Emboldened by its increasing acceptance among Arab governments, Hamas has changed its tactics in Gaza and is openly leading the rocket fire against Israel and moreover, making it clear that it effectively uses the Gaza population as human shields to do so.
Meanwhile, Israel has arrested a large, 30-member Hamas terror cell in the West Bank, thwarting an apparent attempt by the organisation to reassemble its terror infrastructure across several cities under control of the Palestinian Authority.
Regarding Gaza, Hamas had until recently avoided launching rockets against Israel itself, instead passively permitting other terror groups to do so. However, Hamas has changed that policy and has proudly taken credit for the latest barrages of rockets launched against Israel in late October.
Ha’aretz columnists Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel wrote on Tuesday (subscription required) that Hamas is changing its internal rules of engagement with Israel to increase the pretexts it uses for a rocket attack and showing further brazenness by it releasing a video of one of its rocket volleys against Israel clearly being launched from residential areas in Gaza.
In Hamas’ renewed fervor to stand up to Israel militarily, it shot itself in the foot, as it were, when it distributed films showing rockets being launched from the heart of populated areas. Thus it uses civilians as shields, just as Israel has claimed all these years.
Unlike during previous rounds, the events of the past two weeks have clearly been initiated by Hamas. The group is now taking an active role in the violence and isn’t afraid to say so.
A Ynet report also noted that the video set a precedent:
In the clip fast-paced shooting can be seen, probably from a multiple rocket launcher. It is clear in the video that the launching spot is surrounded by civilian structures, which could further tarnish the group’s global image.
Terror groups in the Gaza Strip have been known to shoot out of populated areas so as to stop the IDF from retaliating in a manner that may target innocent citizens. But while they often release videos of the rocket fire, the groups seldom document shooting from populated areas. Whenever they do, they usually blur the surroundings so that Israel cannot use it against them.
While you probably wouldn’t know it from the Australian media, Hamas’ barrage has continued since the major escalation last week. Hamas claimed responsibility for 20 rockets fired on Monday. Two more fell overnight.
Meanwhile, regional analysts have questioned whether Hamas’ new boldness has been encouraged by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt, and more recently, the visit of Qatar’s emir to Gaza the day before the latest escalation.
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s Arab News published an analysis, "Is Hamas slowly gaining international legitimacy," written by Israel-based US freelancer Linda Gradstein.
Back in the US, a similarly-themed story by veteran journalist Joel Greenberg appeared the same day in the Washington Post.
In the Jerusalem Post on Monday, Kenneth Bandler from the American Jewish Committee wrote that the US should be exerting pressure on Arab governments to stop legitimising Hamas.
Qatar’s regional activism will demand the attention of President Obama or Gov. Romney after the US elections next week. The US should use its influence with Egypt, Qatar and other Arab governments to ensure that the emir’s Gaza initiative remains the exception.
However, it has been reported that Bahrain has already lined up to become the next country to send a high-level delegation to Gaza.