Early Friday afternoon, it was already clear on the Israeli side that Hamas would likely respond to the previous day’s killing of an member of the organization’s “restraint force.” The army was on heightened alert, deploying Iron Dome defense batteries in the area and closing zones abutting the border.
One would expect that during those hours the Defense Minister and Prime Minister would maybe be out in the field with the forces, or perhaps at the Kirya, IDF headquarters, monitoring the scene from the secure bunker, or possibly just sitting in his office receiving updates on the situation. Intead, Benjamin Netanyahu apparently spent the afternoon absorbed in completely different matters. While Hamas was busy with threats to open fire and Hassan Nasrallah was marking out his targets for the next war with Israel, Netanyahu was dealing with the real enemy, us, the media. The Prime Minister and Defense Minister spent hours filming a video intended for his base in which he distributed awards for the week’s fake news story.
And what an honor this week for my employer, Walla News: second place, right after Guy Peleg, the legal affairs reporter for Channel 12 News. If it weren’t so sad it would be funny. Why sad? Because this prime minister, who is so quick to call out the media for supposedly spreading “fake news,” is the same prime minister who authorized the funneling of tens of millions of dollars into the Gaza Strip each month, turning Israel into a state that gives in to blackmail, a state that lives according to the amount of protection money Hamas demands.
A few hours after Netanyahu’s video, Fathi Hamad, a Hamas leader who is apparently preoccupied with the real enemy (from his point of view), said he was giving the “Occupation” an ultimatum of one week to meet its commitments under the ceasefire arrangement. In other words, Hamas was threatening Netanyahu’s Israel: Pay the regular protection money, and if not, expect a major escalation.
But threats are one thing and actions another. While Hamas smells Netanyahu’s weakness in the face of upcoming elections, it also knows that an escalation will exact a heavy price. So on Friday evening, as expected, two rockets were fired at southern Israel, but both fell in open areas and caused no injuries. In other words, Hamas may be threatening but in practice it does not want war. Like Netanyahu, the organization makes do with the “catch me if you can” trick, and isn’t rushing to cross the Rubicon and go to war. For the time being, Hamas is content with threats, and in practice Hamas sought to signal mainly to its own base and launched (or permitted the launch) of rockets at Israel knowing they weren’t likely to fall on built-up areas or endanger human lives.
Meanwhile, a parade of visitors continues to flow into the Gaza Strip. Egyptian intelligence chiefs met with the Hamas leadership in order to calm the situation. Later this week, UN representatives are expected to visit the organization’s offices in the Gaza Strip to convince them not to initiate offensive moves and even intervene to contain events such as the killing of that “Restraint Force” operative. In the current reality, in which Israel and Hamas share the idea of ”managing the conflict,” a Hamas decision to let Israeli actions slide, once unimaginable, no longer seems impossible.