In the past few weeks several articles have been published by prominent figures in Hamas hinting at a possible change--or at least rethinking and reevaluation--of its terrorist tactics.
Yet another of these articles was published in the October 1998 issue of the monthly Filastin al-Muslimah, the principal organ of Hamas, published in London. The article, this time under the very clear title: “A new method of military resistance in Palestine,” is unsigned. An anonymous article in this monthly usually means either that it reflects the views of the Hamas leadership rather than those of an individual member, or that it was sent from inside the Territories and its author does not want to be exposed to pressures from the Palestinian Authority. It should be noted that the present article was written before the killing of the Awadallah brothers and the threats of Hamas to carry out large-scale operations in revenge.
The Zionist settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have recently increased their terrorist attacks against the Palestinian inhabitants. At the same time the Palestinian resistance has escalated its method of operations aiming at attacking the leaders of these settlers and their locations inside Israel. The observers and analyzers this time have noted the fact that no faction has taken responsibility for the attacks. Some sources have indicated that this series of operations, which was well prepared, was similar to the methods of the Qassam Brigades of Hamas. There would seem to be a new mode of operation taken by the faction that carried out those attacks. We may say that this new method is a consequence of various circumstances. The most important of these is the wish to leave the Zionist investigators of the Israeli General Security Service (Shabak) and the police, in the fog. Another reason is the wish to protect the members of the faction and their sympathizers from the arbitrary justice of the Palestinian police, which persists in abusing, arresting and killing the fighters, in accordance with its missions as assigned in the Oslo Accord and in its agreements with the Zionist entity and the United States.
It all began in Hebron, the city of the continuing Jihad, as was best described by the Israeli security commentator Roni Shaqed who wrote: “In Hebron, the closure and the curfew are periods between one operation and another. No one has illusions. Everyone knows that the coming wave of terrorist operations is only a matter of time, in spite of the Israeli military and security measures taken by the Occupation in the city.” There are about 1300 Zionist soldiers on the line between the Palestinian neighborhoods and the nests of the terrorist settlers in the city. This is the most overcrowded location with enemy troops; three soldiers for every settler. Nevertheless, as confirmed also by enemy security sources, anyone who wishes to carry out an operation will find the door for it.
A qualified development of the Palestinian military activity was the success of one of the Mujahideen. On 30th August, 1998 he penetrated the Zionist military barriers in the old part of the city, and broke into the house of Rabbi Shlomo Ra`nan, 63 years old, grandson of the spiritual leader of the Zionist settling movement. He managed to fatally stab him several times and to set fire in the house to eliminate any survivors, before returning home safely.
Following this heroic operation in Hebron the army and the police made a large-scale search, pronouncing the city a closed military area. The Palestinian police in turn searched the areas under its control. Netanyahu cut off his vacation in the northern part of Palestine to consult his ministers. He declared that Israel would do its best to protect the Jews of Hebron, and that they were close to his heart and their protection will be strengthened. Only a couple of days after this announcement the enemy army decided to rearm 250 settlers of the Jewish right-wing organizations with the weapons that had been taken from them on the advise of the inquiry committee set by the previous government after the massacre in the Abraham sanctuary.
The settlers have deliberately organized special patrols in the streets of the old part of the city, attacked Palestinian inhabitants and stopped some of them to check their identity cards.
As to the closure on the city, it brought about a sever crisis of drinking water. The technical Palestinian teams who handled the issue could not move between the water pipe lines in and out of the city. The various medical centers in Hebron could not work as usual, and this increased the suffering of the inhabitants.
The Palestinian resistance has rapidly moved its area of activity deep into Israel, specifically to Tel-Aviv. On Thursday, 30th August, 1998, at 09:45am, a bomb of one kg of explosives plus nails was exploded in front of a coffee shop in the junction of Rottchild St. And Allenby St. Twenty-one Israelis were wounded, one with moderate to severe wounds. No one took responsibility for the explosion and the security service did not uncover the cell or the group behind it. This operation, in spite of its limited casualties, made the Occupation authorities put its forces in a situation of extreme alert. It also caused embarrassment to the security service because there were new, and never before used technologies used in the explosion. There was no car bomb or suicide operation. This was another qualified development registered by the resistance and the Jihad in Palestine.
This article attempts to leave vague the identity of the group responsible for the above-mentioned operations, while at the same time, making it quite clear--through various transparent hints--that Hamas was responsible, or at least that the operations were carried out by Hamas members. However, it may hint at another new phase in Hamas: a “green light” to the various Hamas groups in the West Bank, mainly in the Hebron area, to initiate independent operations. One reason for this change may be due to the difficult situation of Hamas activists there and the possible increase of surveillance by Palestinian security forces. We should remember that a number of developments have put Hamas in a very difficult situation: the killing of Muhi al-Din al-Sharif in March 1998; the subsequent arrests of Hamas political and military leaders; the killing of the Awadallah brothers in September 1998; the discovery of some of its “laboratories” and the pressure on the Palestinian Authority to escalate its cooperation with Israel.
In these circumstances (and perhaps influenced by possible internal reevaluations), the movement is currently promoting operations that will on one hand continue to grant Hamas its raison d`etre, especially with the renewal of the political talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. On the other hand such operation gain the sympathy of large circles in the Palestinian society--a very important element in the considerations of the Islamic movement.
The attempt to present two new kinds of operations here may also show that Hamas is dedicating much thought to the effects of its activities--on both the Israeli and Palestinian societies. There are hidden elements in the article that may give the impression that every operation is planned to attract the sympathy of parts of society without creating alienation from others. The anonymous author is deliberately indicating at the end of the article that there was no car bomb or suicide operation, as if to say that the new methods are more sophisticated: one was an heroic operation against one person in Hebron and the other in Tel-Aviv caused fewer casualties than did past operations.
What does all this portend? It is preto indicate categorically that this is going to be from now on the nature of the operations of Hamas, at least in the immediate future, till another next reevaluation. We should remember also Hamas’ need for a large scale revenge bombing in the style of the “old” operations, particularly after the ambiguous circumstances of the killing of the Awadallah brothers. However the present article may suggest a trend: courageous operations against Jewish settlers in places of dispute with Israel that may increase the popularity of Hamas, such as in the old part of Hebron. The article did not mention another operation, carried out on October 1st, 1998, by a hand grenade thrown at a group of Israeli soldiers in the same area, which resulted in the wounding of 10 soldiers and 4 Palestinian inhabitants. The article was probably written before this operation, but this operation may be along the lines of the new method it presents.
The article gives the impression that the main concern of Hamas nowadays is to hide its movements and leave them vague, due to the pressure they are confronting from both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Therefore, they are willing to commit operations without taking responsibility, based on the (correct) assumption that the Palestinian public will recognized the hand of Hamas. The reevaluation is not only a result of looking for new ways of struggle but--and especially--a consequence of confusion among its ranks.
The ongoing pressure of the Palestinian security services on Hamas is therefore a key point and a very crucial factor in countering the terror of Hamas. This is a barrier that the Islamic movement is facing difficulties in getting past.