July 15, 2014 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1104

Why Did Hamas Launch Its Current Rocket Offensive Against Israel?

July 15, 2014 | By Yigal Carmon and Y. Yehoshua*
Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1104


The current Gaza conflict, which broke out following a deliberate escalation by Hamas when it fired dozens of rockets into Israeli cities over a wide radius (including Beersheba, Rehovot, and Ashdod and later Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa) raises questions about the reasons for this rocket offensive by Hamas. Why is it that, on July 7, 2014, Hamas broadened the scope of the battle beyond the exchanges of fire with Israel that had occurred previously, and fired rockets deeper into Israel than it had since Operation Pillar of Defense in late 2012?

Apparently, Hamas' decision to launch a rocket offensive against Israel was made on the local level by Hamas' military arm, the 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, perhaps without consulting with the movement's political wing either within or outside the Gaza Strip – and this for local and immediate reasons to be detailed below, alongside additional motives linked to the deteriorating status of the movement in the internal Palestinian arena as well as in the inter-Arab arena.

1. The Immediate Motive For Hamas' Rocket Offensive: Israel's Discovery And Targeting Of A Strategic Hamas Project

On July 5, two days before Hamas fired its first heavy barrage of rockets into Israel, Israel struck one of Hamas' dozens of long tunnels leading out of the Gaza Strip into Israel. The tunnel was one of several that were built in recent years as a strategic project to surprise Israel in future conflicts, enabling Hamas to move armed activists deep into Israel to carry out terror attacks in densely populated areas.

The discovery and destruction of this tunnel and the strategic planning behind it (in addition to the deaths of activists from its military arm inside the tunnel) apparently pushed the military arm into responding with a wide-scale rocket barrage, including long-range rockets, aimed at striking areas across and deep inside Israel, and thus provoking a wide-scale Israeli reaction.

2. The Fundamental Reasons For Hamas' Rocket Offensive

A. The Decline In Hamas' Status In The Internal Palestinian Arena And Inter-Palestinian Disputes

In the past few years, Hamas' status has declined even among its Palestinian followers and supporters, both inside and outside the Gaza Strip. The backdrop to this decline is the severe economic crisis in the Strip as well as the domestic and foreign policy of the movement itself.

The movement's expectations that the longed-for reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority (PA), achieved on April 23, 2014 would stem the harsh internal Palestinian criticism of it have not been met. Moreover, the movement was accused that the reconciliation agreement constituted "surrender" to the PA's demands and won nothing for Hamas, at least in the short term. Hamas in effect gave up its control of the Gaza Strip under the agreement, and consented to the formation of a government that is headed by Fatah member Rami Hamdallah and most of whose ministers are affiliated with Fatah – whereas the PA, for its part, continued to arrest Hamas activists in the West Bank. The PA also has not been paying the salaries of some 40,000 former Hamas administration officials – allegedly in compliance with demands by the U.S. and the E.U., that have promised the PA financial aid, and in spite of Qatar's willingness to pay these salaries. Furthermore, Egypt is ignoring Hamas' requests to open the Rafah border crossing.

The Hamas administration is also facing criticism both from within the movement and from other Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, such as the Islamic Jihad, which are accusing it of having abandoned the path of the resistance, and of having signed the reconciliation agreement with the PA though the latter has not relinquished the option of negotiating and conducting security coordination with the current Israeli administration.

B. Hamas' Status In The Inter-Arab Arena. After Repudiation By The Iran-Syria Axis Hamas Turns To Courting Iran.

Hamas' status in the Arab and Muslim world has undergone a number of changes since the beginning of the Arab Spring. The movement's support in Syria for the rebels opposing President Bashar Al-Assad, and its joining the MB axis headed by Qatar, Turkey, and Egypt under Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi, led to its repudiation by the resistance axis which is headed by Iran and Syria.

For its move against the Assad regime in Syria, Hamas has paid very dearly: Hamas leaders – who had been sheltered by Syria for decades – were accused by Assad of being "treacherous and self-serving"[1] and of abandoning the path of resistance, and in early 2012 were expelled from the country in disgrace. To this day, the movement has not found a permanent home base for its political bureau.

The leader of the resistance axis, Iran, has also expressed its dissatisfaction with Hamas' policy, significantly downgrading its monetary support for the movement, which is in a serious economic crisis. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei even took care to point out to then-Hamas prime minister in Gaza Isma'il Haniya, during his February 2012 visit to Tehran, the "fate of Yasser Arafat, expelled by the nations of the region because he abandoned the path of the resistance."[2]

Moreover, Qatar's sponsorship of Hamas turned out to be unreliable, because of severe pressure on it from the other Gulf states to stop its support for the MB, including Hamas.

Further isolating the movement was the crisis in political Islam that followed the ouster of Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi. These events led Hamas, like Qatar, to turn to courting Iran and to consider the possibility of returning to the fold of the resistance axis (perhaps even without adjusting Hamas' position vis-à-vis the Assad regime in Syria). It appears, however, that so far Iran is not responsive to Hamas' overtures, and is firmly refusing to receive Hamas political bureau head Khaled Mash'al in Tehran. Recently, on May 22, 2014, Mash'al was compelled to settle for meeting with Hossein Abdollahian, the aide to the Iranian foreign minister, in the Qatari capital of Doha. The reports of what went on at that meeting from Iran and from Hamas were very different, attesting to the chasm between them. An article posted on June 26, 2014, about one month after the meeting, on the Iranian website Tabnak, titled "Mr. Mash'al, Answer the Following Questions before Asking for Help," clearly expressed Iran's sense of betrayal. It asked: "How can Iran go back to trusting an organization that turned its back on the Syrian regime after it sat in Damascus for years and received all kinds of assistance [from this regime]...? How can we trust an organization that enjoyed Iranian support for years and then described Turkey and Qatar as its saviors?"[3]

Hamas' vacillations in its loyalty to the resistance axis – abandoning Iran and Syria and then attempting to rejoin them – have lost it its credibility both among those loyal to the resistance axis and among its opponents, and have reduced its status in the eyes of the general Arab and Muslim public.

C. The Current Clash With The Egyptian Regime And Its Impact On Daily Life In The Gaza Strip

As noted above, the June 30, 2013 removal of the MB regime headed by Morsi in Egypt – a regime which had sponsored Hamas – also contributed to the decline in the movement's status in the Arab world. In fact, Hamas' MB connection caused it to be the focus of harsh public and media criticism in Egypt even earlier, ever since the January 2011 revolution. It was accused of acting to deliberately harm Egyptian state security and sovereignty with a series of attacks – including the August 2012 attack in Rafah in which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed – and of interfering in Egypt's internal affairs. Following Morsi's ouster, Hamas' status declined further. Currently, the Egyptian authorities are openly hostile to it: it has been outlawed by an Egyptian court, and several Hamas activists are now on trial; the Rafah crossing remains closed, and the Egyptian Army is conducting extensive activity against the Hamas-run smuggling tunnels between the Sinai and the Gaza Strip that were and remain the only open route into and out of the Gaza Strip.

D. The Kidnapping And Murder Of The Three Israeli Teens And Its Ramifications. West Bank Residents Did Not Respond To Hamas' Call To Launch A Third Intifada.

The June 12 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens, whether on instructions from the Hamas leadership or not, also pushed Hamas to escalate the situation in Gaza. In this operation as well, the movement racked up a series of losses. Despite the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, there was PA-Israel security coordination to find the kidnappers and the captives. Furthermore, even though the kidnapping took place alongside the wide-scale Water and Salt campaign to obtain freedom for the Palestinian prisoners, the kidnapping only deepened the prisoner crisis, as many Hamas activists – some of whom had been freed from prison in the Gilad Shalit deal – were arrested by Israel. In addition, West Bank residents did not respond to Hamas spokesmen's repeated calls to them to launch a third intifada against the occupation.

*Y. Carmon is the President of MEMRI; Y. Yehoshua is Vice President for Research and Director of MEMRI Israel.


[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.5480, Bashar Al-Assad: The Nobel Peace Prize Should Have Gone To Me October 15, 2013.

[2], February 12, 2012.

[3], June 26, 2014.

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