Hamas: Undeterred and Dictates Rules of Engagement

This past week Israel experienced quite the political storm. However, if you know a thing or two about the Jewish state, then you’ll know that political storms are simply ‘business as usual’.

The saga began following another military escalation that flared up between Israel and Hamas at the Gaza border. This round of military exchanges witnessed close to 500 rockets fired upon Israel’s southern region along with the IDF bombing approximate 160 Hamas targets, including a news station identified with the organization. The range of the rockets stretched beyond the usual distance of the proximate towns near the border, and instead, reached up to areas surrounding Israel’s coastal city, Ashdod. Finally, as was expected, another ceasefire was instituted apparently at Hamas’s disposal.

Approximately twenty-four hours following the ceasefire Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, issued a statement announcing his resignation claiming that the decision was made due to the government’s poor handling of the current situation in Gaza. Of course, the obvious assumption is that this was an opportunistic political move. A move that was intended to distance himself from the seemingly weak handling by the government of Hamas’s rocket barrage on southern Israel.

Hamas subsequently took the credit and claimed that Israel “lost” this round of fighting and that the organization successfully caused a “political earthquake” to erupt in Israel. Unfortunately, they’re right.

Now, on almost all levels of interaction between Israel and Hamas, the latter is dictating the rules of engagement. Firstly, for years now Hamas has defined the formula for hostage negotiations: prisoners for hostages. Today, various attempts of the Israeli government to change the formula and create a new one have yet to be successful. Those include both an exchange of humanitarian gestures and the withholding of the corpse of an Islamic Jihad operative for the purpose of an exchange.

Additionally, at least since Operation Protective Edge, Hamas has dictated when a new round of fire exchange begins and when a ceasefire comes into effect. Finally, as a result of Lieberman’s resignation and Netanyahu’s refusal to give the position to current Education Minister, Naftali Bennet, it may be dictating when Israel has its elections as well, seeing that a collapse of the coalition is on the verge.

Hamas and Hezbollah, Israel’s immediate adversaries and both hybrid non-state armed groups, have historically not stood on equal footing regarding their military balance vis-a-vis the IDF. More recent academic literature concludes that Israel and Hezbollah have achieved a situation of “mutual deterrence.” Hamas on the other hand, has traditionally been the weaker of the two and easier to cope with as Israel controls the majority of Gaza’s border crossings, thereby possessing the ability to hinder a mass military buildup. Despite this, Hamas is challenging this reality and achieving a major boost in military confidence. This is a level of confidence in which Israel is currently struggling to tame.

Interestingly, a resident of one of the southern towns close to the Gazan border was interviewed on national television here in Israel. He stated that Bibi is great at speaking oversees and advancing Israel’s economy, but that he’s become weak with Israel’s security. This is someone coming from a community that constitutes a very faithful and longstanding electorate of Benjamin Netanyahu. But as all Israelis know, it’s the security issue that wins and loses elections here.

We may now be witnessing the countdown of Netanyahu’s political reign. If so, this time it won’t be the left that brought down the right-winged government, but Israel’s adversary in the south—Hamas.

About the Author
Jason Silverman holds a BA in Middle East Studies and Hebrew from the Ohio State University. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Jason decided to make Aliyah in August, 2014 and served in the IDF as a tank commander. He currently resides in Jerusalem and is a graduate student in International Relations at Hebrew University.
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