Israel And Hamas On Brink Of War
Violence escalates amid last-ditch effort to avert fourth conflict in the Gaza Strip in the past decade
By: Charles Bybelezer/The Media Line
Israel and Hamas are on the brink of war, after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck a home in the southern city of Beersheba and the Israeli military responded by targeting at least twenty terror sites in the Palestinian enclave. According to the Israel Defense Forces, a second mid-range missile was launched from the Hamas-run territory, which local media reported landed in the sea near Tel Aviv. Rocket alert sirens also were heard throughout Israeli communities adjacent to Gaza, and injuries have been reported on both sides.
The escalation comes a day after Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman convened a meeting of the army’s top brass, thereafter warning that, “we have exhausted all of the options and all of the possibilities—now is the time to make decisions.” The defense chief publicly has called for Hamas to be punished following months of violence along the border sparked by the so-called “March of Return” protests. For his part, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed to inflict a “very painful” response on Gaza’s rulers if they do not halt the weekly riots.
Notably, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad denied responsibility for the overnight attacks, suggesting that additional time may be given to international diplomats to somehow forge an elusive cease-fire agreement to avert a fourth major conflict in Gaza in the past decade. Otherwise, the Israeli military reportedly is prepared to launch an operation by next week, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot cancelled his remaining meetings in the United States in order to return to Israel.
“The option of a huge mission is always on the table—it is not a matter or if but when,” Col. (res.) Atai Shelach, former head of the IDF’s Warfare Doctrine Department, asserted to The Media Line. “The main problem is in the strategic decision-making process, as the government needs a plan. If they said our main target is to rule Gaza again—and I do not necessarily agree with this—then at least there is direction.
“The right way to proceed,” he elaborated, “is to convey the possible objectives to those who implement [orders on the ground] and then decide on the best course. At the end of the day, without dialogue there will be no ultimate achievement and we will find ourselves in the same place in a few years.”
Israel is, to a degree, stuck between a rock and hard a place, not wanting either to launch a full-scale invasion to overthrow Hamas—which likely would entail the re-occupation of Gaza—or significantly ease the blockade, a move that effectively would empower the terrorist regime. As such, there is growing discussion of a partial ground incursion, coupled with aerial strikes, to make Hamas pay a medium-sized price without the Jewish state necessarily getting enmeshed (although the risk exists) in another protracted conflagration, as was the case for fifty days in 2014.
“The Israeli interest is not to have any belligerent acts as there are other more pressing strategic objectives and it is unclear what a military campaign will accomplish,” Yoram Schweitzer, head of the Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, explained to The Media Line. “Israel should try to find along with its partners, including regional countries, a way to prevent a conflict. It seems clear that Hamas has reached a point at which it is willing to push the limits, but it is also not in their interest. Of course, if there is no other option Israel will do what it has to.
“At the same time,” he continued, “there is an understanding that the situation in Gaza is unbearable, which was made more severe when [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas stopped his payments to the enclave.”
Indeed, amid the tensions fingers are, increasingly, being pointed at Ramallah, with Israeli Minister Yuval Steinitz—a member of the security cabinet—on Wednesday accusing Abbas of encouraging the flare-up.
PA officials repeatedly have condemned diplomatic maneuvering to achieve a truce that might bypass the West Bank-based government and partially alleviate the humanitarian situation in blockaded enclave, including Qatar’s recent purchase of $60 million of fuel meant to double the amount of electricity per household. In this respect, following clashes over the weekend Israel reversed its decision to permit the transfer of gas into Gaza, thereby placing additional strain on Hamas and the civilian population.
Moreover, the PA is threatening to impose a boycott on United Nations peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov, who has played a key role in mediating a parallel process geared towards ending the intra-Palestinian divide. However, Abbas has to date refused to lift sanctions on and reassert control over Gaza so long as Hamas remains armed. Ramallah’s latest perceived obstructionism comes amid a deep rift with the Trump administration, with the PA likewise having declared lead American negotiators personae non gratae.
“There is no simple, easy, nice, non-tragic solution to the situation,” Col. (res.) Miri Eisin, formerly the head of the IDF’s Combat Intelligence Corps, stressed to The Media Line. “There are two million people in Gaza who feel they have no future, and while Israeli [actions] impact on what happens there the harsh reality is that providing help is [tantamount to] enabling Hamas. This lends credence to the violent approach and undermines those promoting negotiations in order to achieve progress.”
Given the confluence of circumstances, many analysts are concluding that, barring an eleventh-hour breakthrough, war is inevitable. Though when the dust settles on the inevitable bloodshed the resulting conditions may not differ significantly from the longstanding status quo.