Operation Pillar of Defense
We are clearly in the midst of an escalation in the latest round of violence between Israel and the Palestinian organizations based in The Gaza Strip.
Yet, it my evaluation, at this juncture – keeping in mind that at any moment an unexpected event could change the picture dramatically – a long drawn-out violent round is not in the interest of the major players involved and mainly Hamas.
My assessment is based upon the following:
- A long violent round will weaken Hamas and will play into the hands of the Palestinian organizations that constantly challenge Hamas. A long and drawn out round will also endanger Hamas’ most important interest – its rule in the Gaza Strip.
- Egypt is obviously interested in calming things down. At this point, is likely that Egypt will continue to confine its actions to the diplomatic arena, such as condemning Israel and calling back the Egyptian Ambassador to Israel. However, the longer the round, the more the pressure on Egypt’s president to demonstrate firm and decisive support for Hamas will increase. Right now, in the back rooms, Egypt is putting pressure on Hamas to end this round soon. In fact, Egypt could actually benefit from a short round by playing two roles. On the one hand, Egypt could open the land passage to the Gaza Strip and send commodities and civilian support into Gaza. By doing so Egypt would portray itself as a regional leader who takes care of their brothers and supports the people of the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, Egypt could play the role of the “responsible adult” that mediates and calms tension. By that, Egypt could score points in the international arena.
- Hamas cannot expect the practical support of the Arab world. Arab leaders are busy with the war in Syria, increasing unrest in Jordan, daily terror attacks in Iraq, increasing tension in Lebanon, and more. The Arab world neither has the energy, the resources nor the ability to focus on the Gaza Strip.
- Hamas should not expect – at least at this point – the solidarity of the international community. Israel’s argument that no state can sustain the reality of constant rocket attacks on its cities resonates in the ears of International community. As of now, the international community regards Israel’s move as a legitimate act of self-defense.
- Israel’s killing of Hamas’ most senior military leader is a massive blow to Hamas. Yet, as painful as it is for Hamas, it is not enough of a reason for Hamas to endure a long and bloody round for two reasons: First, Israel has killed senior Hamas leaders in the past such as Sheikh Ahamd Yassin, Hamas’ spiritual leader and Salah Shehade, Hamas’ military commander. Second, the fact of the matter is that some of Hamas’ most senior leaders in the Gaza Strip are shedding no tear over the death of Ahmad Al-Jabari, Hamas’ senior military leader.
All above being said, it must be mentioned, that in every military round over the past years – both in the area of Gaza as well as in south Lebanon – a major objective of all parties involved in the conflict was to achieve a “picture or a video of triumph.”
At this point Israel has the upper hand. Hamas will try its best to get a picture that will enable them to end the current round with some sense of achievement. A possible such picture would be shooting missiles at Tel Aviv. Yet, the risk Hamas takes upon itself by attacking Tel Aviv seems to outweigh the potential benefits they could gain out of such an attack. Therefore, as of now, it is estimated that Hamas will look for another kind of “picture of triumph.” To expand on the previous point – Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip does have some capability to shoot missiles on Tel Aviv – now they also have the motivation. The ramifications of such act are difficult to predict; it could just as easily accelerate the round as end it.
The most important thing about this round is the day after it ends. The maneuvering space of each and every one of the central factors – Egypt, Hamas and Israel – is confined by contradicting interests and restrictions. To a large extent, all three are held hostage by Palestinian and radical Islamic organizations in the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, motivated by radical ideology and massively supported by radical sponsors such as the Iranian regime, whose interest it is to generate constant instability.
The current round again reflects the fact that the major players – Israel, Egypt and Hamas are caught in a dangerous loop. The way out from that loop starts with the understanding that the responsibility to stabilize the situation, in the present and in the future, primarily lies on the shoulders of Hamas and Egypt. The current round reiterates the fact that it is in Hamas’ and Egypt’s interest to create new ground rules inside the Gaza Strip that will substantially limit – if not eliminate – the abilities of the various Palestinian organizations to play with the flames as they please. We should not forget that most of the weapons in The Gaza Strip are smuggled through area under Egypt’s sovereignty.
Given the ideology and modus operandi of Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip, it is unlikely that such ground rules – if achieved at all – would last. Thus, it is possible that the process of redesigning the ground rules between Hamas and other Palestinian organizations could involve inner collisions and confrontations inside the Gaza Strip. Hamas could relatively easily crush the Salafi Jihadist groups in the Gaza Strip. However, its major challenge is Islamic Jihad organization – a possible confrontation between those two organizations would involve serious bloodshed.
The current round is a signal to Hamas that it is in their vital interest to make a strategic shift inside the Gaza Strip as well. Over the past year Hamas has proved it is capable of making a strategic shift – the war in Syria caused Hamas to detach itself from the Iranian-Syrian axis. With the right incentives, Hamas could make a strategic shift in the Gaza Strip as well.
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