How Great was the Great March of Return?


The Great March of Return has ended with not a bang, but a whimper. Hamas started its Great March of Return on March 30, 2018, and has been conducting such marches every Friday since then. But things have not panned out as Hamas had hoped. On that first installment of the Great March, 30,000 Palestinians marched toward Israel’s security fence. These “non-violent protesters” – as many in the media have insisted on calling them, despite all the evidence to the contrary – brought with them Molotov cocktails, grenades, other explosives, and even the occasional guns. They flung those Molotov cocktails and grenades over the security fence at the Israel soldiers. Meanwhile, as in a Kabuki play, the Israelis fired tear gas and rubber bullets, hoping to disperse the crowd. The Palestinians set tires on fire, so that the resulting smokescreen makes it e harder for the Israelis to make out who was throwing the Molotov cocktails and grenades. As Palestinians came ever closer to the security fence, the Israelis would use live fire, aiming at their legs. Only in the most dire of cases, when the marchers were right at the fence, throwing their explosives, and it seemed as if they might breach it, did the Israelis aim above the waist.

Hamas had three aims. First, it wanted to force Israel to end its blockade of Gaza. Second, it wanted some of the marchers to breach the fence and get inside Israel, ostensibly to “return” to the homes they had left (“been driven out by the Zionists”) in Israel. Third, it wanted to kill or kidnap Israeli soldiers and civilians, and inflict as much damage as possible on the Land of Israel. And fourth, Hamas wanted to make Israel look as bad as possible in the eyes of the world, by insisting that its protesters were non-violent, and decrying the killing of the “innocent” Palestinian marchers who only wanted to protest the theft of their land by the Zionist colonialist-settlers. Hamas made sure to include children in its marches, even pushing them to the front of the group, the wounding or killing of children would be a public relations nightmare for Israel; Hamas did everything it could to bring it about.

None of those aims were achieved. The security fence was never breached and no Palestinians – “refugees twice removed” —  marched off to the “homes they had left behind” in Israel. The Israelis did not relent on the blockade (which, it should be understood, never included food or medicine). Hamas managed to kill, by gunshot, only a single Israeli soldier, but never managed to get inside Israel to kidnap or kill any others. Nor did Hamas manage to inflict any damage on the Land of Israel until, some months into the  march, Hamas began using incendiary kites, with their tails on fire. These kites were let loose in Gaza close to the security fence, and the wind took them into Israel where they eventually landed, and set fire to nearly 10,000 acres of Israeli farmland. That was the only successful weapon used by Hamas during its Great March.

In late December, Hamas announced it would be suspending the Great March for three months, and when it resumed, those marches would take place not weekly, but monthly. The Great March had become increasingly less popular with the Palestinians themselves. While 30,000 had taken part in the first march, the numbers had gone steadily down since then. On December 20, there were 2,400 marchers; on December 27, there were only 1,800 (and some reports claimed  that only a few hundred marchers took part). After so much effort, after 19,400 wounded and almost 300 killed, and with nothing to show for it, the Palestinians were no longer in a mood to sacrifice themselves for Hamas. And there were other problems for the terror group. The Palestinians were no longer the center of Arab attention. They had other things to worry about. Three Arab states – Yemen, Syria, and Libya – are convulsed by civil war. Saudi Arabia is locked in a proxy war with Iran in Yemen. Iraq is riven by internecine warfare between Sunnis and Shi’a. in Lebanon, Hezbollah has antagonized Christians, Sunnis, and even many Shi’a, for its continued support of the corrupt government. Qatar is being shunned by all the other members of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Emirates, Bahrain, and Oman. Given all this, it is hardly surprising that the Arab states have little patience with, or interest in, the Palestinians. Crown Prince Mohammed read Mahmoud Abbas the riot act, instructing him to take whatever deal the Americans offered. The “Palestinians” are  now very far from the center of Arab politics.

In all this bad news for Hamas,  of decreasing  participation by Gazan Palestinians in the March,, of indifference from the other Arabs, of an inability to push Israel to make concessions, there was one bright spot for Hamas. That was the use of the one new weapon that proved effective against Israel – the incendiary kites. These kites worried the Israelis, for there seemed to be no way to stop them, and they caused serious damage when they landed,  setting fire both to nearly 10,000 acres farmland and also to nature preserves. But in late December, there came some surprising news.

The Israeli Border Police announced that they had developed a weapon, a new kind of laser, that could destroy incendiary kites. The new system, called Light Blade, is fully mobile, can be used at day or night, and is capable of intercepting targets up to two kilometers away. Border Police commander Kobi Shabtai said, “The system provides an almost complete response to the threat from balloons and kites, and provides an effective and safe solution to the drone threat.”

The system is relatively inexpensive, costing $1 million per unit.

Had Hamas not used the incendiary kites, the Israelis, always astonishing in their ability to come up quickly with solutions to new military challenges, might not have developed this particular laser weapon. Now they have done so, and Hamas has nothing effective left to use against Israel, if and when it starts up again, as a monthly affair, that Great March of Return that is looking, many will agree, not nearly so great after all.

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