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Gaza Armed Factions Hold First Joint Military Drill  
Members of a dozen armed Palestinian organizations participate in a joint military drill on a beach in Gaza City on Dec. 29, 2020. (Mohammed Talatene/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Gaza Armed Factions Hold First Joint Military Drill  

A dozen Gaza military wings show they are united in facing threats from Israel, amid lack of Palestinian reconciliation and normalization of relations with Israel by some Arab countries.

Twelve Palestinian armed groups in Gaza fired rockets into the Mediterranean Sea and launched drones in the coastal strip’s airspace as part of a first-ever joint military drill.

The exercise held on December 29 is aimed at preparing for possible military scenarios with Israel.

In response, Israel has increased its readiness on the border with Gaza.

The drill was organized by the Joint Command Room, which is made up of about a dozen of the enclave’s armed groups, but dominated by Hamas – the armed Islamist organization that has ruled Gaza since 2007. Other groups that participated in the drill include Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the armed wing of Fatah.

The organizations are cooperating militarily, despite being unable to work together politically.

Mohammed al-Breem, the spokesperson of the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, told The Media Line that there is a need for a united position, especially at the military level, due to the current weakened position of the Palestinian cause.

This is most important due to the normalization with Israel by at least four Arab countries, the Trump Administration’s deal of the century peace plan, and other related issues, Breem said. He added that the Palestinian people must rely on resistance and unity, saying it is the shortest way to free Palestine.

“The unity of our position reflects strength in terms of the resistance, and that all of its factions together are united under the Joint Command Room with one decision and one position as well,” Breem said. He explained that this indicates further that the Palestinian resistance is ready to fight in a united way any coming battle with “the Zionist entity.”

He pointed out that the level of coordination between the political factions in the Strip has gone through different stages, and that there previously was military coordination between two of the armed groups, military sweeps and joint martyrdom operations. “But today, it has risen to a new level, to have a military drill including all factions in Gaza,” he said.

Breem said that the move to hold a joint drill carried different messages to the rest of the world, chief among them that the resistance in Gaza has become united under the one military power of the Joint Command Room. And, he added, “we hope for the achievement of the Palestinian reconciliation. But in reality, what has always been used to unite us was the battlefield and facing the Israeli occupation.”

He continued: “Today we are united in a better way in terms of organization, as all political parties work under one” command.

Two days ahead of the military exercise, the interior ministry in Gaza closed the sea to Palestinian vacationers and fishermen. Additionally, a number of security and police headquarters also were evacuated, the ministry said.

“The military drill comes as part of efforts to increase the joint action and cooperation between the military wings of the Palestinian factions,” Abu Hamza, a spokesman for Saraya al-Quds Brigades – the armed wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, said in a press conference on Monday. He added that the move aimed to simulate expected threats from Israel.

The importance of this maneuver is that it comes as a defensive military drill, expressing the resistance’s readiness in Gaza to legitimate self-defense and confront any potential Israeli aggression

Dahoud Shihab, an Islamic Jihad spokesperson, told The Media Line that the strip’s factions have sought to copy the joint military experience in unifying their political action in field work through the operations room, especially amid the escalation of Israeli threats and the blockade, which add more pressure on Gaza and affect all aspects of Palestinian life.

“The importance of this maneuver is that it comes as a defensive military drill, expressing the resistance’s readiness in Gaza to legitimate self-defense and confront any potential Israeli aggression,” Shihab said.

He said that the factions in Gaza have worked to achieve the highest level of rapprochement, unify stances and strengthen political partnership in order to serve national interests and to face current and future challenges.

“In light of the delay in achieving reconciliation, there is a unified position among the political forces in Gaza on protecting Gaza, seeking to achieve a state of stability, providing the requirements for survival, and meeting the human and life needs of citizens,” Shihab said.

Moreover, he affirmed the unity of the factions’ position on national issues, such as rejection of normalization and negotiations, in addition to projects targeting the Palestinian cause “and Israel’s attempts to employ normalization to legitimize settlements.”

Lior Akerman, an Israeli political analyst and retired brigadier general, told The Media Line that previous experience shows that Palestinian organizations, especially extremist Islamic ones, have failed to truly cooperate over time.

“There is one line that unites these organizations and that is the willingness to murder and kill in the name of religion, and out of a desire to realize the vision of the Muslim state in the Middle East,” Akerman said. He added that, throughout the years, these factions haven’t been able to reach understandings and agreements.

“The latest statements come from a place of genuine fear among the leadership in Gaza of a harsh Israeli response. And the whole purpose of this move is to convey a message through the media to the State of Israel that, ostensibly, the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip also have military, organizational capability at the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] level,” Akerman explained.

He said that currently there is no situation involving broad-based combat on the ground, therefore no relevance for holding the drill at all.

The whole purpose of this move is to convey a message through the media to the State of Israel that, ostensibly, the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip also have military, organizational capability at the IDF level

However, Akerman said that, given a ground-combat situation throughout Gaza, it is assumed that each organization would act in the interests of itself and its commanders. “In any case, even if all the terrorist forces in the Gaza Strip will unite into one military force, they will still be in a huge position of inferiority to the IDF force in the south,” he said.

Yousef Sharqawi, a Palestinian retired military general and political expert, told The Media Line that the joint military drill is aimed at delivering a message to the internal Israeli front, to prove the strength of the resistance in Gaza. “The balance of power is distributed in favor of Israel, the resistance wants to fill this gap by threatening Israel,” he said.

Nevertheless, Sharqawi criticized the idea of the Joint Command Room, saying it would be better if each faction had its own command room room for its military wing, and then coordinated among these rooms in case of a war or an attack against Gaza, out of fear of an Israeli breach of the joint command room.

“The Israeli security violation is widespread – whether in the West Bank or Gaza,” he said. Sharqawi said that dividing the rooms of the military wings into 13 or more, with continuous coordination among them, will improve the performance and maintain the confidentiality of data.

 

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