The al-Qassam Brigades have prepared themselves for a long battle of many weeks. Abu Abida also said that Israel will not determine the timing of the conflict’s conclusion or its terms, emphasizing that the battle will involve many surprises.
Mahmoud al-Zahar, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, spoke to al-Aqsa satellite network on the evening of July 11 about his organization’s readiness for war. According to Zahar, the battle will be decisive and game changing, even if it continues for months.
Al-Monitor asked a high-ranking Hamas official currently residing outside of Gaza about the organization’s stance on a ground operation. The official believes it is unlikely Israel will send its troops into Gaza as it would result in casualties for the Israeli army. “We do not want Israel to take this step because it will cost the lives of many Palestinians, since Israel will follow a scorched-earth policy before its soldiers cross Gaza’s borders.”
“As the political leadership, we are in communication with fighters inside Gaza who are beginning military preparations for any Israeli attempt at a ground operation. They have field plans that could cause Israel to regret the decision to undertake such operation — they will kill many Israeli soldiers, target Israeli military vehicles and capture soldiers for use in prisoner exchanges,” the official added.
Raafet Marra, a Hamas official in Lebanon, noted at a recent press conference that he considered a ground operation unlikely because of Israel’s fear of the many surprises the al-Qassam Brigades have in store. He said that Israel is also reluctant to order its soldiers into an unknown world, as it lacks knowledge of the capacities, positions and tactics that await them. He said Israel fears a scene of destroyed tanks, burned vehicles, disfigured corpses and dead or captured soldiers.
At the climax of Israeli preparation for a ground operation, information was leaked about efforts to establish a cease-fire. The most important such effort was a July 10 telephone conversation between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A Palestinian figure in Gaza who acts as a mediator between Hamas and the West revealed to Al-Monitor, “The US administration is making an effort to calm tensions between Hamas and Israel by means of its indirect communication with Hamas through its allies in Qatar and Turkey. This represents progress for the United States, given that it considers Hamas a terrorist organization. Nonetheless, the United States could overlook that classification to prevent the region from exploding.”
He added, “The Obama administration does not want wars in the region, and it is attempting to act as an intermediary between Israel and Hamas to arrive at a middle ground accepted by both sides. But its efforts are blocked by two considerations: first, the obstinacy of the current Israeli government, which has not yet achieved a military victory, and second, Hamas’ intention to lift the blockade of Gaza, implement reconciliation [with Fatah] and establish international guarantees for any potential cease-fire, which would partially open the door for future dialogue.”
Palestinians struggle to compete with Israeli PR machine Daoud Kuttab
The Palestinians concede they are miles behind Israel in public relations as international media largely repeat Israel’s account of the war.
The Palestinian and Israeli narratives are so divergent one would think people are talking about two different conflicts. The Israeli narrative revolves around a self-defense argument, specifically that Israel is defending itself from Hamas rockets that have turned the lives of innocent Israelis into a psychological hell because they have to go bomb shelters every time warning sirens blare.
Palestinians, on the other hand, claim they are the victims because the Israelis started this unprovoked war. They insist that Israel, without substantiation, began by blaming Hamas for the abduction and killing of three Israeli settlers. This unproven accusation was then followed up with massive arrests and other punishments, including house demolitions, travel restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and bombings in Gaza. When Palestinians in Gaza responded by launching rockets toward Israel, Palestinians argue, the Israelis launched the current disproportionate war whose victims are largely civilians.
One sacred Israeli narrative is that the Palestinians celebrate rocket attacks against Israel, while Israel regrets every missile that misses its alleged military target. A July 9 image that went viral on social media demolished this argument. The photo shows Israelis in the south sitting on beach chairs while watching the bombing of Gaza with glee.
Maher Awwadeh, director of external media at the Palestinian Ministry of Information, said the ministry works well with local Arabic-speaking media, but is not faring as well with international media.
“When you watch how the Israeli PR machine works, you can easily see that the international media is biased in their favor. The Palestinian ministry monitors the international and Israeli media, and we correct them when we see major mistakes,” said Awwadeh. He also asserted that Palestinians often fall into a trap because “we feel that we need to publicize bloody pictures, yet we never talk about fear among our people while the other side excels in this area.”
Nedaa Younis, head of social media for the Palestinian Ministry of Information, told Al-Monitor that it has been difficult to produce tweets and hashtags in English because the Palestinians lack English-speaking spokespeople and social media activists. She said the Palestinian Government Media Center has been advertising on social media for volunteers who speak different languages.
Younis stated, “I often feel alone and isolated in the face of the many who are propagating the Israeli narrative.” While the hashtag #GazaUnderAttack has been trending, most social media efforts are in Arabic. Younis, who introduced the hashtag #standupandspeakout, noted that most senior media officials have no social media accounts, stating, “They only use email and don’t even know what a hashtag is.” She also said, “The Israelis have a media strategy that is based on a clearly planned propaganda position. They avoid any debate on social media.”
Bassem Othman, a senior Palestinian media analyst, framed the problem in broader political terms. “We can’t have a media strategy before having a national political strategy,” he told Al-Monitor. “Abu Mazen (President Mahmoud Abbas) has his strategy based on political negotiations while Hamas has a military strategy. We can’t succeed in explaining our narrative until we have a unified national strategy.”