Top Hamas General Warns of 'Future War' With Israel

Palestinian members of al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, sit in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade marking the 27th anniversary of Hamas' founding, in Gaza City December 14, 2014. Suhaib Salem/REUTERS

The Palestinian militant group Hamas is continuing to stockpile rockets and looking to forge regional alliances in anticipation of a future war, the head of the organisation's military wing declared yesterday, prompting experts to warn that another conflict with Israel could begin within the next six months.

Marwan Issa, a top commander of the group's military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, who hasn't been seen in public for the past three years, made the comments during a conference organised by a Hamas-linked thinktank.

In the conference Issa said: "We are not seeking confrontation with Israel, but we continue to strengthen our capabilities by producing more rockets," telling the audience that "Israel's statements on this matter are of no interest to us".

Issa also declared that Hamas was looking to forge regional alliances to allow it to bolster its arms supply, although declined to pinpoint a specific group or country it might align itself with. The announcement comes as the militant group continues to carry out rocket launches into the Mediterranean Sea.

Daniel Nisman, president of the Tel-Aviv-based geopolitical risk consultancy The Levantine Group, believes that another conflict on the same scale as last year's could occur within six months to a year, if not sooner.

"It's the same story since day one of the ceasefire. Hamas has test fired more than 80 rockets since then, and are doing everything they can to rebuild military infrastructure and to achieve the political and economic goals they tried to achieve in the last conflict," he says.

"So it's simply a question of when they will be ready to go to war again. Hamas doesn't want a conflict right now, because they are not ready, but when they feel they can hold their own, when they have more rockets, greater infrastructure and have rebuilt the tunnels, then they'll be ready."

Issa also condemned Saturday's ruling by an Egyptian court that branded Hamas a terrorist organisation. The decision followed the separate ruling last month that Hamas's armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was a terror organisation. "Any attempt to blockade the organisation will fail," Issa warned.

Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which has also been declared a terrorist group in Egypt after the army ousted one of its leaders, Mohamed Mursi, from the presidency in 2013.

The court ruling effectively bans Hamas within Egypt, and has added to growing unrest among Gazans, who fear isolation and hardship as a result of the ruling. Some are blaming Hamas, and say it's time the militant group moderates, or hands over control to the Western-backed Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

"Hamas is taking us hostage for the sake of its own interest," university graduate Ahmed Tiri told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Such criticism of Hamas is relatively rare, but experts say that this kind of rhetoric is slowly on the rise in Palestine, especially in the wake of last summer's 50-day conflict.

Some say Hamas should try and negotiate the lifting of the blockade Egypt enforced in 2007 and do more to improve the lives of Gaza's 1.8 million people. The violence in 2014 left at least 2,189 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,486 civilians, and 11,000 injured according to the UN. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed. Large parts of neighbourhoods in Gaza are still in ruins while thousands remain homeless over six months later.

While Hamas may be weak right now and losing some of its support in Gaza, this could serve to make the group "more dangerous", according to Nisman.

"A weak Hamas, a Hamas with nothing left to lose, is a more dangerous Hamas," says Nisman. "Hamas is basically isolated. Politically it's almost cut-off from the outside world, economically it is shut off from Egypt, its tunnels have been destroyed, the reconstruction process of the Gaza strip is almost non existent."

"But if Hamas starts to lose control of the Gaza strip", Nisman continues, "then they won't just put their hands up and walk away, they'll revert back to their militant roots. If they go down, they'll suck in the whole region."

Nisman believes the appearance of Issa is telling, and suggests Hamas is trying to increase morale and to send a message to show they're not afraid. He says that the group is conducting psychological warfare too - planting flags near the border area, pretending to build tunnels, and conducting drills. "Hamas is doing all it can to warn that it will fight its way out of any situation it faces."

On Monday, Israel announced that it had uncovered an Israeli-Palestinian smuggling ring that funneled iron, electronic equipment and other prohibited materials to Gaza, to help Hamas rebuild its militant infrastructure, according to the Jerusalem Post. Of the nine in the ring, three are Jewish Israelis who own companies that sell the materials, and have been charged with assisting an enemy in wartime, terror financing, and fraud.