Iran-backed forces in Gaza adopted an optimistic tone in the face of Israeli airstrikes, as the militants maintain the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict has reached a new phase.
“Sooner or later, the Zionist regime will have to submit to the conditions set by [Palestinian] resistance groups,” Hamas spokesman Abdul Latif al Qunu said Monday, according to Iranian state media. “The fact that the Zionist regime’s armed forces target Palestinian infrastructure, roads and houses shows its real inability to confront the resistance’s attacks.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintains that his forces attack only legitimate military targets while faulting Hamas for placing rocket batteries near schools and other civilian centers. The latest eruption of violence has been attributed in many quarters to clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in east Jerusalem, but the militant group is taking credit for expanding the conflict.
“The resistance will not allow Israeli occupation forces to attack civilian targets in al-Quds,” Hamas spokesman Khaled al Qaddumi, who is based in Iran, told Al-Monitor. “For the first time, we have an uprising in Jerusalem, among Palestinians who are living in 1948 areas, in the West Bank, and rockets are being launched from Gaza.”
The decision to bombard Israel in response to the clashes over the incidents in Jerusalem, which stemmed from the attempted eviction of several Palestinian families in east Jerusalem, represents “a strategic shift” for Hamas.
“The process of confronting the Israeli atrocities has been ramped up,” al Qaddumi said, boasting that Hamas’s rocket arsenal can now deliver 551-pound explosives deep into Israel.
The Hamas spokesman confirmed that Iran “has helped a lot in transferring knowledge and expertise on one side, and transporting the rockets on another, helping Hamas depend on its local capabilities to produce such advanced technology.”
With the fighting once begun, Netanyahu has shown no interest in ending the clash until those pieces are taken off the board.
“The directive is to continue to strike at terrorist targets,” the prime minister said Monday. “We will continue to act as necessary to restore peace and security to all residents of Israel.”
Al Qaddumi’s comments about a new strategy for Hamas and similar groups may reinforce Israeli claims that the conflict was instigated by the militants.
“There was a dispute that was taking place in Jerusalem that had nothing to do with Gaza, Hamas decided to begin firing rockets,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies Vice President Jonathan Schanzer told a European media outlet. “Many of those rockets, or almost all of them, have been provided by Iran. This is a proxy war, in fact, by Iran against Israel.”
Al Quddumi, the Hamas spokesman, rejected that characterization. “We don’t need instigations, we’re not anyone’s proxy,” he told Al-Monitor. “Israel’s barbaric crimes make it a source of instability not only in Palestine, but across the region. They attack Syria, Iraq and, as we saw recently, Iranian nuclear facilities. They assassinate nuclear scientists. So yes, we’re confronting a common enemy, but that doesn’t mean we should be blamed.”
Some congressional Democrats and many international observers have pointed to the attempted eviction as “the precipitating flashpoint” for the fight, but Israeli officials maintain that the crisis was occasioned by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to cancel elections that his rivals in Hamas were expected to win.
That cancellation angered Hamas, which vowed that Israel would “pay a price” for the political setback. But Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian group also backed by Iran, had called for scrapping the elections anyway in favor of a plan to repudiate the Oslo Accords.
“During a meeting with Palestinian factions’ leaders abroad May 4, [Islamic Jihad secretary general Ziad al Nakhalah] called for a unified and stronger Palestinian position against the risks threatening the Palestinian cause that would involve reviving the Palestinian national project and rebuilding the Palestine Liberation Organization based on a resistance political program,” as Al-Monitor noted.
President Joe Biden’s administration is perceived as having given Netanyahu the political space to destroy the rocket arsenals that the militants are relying upon for their new strategy, although U.S. officials and many Democrats also have sounded uncomfortable with the extent of the clashes.
“They appear to be giving the Israelis a little bit more time to wrap up this operation to be able to, in the Israeli hopes, to be able to decapitate some of Hamas’s senior leaders and take out additional rocket stores so that they can degrade Hamas capabilities for the longer term, rather than having something like this erupt yet again in another three or four years,” Schanzer said.
Biden and Netanyahu spoke by phone on Monday, with the White House saying in a statement that the U.S. leader backed calls for a ceasefire. Israeli and Hamas officials, however, appear in no mood to halt the conflict.