how they escaped.
Hamas has imposed heavy censorship regarding the investigation, closed the entrances and exits to the Gaza Strip, and engaged in an intensive investigation on the ground.
The Hamas website Al-Majd reported on March 26, 2017, that Israel was employing Palestinian collaborators whose sole mission is targeted killings.
These collaborators engage in military training and use of weapons within the Palestinian organizations themselves, and are “dormant agents” until the moment they are activated.
According to the report, Israel is adopting a new strategy called the “quiet war,” aimed at striking Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip without leaving “fingerprints” and without bringing about a new round of fighting with Hamas.
On the other hand, sources in Gaza claim that the assassins arrived by sea and liquidated Fuqha in the same way that Abu Jihad was assassinated in Tunisia in 1988 or as three Fatah leaders in Beirut were assassinated in 1973.
Media sources in Gaza report that Hamas is checking information that the assassins arrived in the Gaza Strip with foreign passports through the Erez crossing, pretending to be UNRWA personnel or representatives of U.S. aid organizations.
Hamas is still feeling its way through the investigation, but at the same time, the military wing has been instructed to carry out an attack that will hurt Israel as quickly as possible.
According to officials in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar is furious. He had barely settled into his new role as the leader of the Gaza Strip and has already suffered a heavy blow to his prestige. So he will do everything he can to successfully avenge the attack on Fuqha and rehabilitate his honor and the honor of Hamas’ military wing.