In the lead-up to this Saturday, when tens of thousands of Palestinians are expected to take part in protests along the Gaza border to commemorate both Land Day and the first anniversary of the “Great March of Return,” Hamas and Israel appear to be playing a high-stakes game of chicken, with each side — in both word and deed — threatening all-out war against the other.
As an Egyptian military intelligence delegation shuttles back and forth between Tel Aviv and Gaza to broker a ceasefire agreement between the two sides, Hamas is attempting to extract the greatest concessions from Israel using the specter of a punishing assault on the Israeli home front just before a national election — one that it knows would also cost Gaza dearly.
Though the main stated goal of the past year’s protests — the right for Gazan refugees and their descendants to return to their ancestral villages in Israel and the West Bank — is almost surely a nonstarter with Jerusalem, Hamas is hoping for Israel and Egypt to lift their blockade of the Strip, which the two countries maintain is necessary to prevent terror groups from importing weapons into the coastal enclave.
“I recently ordered that units be reinforced and that additional [armored] vehicles be dispatched in preparation for an extensive campaign. All citizens of Israel know that if an extensive campaign is necessary, we will go into it strong and secure, after all other possibilities have been exhausted,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Thursday.
“IDF troops have completed operational preparations for the events of Land Day in the southern region and are continuing to increase preparedness for a possible escalation of violence caused by violent and terrorist acts during [the protests],” the army said in a statement.
the first protest event, held on March 30 2018. Fifteen Palestinians were killed in clashes with IDF soldiers protecting the border. Since then over 180 Palestinians have been killed in border violence, according to February figures from the UN Human Rights Council. Hamas has claimed dozens of the dead as members.
Israeli defense officials — as well as Hamas’s political foe, the Palestinian Authority — accuse the terror group of encouraging the border riots in an effort to distract from its failures in governing the Gaza Strip, a crowded patch of land with crushing unemployment, limited access to electricity and potable water, and few economic prospects.