The Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead
II. Section One – Hamas and the other Palestinian terrorist organizations strive to rebuild and upgrade their military-defensive capabilities
2) Rebuilding the defensive and emergency civilian apparatuses.
3) Rebuilding Hamas’s military-terrorist wing
ii) Reestablishing rocket and mortar shell manufacturing capabilities
iii) Smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip
iv) Media exposure of the smuggling route from Iran to the Gaza Strip via Sudan
v) Rebuilding the tunnels
vi) Renewing military training
vii) The terrorist organizations’ return to routine
III. Section Two – Restoring everyday life and entrenching Hamas control:
1) Providing for immediate civilian needs
2) Renewal of internal security forces
3) The struggle with the Palestinian Authority for control of external assistance to the Gaza Strip
4) Restricting UNRWA’s activities
5) Increasing Hamas control of NGOs and other organizations
6) Strengthening the control of the Hamas de-facto administration
7) Continuing and intensifying the Islamization process of the Gaza Strip
IV. Section Three – Rebuilding the infrastructure
1) The international community’s commitments to rebuilding the Gaza Strip and the difficulties encountered
2) "The resistance economy”
3) Financial support for various sectors and institutions
4) Immediate solutions for building problems
5) Restoring and strengthening Hamas’s propaganda machine
6) Rebuilding the educational system
7) Rebuilding the agricultural system
V. Section Four – The influence of the rebuilding process on Hamas’s terrorist policy
1. Operation Cast Lead caused severe damage to Hamas’s military, security, administrative and civilian structures in the Gaza Strip, as well as to the infrastructure and public installations from or near which Hamas operated during the fighting. In the six months since the fighting ended, Hamas has made an effort to restore its internal security forces and military-terrorist wing (the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades) to their previous strength and to upgrade their capabilities. At the same time, Hamas strives to control and supervise the rebuilding process, while not allowing the Palestinian Authority to gain a foothold.
2. However, in attempting to do so, Hamas has encountered basic difficulties:
i) The internal Palestinian rivalry between Hamas and Fatah : The rivalry did not abate after Operation Cast Lead but rather increased , and no real progress has been made so far at the internal Palestinian dialogue held in Cairo . The separation process between the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria , which intensified after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007, continued after Operation Cast Lead. Two separate administrative entities have taken hold , each ruled by a different establishment, each with its own policies and economy (although funds from the Palestinian Authority continue flowing into the Gaza Strip). One of the results is a fierce struggle between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for the generous amounts of financial aid ($4.5 billion) promised to the Gaza Strip at the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, in effect preventing the money from being used to rebuild the Gaza Strip infrastructure.
ii) Hamas’s belligerent ideology and strategies have remained the same : Hamas continues to adhere to its rigid fundamental positions, including the use of terrorism ("resistance”), refusal to recognize Israel and to accept previous agreements reached between Israel and the PLO. With regard to practical matters, Hamas continues its intransigence, for example the issue of Gilad Shalit, which is extremely sensitive for Israel . One result is Hamas’s continued isolation in the Arab world and in the international arena, and so far no practical arrangements have been made between Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas which would normalize the movements of civilians and merchandise through the Gaza Strip crossings and make it possible for the raw materials needed for rebuilding to enter (such as steel and concrete, prevented by Israel). The continued restrictions on passage through the crossings and the difficulties posed by Egypt on operating the tunnel industry (especially after a Hezbollah network was uncovered in the region) also make it hard to rebuild the infrastructure and Hamas’s military capabilities damaged during the war.
3. The aforementioned difficulties not withstanding, to restore normal life and advance rebuilding Hamas has adopted a policy of restrained attacks in recent months which it tries to enforce (although not entirely successfully) on rogue terrorist networks, especially those affiliated with the global jihad. The policy is accompanied by presenting a Smiley face to the Obama administration with the overall objective of achieving a time-out , even if only a tactical one, to give Hamas the time to strengthen its hold over the Gaza Strip, find solutions for the everyday problems of the populace, and restore and even upgrade the security and military forces damaged by Operation Cast Lead .
4. An interim summary of the rebuilding processes, which are still far from complete , indicates the following:
i) With regard to the military networks : Hamas is rebuilding and strives to upgrade its military-terrorist wing (the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades). That includes replacing the weapons lost with new ones (including advanced weapons) by smuggling them in through the tunnels (despite Egypt ‘s intensive counter-activities). So far Hamas has smuggled in dozens of standard rockets, hundreds of mortar shells, dozens of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, and tens of tons of standard explosives and raw materials for the manufacture of homemade weapons. The smuggling allows Hamas to extend the range of its rockets and to improve its anti-tank and anti-aircraft capabilities. In addition, the tunnel system in the Rafah region is in use again and are a vital channel for smuggling weapons (as well as food, equipment and fuel). Weapons are being manufactured again, and military training and instruction have been renewed (although for the time being the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades are keeping a lower profile than they did before Operation Cast Lead).
ii) With regard to security systems : Hamas is particularly concerned about restoring its internal security forces, which were severely damaged by the fighting, and to strengthen its control over the Gaza Strip. Five months after the end of Operation Cast Lead, Hamas succeeded in restoring the forces’ daily functioning, as can be seen by their increased deployment and visibility. The oppression of Hamas opponents (primarily Fatah) has been renewed to ensure that they do not try to regroup. In addition, new operatives are being recruited and an emergency exercise was being held to simulate emergency deployment and dealing with an Israel attack (a lesson learned from the blow delivered by the IDF at the beginning of Operation Cast Lead). Headquarters have been assigned temporary quarters, most of them in civilian locations, to find solutions, even temporary, for the problems involved in restoring the apparatuses which were attacked.
iii) With regard to administration and control : Hamas is making an enormous effort to establish its political control by suppressing its opponents. Fatah activists have been detained and executed and Hamas has increased its control of various civilian systems (education, health, unions, NGOS, clans). One of the ways it strengthens its control is by a process of Islamization, turning radical Islam into an obligation whose influence on Gazan daily life is increasing. Two of the manifestations of Islamization after Operation Cast Lead were the establishment of new national Islamic bank and of an Islamic insurance company, which promote Hamas’s objective of controlling the economy of the Gaza Strip (although their activities are limited at this stage). In addition, local reconciliation committees were established to operate according to Islamic religious law, and are controlled by Hamas (in competition with the traditional reconciliation committees), laws were passed against to keep Internet surfers from logging on to sites considered immoral, the markets were closed on Fridays and religious themes were imposed on youngsters’ summer camps. All of the above have enabled Hamas to retain its control of the Gaza Strip, and today there is no internal threat to the stability of its regime.
iv) With regard to the Gaza Strip’s economy : In the months since Operation Cast Lead, Hamas has transferred humanitarian assistance and funds to many sectors of the population which were harmed during the fighting. That has helped stabilize the situation and prevented an immediate humanitarian crisis, but it has not provided fundamental solutions for rebuilding housing and public institutions. Administrative functions and symbols of power have not been restored (for example, constructing a building for the Palestinian Legislative Council). At this stage it can be said that during the period since Operation Cast Lead Hamas has not managed to put into motion significant processes for rebuilding the Gaza Strip (beyond immediate repairs to the infrastructure such as water and electricity). In the absence of progress in physical rebuilding and because of public criticism, Hamas has tried to market the idea of a "resistance economy” to the Gazans. That involves constructing an economy which supports Hamas’s terrorist strategy and is based on the resources of the Gaza Strip to reduce dependence on external aid to a minimum. In practical terms, it means building mud huts for the homeless, employing the unemployed in local agriculture, growing food demanded by the local market while banning the cultivation of export growths, such as strawberries and flowers. The degree to which the idea can be implemented is questionable, but it is a useful as a propaganda tool to show that Hamas is coping with the economic constraints of the Gaza Strip.
5. The political, social and military processes put into motion by Hamas in the Gaza Strip (which continued after Operation Cast Lead) have increased the separation between Hamas’s political entity in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria . The separation has created a fundamental difficulty for the Palestinians in implementing the road map, because the Hamas de-facto administration in the Gaza Strip continues its refusal to recognize Israel and stresses terrorism as the solution to the conflict. That embarrasses and confuses the United States and the international community because the Palestinian Authority does not have effective tools, especially not at this stage, to change the problematic situation in the Gaza Strip and to restore the status quo ante. Thus efforts are being invested to strengthen the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria as the core of the "state in the making,” with the hope that the future will provide the tools and a chance to deal effectively with the issue of the Gaza Strip.