- The March 25, 2018, Hamas military exercise in Gaza demonstrated the growth of Hamas’ military power since the movement took control of Gaza in 2007. The al-Qassam Brigade is no longer simply an armed militia. Instead, it has grown gradually into a regular army.
- From the political point of view, the military exercise illustrates yet again the reality of Hamas’ total control over the Gaza Strip. The Hamas leadership completely rejects the conditions of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for reconciliation.
- The American diplomatic plan, “the deal of the century,” currently being drawn up to resolve the Middle East conflict, is supposed to present the draft of a compromise between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution. However, there continues to be a lack of a Palestinian leadership that can accept binding resolutions on behalf of the Palestinian people.
On March 25, 2018, the Hamas movement’s military/terror wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, conducted a military exercise codenamed “The steadfast and defiant maneuvers.” (مناورات الصمود والتحدي).
According to the Brigades’ official announcement, the military exercise was intended to test the readiness of the forces as part of a defense plan for the Gaza Strip. Various scenarios were tested, including defending essential areas, repelling naval and air landings, resisting an armored force, and hitting the attacker’s forces in “secure areas,” meaning inside Israeli territory.1 Elaborate models of Israeli tanks were built and “captured.”
A video circulated by the al-Qassam Brigades showed scenes from the military exercise, including the brigades maneuvering like a regular army, attacking IDF positions, armored forces, kidnapping IDF soldiers and dragging them into tunnels, operations against tanks, firing at airplanes (with anti-aircraft missiles and heavy machine guns), and landing a naval commando force for the purpose of attacking Israeli targets.2
In the exercise’s summary, Hamas stated that the al-Qassam Brigades demonstrated strong fighting ability, rapid response, military preparedness, and a high level of coordination between the forces and their ordnance. The declared purpose of the exercise was to send a deterrent message to Israel warning against any act of aggression toward the Palestinian people. At the same time, the al-Qassam Brigades expressed their readiness to assist any Arab and Islamic elements which are under “threat by the Zionist enemy on all fronts,” as well as their obligation to liberate all Palestinian territory.3
The exercise demonstrated the growth of Hamas’ military power since the movement took control of Gaza in Summer 2007. The al-Qassam Brigades is no longer simply an armed militia. Instead, it has grown gradually into a regular army, trained and armed with weaponry that has given it the ability to defend itself against all types of threats and to attack deep inside enemy territory through rockets and naval and subterranean infiltration.
The Political Implications
From the political point of view, this military exercise illustrates yet again the reality of Hamas’ total control over the Gaza Strip. The Hamas leadership completely rejects the conditions of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for reconciliation, the first of which is the transfer of Hamas’ military force to the control of the Palestinian Authority. The military is the mainstay of Hamas’ control of government administration, and it enables it to quash any expression of opposition effectively. Additionally, Hamas pursues its own foreign policy, as seen from its close contacts with Arab and Islamic countries, and even several Western states.
Hamas subversion in leading the popular struggle and the intifada against Israel is primarily to gain a leadership position among the Palestinian people in the Palestinian territories and diaspora. Hamas seeks to create instability in the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, with the objective of undermining the rule of Mahmoud Abbas, gaining control of the PLO, and seizing representation of the Palestinian cause.
The American political plan that is being prepared, the “deal of the century” for resolving the Middle East conflict, is meant to present a draft for compromise between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution. However, there continues to be a lack of a Palestinian leadership able to accept binding resolutions on behalf of the Palestinian people. In the present situation, Hamas has the right of veto over any political agreement with Israel, which is reinforced by its military might, the support of many Palestinians, and the backing of Muslim Brotherhood supporters such as Turkey and Qatar.
* * *