The risk of war between Israel and Hamas “is rising, even if neither side wants it,” a leading London think-tank has warned.
The ominous warning was released on Friday by Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) ahead a crisis meeting of European states, which was prompted by respected Norwegian diplomats.
In its briefing paper outlining the risk of conflict in Gaza, where Israelis and Palestinians last fought in 2014, BICOM said war may be triggered inadvertently, despite being in neither sides’ interests.
“The risk of conflict is rising, even if neither Hamas nor Israel want it, due to several factors,” the authors said.
An increase in rocket fire from Gaza by smaller Jihadist groups, Israeli efforts to destroy tunnels, financial pressure after cuts in US aid and war-mongering from Iran were all leading to heightened tensions in an already-volatile area.
The international community is becoming increasingly worried about a pending humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with severe shortages of clean water, electricity and sewage treatment facilities, with access limitations from both Israel and Egypt compounding the problem.
BICOM said increasing rocket fire as a result of suffering was “raising concerns for the erosion of Israeli deterrence” and risked “the possibility of a swift escalation”.
Analysts said affiliates to the Islamic State (ISIS) group were increasingly active and operating outside Hamas control, and that “the West Bank is also becoming more tense”.
The war in 2014 began when IDF troops rounded up hundreds of Hamas supporters in the West Bank suspected of involvement in the murder of three Jewish teenage boys, with volleys of rockets subsequently fired from Gaza.
In a sign that tensions may be ramping up, the researchers noted that the IDF last week “killed and captured members of a cell – apparently linked to Hamas – it believed had perpetrated a well organised shooting attack which killed an Israeli man in his car on 9 January… This follows the arrest of several Hamas cells in recent months”.