November 11, 2013 | Policy Brief

One-Year After ‘Pillar of Defense,’ Hamas is on its Heels

November 11, 2013 | Policy Brief

One-Year After ‘Pillar of Defense,’ Hamas is on its Heels

By David Barnett

One year ago Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces launched Operation Pillar of Defense (PoD) in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The largely aerial assault began in dramatic fashion as the Israeli Air Force targeted and killed Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and eliminated much of Hamas’ stockpile of Iranian Fajr-5 rockets in minutes.

After a week of fighting that ended as a result of a U.S. and Egypt-brokered ceasefire agreement, Palestinians in Gaza said Hamas was stronger than ever. A year later, Hamas is in one of its worst positions since its founding in 1987.

Despite frequent denials, disagreement over the Islamist movement’s current direction is reportedly growing. In addition, Hamas is facing an unprecedented financial crisis. Gaza’s economy is losing $230 million a month as a result of Egypt’s crackdown on smuggling tunnels. And militarily, Hamas has been forced to rely more heavily on locally produced weaponry.

Following PoD, Israel’s then Defense Minister Ehud Barak boasted that it would be quite some time before Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups would “have an appetite to repeat the experience they have just undergone.” This has been largely true.

Hamas and the IDF have engaged in only one major border incident since the ceasefire’s implementation. In addition, since the operation’s end, only 71 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza and the Sinai toward Israel. By contrast, in the six months after Operation Cast Lead (December 2008 – January 2009), Palestinians in Gaza fired at least 219 rockets and mortars at Israel.

Although Hamas is preparing for the next round (so is Israel), their stomach for escalation remains limited. That said, its leadership and operatives are actively seeking violence from the West Bank. For Hamas, attacks could potentially restore some of the group’s lost honor since PoD, derail ongoing peace talks, or even spark a third intifada.

This may be wishful thinking, however. Most West Bankers say they would not support a third intifada. And Israeli officials consistently say the likelihood of a new uprising is minimal as both Israeli and Palestinian authorities are “not letting [Hamas] lift their heads, neither Hamas in Hebron nor Hamas in the outlying villages.”

A year after claiming victory against Israel in PoD, Hamas now finds itself on the defensive politically, economically, and militarily. How it plans to bounce back remains to be seen.

David Barnett is a research associate at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


Palestinian Politics