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Curiouser and Curiouser

It started with a pre-empted initiative to capture the head of the Islamic Jihad in the West Bank. 

While the Hamas has been emboldened in the last several months in the West Bank, especially over the matter of Sheikh Jarrah and access to the Temple Mount, and has gained substantial strength since then, it appears the the Islamic Jihad has also amassed strength and support in the West Bank, or so we are told. Only several days ago, we received the news that Bassam al-Saadi, head of the Islamic Jihad in the West Bank was captured in Jenin. A brilliant and skilled operation, ended in the isolation, surrender and capture of al-Saadi. That was the 2nd August 2022. Then the bad news: fear of serious reprisals from Gaza following this operation. Sderot and other towns and cities in Southern Israel were placed under full alert. Work stopped, shelters were prepared, roads were blocked, fields were cleared. South-East Israel was under lockdown. 

A tense atmosphere followed nation-wide awaiting for the barrages of rockets that we assumed would follow in revenge for the operation in Jenin. But here’s the thing. Silence.  No rocket attacks followed and an uneasy tension filled the air from South to North awaiting the barrage. Shelters were prepared. Severe warnings were passed on to Gaza, that in any event of a missile attack the response would be massive. The area adjacent to Gaza was put on full alert: no commerce, educational facilities, travel could take place. The air was thick with trepid alert. Nothing. On the 4th August, breaking news on Ynet was the eruption of the volcano in Iceland. On the 5th August Israel initiated a preempted attack on Gaza in response to…nothing it seems. No missiles or rockets had come out of Gaza yet till that date and the fear of a Hamas aligned attack together with the Jihad had not occcurred. But of course after the Israeli strike all hell broke loose, but curiously only from the Jihad, not Hamas. 

Let’s take a look at this from Alice’s perspective, curiouser and curiouser. Israel is the initiator in this conflict, namely “Breaking Dawn” in every respect, based on, we assume, the need to end the lockdown and damage the Jihad. In Gaza only the Islamic Jihad are the belligerents at this time firing rockets into Israel, mainly at close range targets in the South, with little success or accuracy. The questions that arise are many and varied: why is Hamas quiet? Suddenly they are a thoughtful political entity? And if there was no response from the Jihad after the capture of Bassam al-Saadi, then why initiate an attack (to preempt the attack that may come?). The whole thing raises questions. And while I have never been a conspiracy theorist, we need to look at some theoreticals here to figure it out:

How convenient is it for an inexperienced new prime minister about to face an election, who is no hawk, to show the nation that he is a tough guy who can stomach conflict and wage a successful operation, just before Israel votes for a new government? Both Lapid and Gantz are scooping up public credit for this initiative. The opposition, Netanyahu et al, simply could  not but support this initiative because the super-hawks cannot allow themselves to be outmaneuvered by the new hawks – just before an election. 

There are more questions: why is Hamas so quiet? Many theories abound: Some say, Hamas has not recovered from the last conflict and are not ready to enter a new round. Others suggest that both Egypt, the frequent brokers in these type of conflicts, and the Hamas would like to weaken if not eliminate the Jiihad which has been a disruptive player in Gaza politics breaking almost every ceasefire in the past that was negotiated between Israel and Hamas via interlocutors.

Then there is the need to release captive Israelis and to return bodies of soldiers now in Gaza, and hopefully reach a deal which would definitely include releasing Hamas prisoners in Israel. Good for Hamas. Good for the current prime minister facing elections in Israel.

It is also not impossible that Hamas wishes to rebuild Gaza, open the gates in coordination with Israel to allow workers in to boost their economy and negotiate a long term cease fire. With Abu Mazen’s ultimate departure from the PA, as he is an aged leader, it is firmly in Hamas’s interest to find the path to owning the PA on the West Bank both politically and on the ground.  

And another thing, whether there are backchannels or behind the scenes negotiations with Hamas, no one doubts that Hamas who controls the regime in Gaza, is the key player in ending the current round of conflict. Ironic but true. But let’s note that it can go in any direction within days or even hours: “the unknown unknowns…”

But with all these theories and options that now open, a word of caution. Let’s never forget Peres’s unilateral mini-war in Lebanon. Peres needed to act as a belligerent following the assassination of Rabin. He too was an intermediate prime minister at the time. Had Peres called an election immediately after the assassination of Rabin, we can say with a fair amount of success that he would have won. Indeed the status of peace in the middle east may have had a different track towards a successful two state solution. But Peres waited. He then undertook an operation in Lebanon known as  Operation Grapes of Wrath. The need to be the strongman brought about his ruination. Ironically operation “Grapes of Wrath” saw his complete downfall. The death of innocent citizens in the Shelling of Qana – known as the “Qana massacre” put an end to Peres, Olso, the 2 state solution and the peace movement in Israel. The entire Arab population of Israel, who only weeks before had pasted their cars with “Shalom Haver” stickers, voted with their feet. Peres lost.

Have a look at the polls. Netanyahu gains strength during Breaking Dawn, even though Lapid leads the current conflict. 

Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice.

About the Author
Originally from South Africa, Jonathan made aliya in the seventies, and lived and worked on a kibbutz for several years. He has a graduate degree in business from Boston University and is a managing partner of an Israeli based business. He was a co-founder of the Forum Tzora peace action group and participates in the Geneva Initiative workshops. He is the author of the book “Valley of Heaven and Earth”.
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