May 13, 2021 | Policy Brief

Hamas Escalates Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

May 13, 2021 | Policy Brief

Hamas Escalates Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Hamas’ rocket fire from Gaza into Jerusalem and other Israeli cities this week marked a dangerous escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, leading the Jewish state to respond with airstrikes. These events underscore the continued threat that Hamas poses to Israelis – including Israeli Arabs – and to Palestinians.

The attacks this week constitute the first case of rocket fire by Hamas against Israel since the 2014 Gaza war. Every time Hamas fires a rocket, it is committing not one but two war crimes: targeting Israeli and Palestinian civilians and using human shields to discourage Israeli retaliation.

Over the past seven years, Hamas has advanced a significant rearmament of its asymmetric capabilities. According to the Israeli military, Hamas has some 30,000 rockets, 300 anti-tank missiles, 100 anti-aircraft missiles, dozens of unmanned aerial vehicles, and an army of some 30,000 people. Similarly, the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which has also fired rockets at Israel this week, possesses 6,000 rockets as well as dozens of drones, anti-tank missiles, and anti-aircraft missiles.

Military and financial support from Iran and other sources has enabled Hamas to rearm and to hold onto power in the Gaza Strip for years. According to the State Department’s 2019 Country Reports on Terrorism, “Hamas has received funding, weapons, and training from Iran and raises funds in Gulf countries.” The report added that Hamas “receives donations from some Palestinian and other expatriates as well as from its own charity organizations.” In the past, Hamas has reportedly received support from terror networks based in Turkey, Qatar, Lebanon, and Libya. Iran has also provided a considerable amount of funding to PIJ.

In response to the malign conduct of Hamas and PIJ, Congress should consider passing legislation that targets their support networks. Lawmakers have introduced the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act of 2021 (PITSPA) in a bipartisan manner in multiple Congresses, but it has never moved beyond a committee markup.

The bill would mandate the imposition of sanctions on senior members and supporters of Hamas and PIJ, including individuals, companies, and foreign state actors. The legislation provides the administration flexibility in imposing sanctions, by allowing the executive branch to choose among different types of sanctions with varying degrees of severity.

PITSPA also seeks to dissuade foreign governments from providing support to Hamas and PIJ, by barring such governments from receiving U.S. foreign assistance or advanced weapons systems.

PITSPA itself is modelled on the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act (HIFPA), which mandates secondary sanctions on foreign individuals, entities, and governments providing support to Hezbollah. Given HIFPA’s initial success in making it more difficult for Hezbollah to utilize the international financial system, PITSPA could have a similar effect.

If Congress passes PITSPA, it could spur supporters of Hamas and PIJ – be they individual charities, state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran, other foreign states, or state institutions – to think twice about giving the terrorist groups the wherewithal to fire their missiles.

Matthew Zweig is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Iran Program and Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from Matthew, the Iran Program, and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Matthew on Twitter @MatthewZweig1. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_Iran and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Palestinian Politics Sanctions and Illicit Finance