The Strategic Stalemate Israel Faces with Gaza

The rocket that was launched last week from Gaza into Israel and the Israeli response signal the strategic stalemate that now faces Israel regarding the ability to deter Hamas. After 51 days of Operation “Protective Edge” Israel has still not found a decisive deterrence against Hamas. The limited results achieved may have eroded due to the absence of progress regarding the reconstruction process in the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian policy towards Hamas, Abu Mazen’s refusal to transfer salaries and budgets for Hamas’ needs and the growing frustration among the Palestinian population that now push Hamas into the corner.

The only source of hope for improving the poor conditions in Gaza and for its population is the cooperation between Israel and UN envoy Robert Serry. This includes the coordination of the arrangements for the supervised entry of construction materials and heavy engineering equipment to rebuild thousands of residences within Gaza. But this is not enough to ease the frustrations and pressure in the Gaza Strip which still remains a pressure cooker set to explode and ignite another round of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

The strategic interest of Israel is to postpone the next round of violence for as long as possible. This objective could be reached by tackling Hamas’ capacities and motivation and decreasing them both. The challenge is doing it simultaneously using two different and even contradicting logics. Actually, Israel has to realize a dialectic approach: being tough militarily and demonstrating flexibility and generosity with regard to civilian matters concerning the reconstruction of Gaza and, understanding that eventually Hamas with continue to grow and take advantage of the situation by strengthen its political power and status in the Palestinian arena.

Israel will have to find a way to expand and accelerate the reconstruction of Gaza by deepening the coordination with the UN and eventually with Hamas in order to stabilize the region. The Palestinian Authority is no longer a relevant player in this regard for the near future and Israel cannot rely on it. On the other hand, expanding and accelerating the reconstruction process means strengthening Hamas and weakening the Palestinian Authority, this is a “Zero Sum Game”.  Strengthening Hamas means that a strong Hamas in Gaza might become a strong Hamas in the West Bank. This could then challenge the stability of the Palestinian Authority thus becoming a security threat and challenge for Israel.

Such a dialectic approach relies on the idea that strategically it might be preferable for Israel to refer to the Gaza Strip as a state entity, but there are no free meals. Therefore by adopting this approach Israel might earn a longer period of calm in the South but a bigger risk in the East. Unfortunately, Israel does not have the privilege to choose between good and bad options but between bad and worse while minimizing potential damages.

About the Author
Dr. Kobi Michael is a Senior Researcher in the Department of Israel and Middle Eastern Studies at Ariel University. A recipient of the Tshetshik Prize (2005) for the best research on Israel National Security, 2006 Itzhak Sade Prize for military literature for a book he contributed three chapters and the Yariv Award (2002) for the best research on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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