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July 15, 2018 1:06 pm

Hamas’ Dangerous Gamble

avatar by Eyal Zisser / Israel Hayom /

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Smoke rises following an Israeli strike on a building in Gaza City, July 14, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa. – The round of violence on the Israel-Gaza Strip ‎border this weekend was the broadest since ‎Operation Protective Edge concluded four years ago. ‎

The border has remained largely quiet since then, ‎but Hamas has been increasingly ‎struggling to uphold the ceasefire Egyptian and ‎Qatari envoys were able to broker in 2014. If ‎anything, the past few months have proved that Hamas ‎is willing to take steps that will inevitably lead ‎to a conflict with Israel, such as the border riot ‎campaign, arson terrorism, or trying to cement an ‎equation by which any Israeli strike over the former ‎two would trigger rocket fire on Israel’s south. ‎

Hamas is not really interested in facing off against Israel ‎again, as it knows that fresh hostilities will not ‎result in it being better off. It also knows that if ‎it pushes Israel too far, the IDF will bring about ‎the end of Hamas rule in Gaza.

This in and of itself is nothing new. The difference is ‎that now, Hamas feels strong and confident ‎enough to take this chance and deal with its ‎potential consequences. ‎

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Being the seasoned political poker players that they ‎are, Hamas’ leaders assume Israel will be the first ‎to blink and that even if the IDF launches a military ‎campaign in Gaza, it will be short and end with yet ‎another flimsy ceasefire, one that will not ‎harm Hamas and maybe even result in an agreement ‎that would alleviate the dire economic situation in ‎Gaza.‎

It is therefore highly unlikely that Hamas will stop ‎its provocations, especially as it seems to be ‎marking some achievements, even if those are mostly ‎psychological, opposite Israel. It is equally ‎difficult to see Hamas agree to the first phase of ‎the US peace plan, which entails the ‎demilitarization of Gaza in exchange for economic ‎relief. Hamas, just like the other terrorist groups ‎in Gaza, believes relinquishing its arsenal is akin ‎to suicide, which is why it will never agree to it.‎

In the absence of dialogue between Israel and Hamas, ‎and given the rift between Palestinian Authority ‎President Mahmoud Abbas’ Ramallah government and ‎Hamas leadership in Gaza, both sides need someone to ‎help them climb down from the ‎very tall tree on which they are perched.‎

Such mediation could lead to an agreement that would ‎curb Hamas’ military activities and perhaps even ‎advance a deal that would secure the return of the ‎Israelis held captive by the terror group, which in turn would ‎enable Israeli gestures that would ease Gaza’s ‎economic plight.‎

Past experience has seen rivals Egypt and Qatar ‎assume the role of mediator. Egypt has a clear ‎interest in preventing a security escalation in ‎Gaza, as it may spill over its own border.‎ It remains to be seen, however, whether it still ‎wields the same influence on Gaza as before, given ‎the newfound chumminess between Hamas and Iran. The ‎latter would like nothing more than to see an ‎escalation in Gaza, as it would take the pressure ‎off Israel’s efforts to curb its entrenchment in ‎Syria. ‎

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

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