Making Israel ‘Pay the Price’: Hamas’ strategy in the West Bank

Ali Bou Jbara, The Cradle, July 28, 2023 —

Since 2022, increased coordination between Hamas and Palestinian resistance groups in the West Bank has forced the Israeli occupation to bear the brunt of its aggressions.

“Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) held a high-level meeting this afternoon, attended by political, military, and security officials from both sides. The discussion touched on ways to develop the resistance activity that the two movements adopt and lead and to strengthen cooperation between them on the political, military, and security levels.”

This is how the two Gaza-based factions opened their joint statement following the ‘Unity of Arenas’ battle on 22 August 2022 in the Gaza Strip. Since then, the two leading Palestinian resistance factions have gained significant ground in the West Bank, driving out invading Israeli forces and retaliating against attacks with shocking speed under a strategy known as ‘Pay the Price.’

The genesis of this successful alliance can be traced back to the 7 August, 2022 Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip. With the objective of singling out the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and launching a devastating military strike against the resistance group, Israeli forces sought to break the ‘Unity of Arenas’ equation that had united Palestinian forces in multiple territories since May 2021. Tel Aviv’s ultimate goal was to impose Judaization and settlements in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank while undermining the credibility and capabilities of the resistance in Gaza.

Hamas and PIJ, shoulder to shoulder

In the face of this aggression, the PIJ’s Quds Brigade stood resolute, with crucial logistical support provided by Hamas. Though not directly involved in the military confrontation, behind the scenes, Hamas’ solidarity and cooperation with PIJ leaders demonstrated a united front against the occupation. Throughout the confrontation, the two movements thwarted Israeli attempts to exploit and sow discord between them by emphasizing brotherhood and unity.

Now the strength of that collaboration has extended beyond the Gaza Strip, reaching deep into the occupied West Bank, where their efforts appear to be closely intertwined. This year, those efforts have reaped rewards: PIJ has led several direct military actions against Israeli forces and took “care” of the Jenin Battalion and other armed groups that have begun to expand across the West Bank.

During this time, Hamas pursued a dual-track approach: Conducting security operations to hold the Israelis accountable for their offenses in the occupied West Bank, and providing financial support to resistance groups for the procurement of weapons.

The ‘Pay the Price’ strategy

This carefully coordinated strategy spawned a number of successful operations by resistance fighters in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem, and even the 1948 occupied territories. Whenever a Palestinian attack occurred, Hamas’ military wing – the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades – promptly claimed responsibility, sending a clear message that any Israeli aggression in Palestine would be met with an “immediate response.”

The most recent of these operations in 2023 was the 6 July attack in Kedumim, east of Qalqilya Governorate, when Ahmed Yassin Hilal Ghaidan exited his vehicle and fired directly at an Israeli soldier, killing him instantly. The attack came immediately after the withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces from the Jenin camp, following its 3 July massacre which resulted in the death of 12 Palestinians.

Two days earlier, on 4 July, a run-over and stabbing operation took place on Pinhas Rozan Street, north of Tel Aviv, in which 10 Israelis were injured, 4 of whom were in critical condition.

The double operation near the Eli settlement south of Nablus on 20 June, in which four Israelis were killed – sparking a vast wave of Israeli outrage – came one day after the occupation forces stormed Jenin camp to arrest a Hamas member. During that raid, six Palestinians were killed, and around 100 others were injured.

On 28 January 2023, Khairi Alqam carried out a shooting operation inside the Nabi Yacoub settlement in Jerusalem, killing at least 7 Israelis and wounding 10 others, just one day after the occupation forces committed a massacre in Jenin camp in which nine Palestinians were killed.

The “Pay the Price Strategy” adopted by the two main Palestinian resistance factions demonstrates their ability to inflict pain on the occupying forces and launch effective operations against Israeli soldiers and settlers.

The strategy dates back to 28 April 2022, when the Izz al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades claimed responsibility for an attack on the settlement of Ariel – north of the occupied West Bank – in which an Israeli security guard was killed. The retaliatory attack was part of a series of responses to Israel’s desecration and aggression against Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. At the time, Al-Qassam Brigades described the attack as “a start of a new phase of resistance to the occupation in the West Bank.”

On 19 October that same year, ten days after carrying out an attack in the vicinity of the Shuafat camp – which killed a female Israeli soldier and injured another – Uday al-Tamimi carried out a shooting operation near the Maale Adumim settlement, east of Jerusalem, in which he was killed.

Hamas’ growing footprint in the West Bank

The West Bank’s resistance has become increasingly visible and impactful, largely due to the al-Qassam Brigades’ unique tactics and discreet activation of military cells. In certain instances, the movement refrains from claiming responsibility for security reasons, in order to ensure their continued capacity to carry out these operations.

A defining moment was the Jordan Valley operation on 7 April 2023, when Hamas members Moaz al-Masri and Hassan Qatanani responded to Israeli attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque. Their attack claimed the lives of three female Israeli soldiers and was accompanied by multiple missile strikes from southern Lebanon, Syria, and the Gaza Strip.

Similarly, on 27 February 2023, Hamas-affiliated Abd al-Fattah Kharousha carried out the “Huwara operation,” resulting in the deaths of two Israeli soldiers. The operation intentionally coincided with the Aqaba Summit in Jordan, which hosted US, Israeli, and Palestinian Authority (PA) officials and was drawing the ire of Palestinians everywhere.

The recent wave of resistance operations showcases Hamas’ growing sophistication in the art of timing, as well as its ability to assume full control of its targeted arena and deliver some significant and very specific results. By employing this “Pay the Price” strategy, Hamas has forced Israel to bear the brunt of its actions while sending clear warnings to the PA over its “security” collaboration with Tel Aviv under US auspices.

As a high-ranking source in Hamas tells The Cradle:

It is no secret that the Al-Qassam Brigades adopts a strategy of making the enemy ‘pay the price’ and of executing ‘quick responses’ in the face of its crimes, because we do not recognize the rules that the enemy is trying to establish – separating, isolating, and dividing the Palestinian people. We cannot stand idly by while the enemy practices its crimes in the West Bank. Those who carry out operations in the occupied West Bank are from the West Bank, and we seek to provide them with everything they require in order to defend themselves, their people, their land, and their sanctities.

Shifting tactics to gain the advantage

Beyond its lightening-quick retaliatory operations, Hamas has adopted a strategic policy of funding and coordinating with the resistance in the occupied West Bank. On 28 February 2022, the PA accused Musab Shtayyeh, a freed prisoner closely associated with Hamas, of transferring $1 million to the Lion’s Den faction to purchase weapons and ammunition.

Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper quotes a PA source who claims that Shtayyeh is primarily responsible for financing the Lion’s Den. He added that Palestinian security had discovered ways to transfer money to buy weapons, away from the strict supervision imposed on banks, exchange shops, and merchants.

This financial support has not been limited to local sources. On 25 June, the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported that Jordanian authorities thwarted an arms smuggling operation and arrested four Jordanians of Palestinian origin, accused of smuggling weapons to Hamas in the West Bank. This incident strained relations between Jordanian authorities and the resistance movement, resulting in a complete communication breakdown. Israeli authorities also arrested Jordanian Member of Parliament Imad Al-Adwan on 24 April, under suspicion of smuggling weapons and gold to the West Bank.

Israel holds Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas’ deputy head of the political bureau, accountable for the movement’s activities. According to Israeli Channel 12, under Arouri’s leadership, Hamas has been bolstering its operational capabilities from Lebanon, enabling its forces to launch a barrage of 38 missiles in just two minutes during an incident last April. The Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, wrote:

“Al-Arouri is not known to the Israeli public, but he is the man because of whom war almost broke out during the Passover holiday.”

This has marked a significant shift in Hamas’ strategy and has challenged the old rules of engagement between Israel and the Palestinian resistance. Per Channel 12: “The head of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, is constantly improving the “multi-front strategy,” which changes the rules of the game.”

“The unity of the arenas is no longer just a slogan, ” the broadcaster added, emphasizing that Arouri “has become the most charismatic figure in the organization, and he established contacts from Gaza to Tehran, passing through Beirut and the West Bank, to achieve his ultimate goal of launching a joint attack on Israel across all fronts.”

When asked why Israel fixates on Arouri for the spate of West Bank retaliatory operations, the senior Hamas source explains to The Cradle:

The occupation always adopts this policy of deluding the public into thinking that its problem is with a specific individual, in order to distract from the root of the problem – the presence of the occupation itself. The enemy is constantly looking for influential people in the leadership of the resistance, and when it finds one of them, it begins to exaggerate its role by saying that the elimination of this person means the elimination of the resistance within the occupied interior. But they know that those who resist are the people of the West Bank who suffer from the occupation, and that no matter what the enemy does, the Palestinian people will continue to resist the occupation.

Israeli General Yitzhak Brick has conceded that Israel’s attempts at implementing a “divide and rule” policy in Gaza have been challenging due to the unified front presented by Hamas and the PIJ.

Now, that coordination and collaboration have begun to bear fruit in the West Bank, a region Israel quietly seeks to annex. As the Palestinian resistance continues to thwart Israeli attempts, the occupation finds itself, time and time again, forced to deploy a substantial portion of its military forces in the West Bank without succeeding in eliminating the armed resistance.

Hamas’ strategic mastery and ability to forge resilient alliances and funding networks have not only inflicted significant damage on Israel, but also further emboldened the Palestinian resistance – which will not yield.

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