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June 29, 2018 3:56 pm

Despite Progress, a New Israel-Hamas Clash Feels Imminent

avatar by Yoav Limor / JNS.org

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A Hamas military drill in the Gaza Strip in March 2018. Photo: Reuters / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

JNS.orgThe rocket salvo fired at Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip on Wednesday signaled another step on the way to a ‎likely confrontation between Israel and Hamas — a confrontation that neither Israel nor Hamas wants.

The escalation follows the ‎steady security deterioration of the past few weeks. Hamas is ‎pushing the kite terrorism campaign, the IDF has had to intensify its ‎response, and Hamas has had to escalate its reprisals, so as to maintain ‎its image as the defender of Gaza.

This is a dangerous dynamic that leaves too much to chance. ‎All it would take to trigger a full-blown conflict is an incendiary kite that burns down an Israeli ‎house, or an Israeli strike that results in Palestinian casualties. ‎

Israel is wary of this, but still — every day — the IDF inches closer to the ‎point where it would no longer be able to control circumstances. ‎Firing warning shots at kite terrorist cells has grown into strikes on ‎Hamas vehicles transporting them, and while this is still far from ‎targeted assassinations, it is merely one step away.‎

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But offensive tactics are only one side of the Israeli solution. It is also ‎pursuing a technological response, so far to only partial success, while ‎enhancing and improving firefighters and Homefront Command ‎teams’ response to the fires raging in the Gaza-vicinity communities as ‎a result of Palestinian arson terrorism.‎

The IDF Southern Command believes that these joint efforts are ‎proving successful, as shown by the decrease in the number of daily ‎fires, especially large ones.

Still, it seems a little too early to show optimism. The battle against kite ‎terrorism is far from over, and it may escalate into a full-fledged war ‎before a solution is devised.‎

But even if kite terrorism becomes a thing of the past, Hamas will ‎not relent. For the first time in months, its leadership has a feeling that its ‎struggle is bearing fruit: Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing after ‎four years, and Donald Trump’s envoys who visited Israel this week ‎focused on the crisis in Gaza, not the Palestinian Authority. ‎

A misinterpretation of the situation by Hamas could lead it to ‎conclude that it should intensify its border riot campaign to mark ‎more achievements. This would prompt Israeli countermeasures, ‎which could then lead to an inevitable escalation.‎

The way to change this process runs through the parallel, behind-the-scenes efforts trying to broker an understanding between Israel ‎and Hamas that could facilitate a long-term cease-fire. Quite a few ‎individuals, both Western and Arab, are involved in these efforts, ‎which have yet to come to fruition. This is a race against time ‎between words and rockets, and sadly, the latter may have the ‎upper hand.‎

Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

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