The recent war has clarified that Israel is effectively still fighting the War of Independence. Hamas sees the 1948 war as unresolved and all of Israel as occupied territory.
Netanyahu’s demand during the Kerry talks that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish State appeared to be either rhetoric or a stalling tactic. But if we look at his statements as analysis rather than an Israeli negotiating demand, he is spot on. There can be no true resolution between these two peoples until the Palestinians come to terms with our presence here and accept it. Unfortunately, since Hamas took control of Gaza they have managed exactly the opposite process, educating its young population that Israel can be eradicated. The corollary is that Israel has yet to come to terms with our culpability in historic wrongs against the Palestinians. That too will be necessary if there is ever to be true reconciliation.
Strategy versus tactics
Hamas has well-defined objectives and a clear strategy vis-à-vis Israel (i.e. eradication). They understand that we currently enjoy military superiority and the diplomatic support of the West, but view neither of those as permanent, just as they do not view our presence here as permanent. They are in no rush, they have a multi-generational time frame.
Israel by contrast has no clear strategy regarding Hamas. Containment, perhaps? But that is an amorphous and unquantifiable goal. Israel’s main focus is on creating tactical deterrence in order to restore a period of ‘quiet’. The unanswered question is whether deterrence can indeed be achieved against an organization that by its own words embraces death and destruction. Actually that question has pretty much been answered.
The next round
During each round of violence with Gaza, it appears that the main objective from Hamas’s perspective is to learn lessons for the next round. From previous rounds the Hamas knew how the IDF would respond to barrages or rocket fire, and hence developed the use of tunnels and human shields as well as the cynical firing of rockets from schools, mosques and hospitals. In the current round they have learnt that one rocket can shut down Ben Gurion airport thanks to the shortsightedness of the FAA. What will happen in the next round if tens of rockets are fired simultaneously? Hamas has learnt that sustained short-range mortar fire can lead to the practical evacuation of border towns unprotected by Iron Dome. How confident are we that Hamas has not replicated mortar factories in Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron? In the next round will ‘border’ towns such as Modi’in, Rosh Ha’ayin, Bet Shemesh and Kfar Saba be subjected to mortar fire? Why not Jerusalem?
The Hamas has also learnt that world opinion is easily manipulated in the era of social networks as long as you brand yourself as the oppressed underdog, just avoid that aggressor hashtag. No need to worry, much of the world media has already reserved that for Israel.
The odd rockets from Lebanon and Syria serve as a reminder that Hizbullah and other Islamic groups reserve the right to participate in the next round; sirens simultaneously sounding across the whole country is not an unlikely scenario in the next round. But maybe we’ll go regional. Iran does not want to be left out in the next round as evidenced by its spurious claim to have shot down an Israeli drone over Natanz during the fighting here. Coincidental timing.
A ceasefire may have put an end to the current round but the ongoing War of Independence will roll on….