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February 22, 2018 2:22 pm

The Difficulty of Maintaining Calm in Gaza

avatar by Eyal Zisser / Israel Hayom / JNS.org

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The Israel-Gaza Strip border. Photo: Mary Madigan via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – In recent weeks, the Israeli media has covered at length the rapidly deteriorating economic situation in Gaza and the concerns that an economic collapse could lead to a humanitarian crisis or to renewed clashes with Israel along the border. But while heads of Israel’s security apparatus voice genuine concern for the well-being of Gaza’s residents, the actual leaders of Gaza are too busy building up their military might and preparing for the next military confrontation with Israel.

So far, no one has claimed responsibility for detonating the explosive device that caused serious injuries to four Israeli soldiers patrolling the border on Saturday. And the Israel Defense Forces has also avoided pointing an accusatory finger at any of the power players in Gaza. But it is obvious to everyone that Hamas is the sovereign in the Gaza Strip, and therefore, an attack like that could not have been executed without Hamas’ approval, even if it was just tacit approval.

In any case, even if Hamas didn’t know a thing about the bomb, its lack of response against the perpetrators proves the group’s willingness to tolerate such attacks and even welcome them.

After all, there is a clear working order in Gaza. Seeking to preserve its rule, Hamas avoids carrying out terrorist attacks in order to prevent Israeli military responses. But all the while, Hamas continues to dig terror tunnels and improve its missile arsenal.

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Hamas leaves the dirty work of perpetrating terror attacks to the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, whose command center is in Damascus. Islamic Jihad has a score to settle with Israel ever since an Israeli strike demolished one of its tunnels last year and killed some of its high-ranking commanders. So far, Islamic Jihad has not been able to mount a satisfactory revenge attack, but it will undoubtedly continue to try.

A number of terror groups also operate in the Gaza Strip that refuse to accept Hamas’ authority. In Israel, we call these groups “rogue.” In addition, terror cells affiliated with the Islamic State group in Sinai are also active there. Hamas tolerates the activities of all these groups and does nothing to counter them.

The border incident on Saturday proves yet again what we learned at the Lebanese front during the 2006 Second Lebanon War: When you tolerate provocations along a border for too long — such as protesters “just” trying to breach a border fence or “just” throwing some rocks at Israeli soldiers — terror attacks are never too far off.

Israel and Hamas are not interested in escalation. It seems that for the time being, there is no better alternative to the Hamas rule in Gaza, at least from Israel’s perspective. That is why calm is sure to be restored along the border in the near future.

But in the absence of a fundamental solution to the Gaza issue, the IDF will find it hard to maintain this calm for long. This serious incident should prompt Israel to look for a better solution than to trust Hamas to ensure calm along Israel’s southern border.

Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

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