If Israel and Hamas agree on anything at the moment, it is probably that Gaza is as close to another war as it has been since the end of the last one four years ago.
And the next one, predicts Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ Gaza leader, in an interview published in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, will likely be the most severe.
“It cannot end like the third [war], which ended like the second [war], which ended like the first [war],” Sinwar told reporter Francesca Borri, who conducted the interview. The Israelis, he said, “will have to reoccupy Gaza.”
But the Hamas leader also said that a new war is not in anybody’s interests.
This is the first full interview given by Sinwar to non-Arabic media since he became the leader of Hamas in Gaza in February 2017.
He discussed a range of issues during the interview — which also was published in the Italian daily La Repubblica — from rocket attacks and protests along the Gaza-Israel fence, to the international community’s responsibility to peace negotiations.
Weekly clashes in Gaza, sometimes with tens of thousands of Palestinians, have increased tensions between Israel and militant factions in the coastal enclave since they started at the end of March.
Israeli soldiers have killed nearly 200 Palestinians in the clashes, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, while thousands have been injured. Israel asserts it is protecting its sovereignty from violent rioters. During one protest in July, a Gaza militant shot and killed an Israeli soldier.
The last few months have also seen Gaza militants fire dozens of rockets and mortars into Israel, which has responded with dozens of air strikes.
So far, Egypt and the United Nations have been able to stop events from escalating further by carrying out truce talks.
Israel’s military repeatedly affirms, “Quiet will be met with quiet” — essentially, Israel will not conduct strikes into Gaza if militants cease protests and launching projectiles into Israel.
Blockade on Gaza
Sinwar told Yedioth Ahronoth he agrees with that principle, but he has a different definition of quiet.
“Quiet in exchange for quiet, and in exchange for an end to the siege,” Sinwar said, adding, “the siege is not quiet.”
Citing security reasons, Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas took complete control of the territory in 2007.
Today, Gazans face a shortage of medicine, clean drinking water and power — just four hours of electricity a day.
Sinwar said that the best assurance of prolonged quiet is investment, development and opportunities for people to work, study and travel abroad.
“There are no military solutions to political problems,” he said, appearing to endorse efforts to reach a new cease-fire arrangement between Gaza militants and Israel. “In this case there are only political problems.”
Sinwar also alluded to the fact that recent bloodshed has played a part in putting Gaza back in the headlines, but he said media coverage was to blame.
“We only become a story, an item, when there is blood. And not just here. If there’s no blood, there’s no news,” he said.
Earlier this week, the Israeli army added to growing fears of a renewed outbreak of hostilities by announcing “wide-scale reinforcements” around Gaza following a fresh assessment.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tweeted a warning to Hamas against escalating violence. “The holidays are over and we are back to business and I advise Hamas leaders [to] take that into consideration,” he tweeted.
The interview with Sinwar, released in full on Friday, drew condemnation from both Hamas and Israel. While Hamas did not deny the interview took place, they claimed the journalist presented herself under false pretenses of being a western journalist, not Israeli, and accused her of misrepresenting some of the content to favor an Israeli newspaper.
Israel’s Minister of Construction, Yoav Galant, reacted to the Sinwar interview on Twitter by tweeting, “Yahya Sinwar is a poisonous snake trying to impose himself as an innocent lamb.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that this was Sinwar’s first interview since he became the leader of Hamas in Gaza. It was the first interview to non-Arabic language media. The story also has been updated to add that the interview also appeared in Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.