Israel has once again visited Gaza leaving in its wake a trail of death and destruction, this time, conceivably in order to materially change the situation which until now has been predictably routine, calling for similarly futile and deadly return visits on average every two years. The thought that in between Israel’s recurring operations 1.8 Million or so Gazan citizens could be held under siege and blockade without any major problems arising yet again is not only a black mark on Israel but on the international community as well. Who would have thought ?
Now that the fighting apparently is over except for minor skirmishes and attacks from the air (and occasional rockets or mortar shells), let’s look what has been achieved. Israel started this operation ostensibly to-
1. Hit Hamas hard, first in response to the murder of the three Yeshiva students (even though Hamas’ involvement was never established)
2. To seriously harm Hamas’ infrastructure in the West Bank
3. To hit the organization in Gaza as well.
PM Netanyahu is on record declaring these aims clearly already on July 1st(!), the day after the bodies of the three Yeshiva boys were discovered. Hamas didn’t take kindly to these openly declared offensive aims. It came on top of the furious clamp down on its operatives in the West Bank and amounted to an all out attack on the organization which was on its last legs without financial resources and no allies left. Hamas had just before agreed to join a Palestininan unity government under humiliating terms, a unity government which, by the way was not recognized by Israel which then promptly abrogated peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.
Hamas’ strong response to Israel’s offensive in the shape of multiple rocket attacks and several underground insurgencies into the South of Israel using tunnels built in secret, forced Israel’s hand more than it had expected. It drew Israel into a ground attack that until know has cost the IDF sixtythree dead and hundreds of injured. In Gaza casualties are predictably a lot higher with 1,700 dead, about 70% of them civilians and almost 10,000 injured. Other than destroying huge swathes of civilian housing and infrastructure, Hamas has probably taken some serious hits but by and large appears to be functional and still ready to do battle. Definitely not a clear victory for Israel.
What now ? Israel, after agreeing to sit down and negotiate based on a US and Egyptian brokered cease-fire which was promptly broken by Hamas, probably more by mistake than on purpose, is now playing hard to get. Israel is hanging Hamas out to dry and not engaging in talks. Hardly a good idea for two main reasons: Egypt is involved and no matter how much Egypt hates Hamas, it would like the Gaza conflict to come to an end if only not to lose credibility with the Palestinians who are suffering. The main reason however is that the West Bank is sizzling, the population there having watched their Gazan brethren being kiiled by the IDF for more than three weeks now without any major effort to stop the carnage. Hamas will not hunker down and may very well use this opportunity to start a 3rd intifada in the West Bank. A Palestinian uprising there while Israel’s Gaza operation is still underway would be a game changer. And just contemplate the consequences if Hizbollah would join the fray from the north.
What Israel should do and PM Netanyahu has hinted ever so subtly that he may consider going that way, is to involve the Arab League or at least some of the Muslim countries that have a stake in Gaza like Saudi Arabia or Qatar in addition to Egypt, in order to bring pressure to bear on Hamas. That unfortunately is likely to be a pipedream: As long as Israel doesn’t budge on its occupation of the West Bank and has absolutely no interest in compromising with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, it is unlikely to be able to get any member of the Arab League on board to shore up the situation in Gaza. They will all be standing by watching how Israel will try to extricate himself from a crisis that it has created after abrogating peace talks that could have prevented it. We have come full circle with the Palestinians: Just like them we will not miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.