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July 15, 2018 1:26 pm

Hamas Wary of Full-Fledged Conflict

avatar by Yoav Limor / JNS.org

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A Palestinian man inspects a building damaged by Israeli air strikes in Gaza City, July 15, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem.

JNS.org – Exactly four years after Operation Protective Edge ‎in the Gaza Strip, Israel and Hamas are on the ‎brink of another full-fledged clash.‎

The escalation this weekend did not have one ‎single trigger but was the result of both ‎parties reaching critical mass. Months of border ‎riots and arson terrorism have worn out Israel’s ‎patience, and the restriction imposed on Gaza’s ‎fishing zone and the shuttering of the Kerem Shalom ‎cargo crossing did the same for Hamas.

It seems that both Israel and Hamas want to change the rules of the game on ‎the ground, but both also sought to do so without ‎completely breaking the existing mold. ‎

As violent as the past weekend has been, Hamas and ‎Israel both went to great lengths to contain ‎the situation. Israel increased its airstrikes on ‎Gaza, including destroying several key Hamas ‎positions, but it made sure to minimize any danger to civilians. Hamas fired 200 rockets at ‎Israel, but kept its range to the Gaza-vicinity ‎communities, avoiding the the bigger southern cities — ‎Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Beersheba — for now. ‎

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Still, it is highly likely that Hamas was taken ‎aback by the intensity of Israel’s response. The IDF ‎was gearing up for this exact scenario and had ‎prepared a target bank, including the two terror ‎tunnels destroyed over the weekend. Hamas took a few ‎hours to rally its troops, but once it did the die ‎was cast. From this moment on, both parties are ‎ready for a rapid escalation neither of them really ‎wants.‎

Hamas is on maximum alert and the IDF is ready for ‎it, showing a clear preference for airstrikes and ‎deploying the Iron Dome defense system to ‎protect Israeli border towns with the aim of avoiding a ‎ground incursion in Gaza if possible. ‎

The way things evolve from here is up to both sides’ ‎ability to roll back their rhetoric and their ‎actions. Egypt, which assumed its familiar role ‎as mediator, is focused on that.‎

Israel has set three conditions for a ceasefire: an immediate end to rocket fire, arson terrorism, and the border riot campaign. Hamas, for its ‎part, demands the reopening of the Gaza crossings ‎and a cessation of all Israeli strikes. ‎

While Israel is likely to tolerate an incendiary kite ‎here and there, it will not allow for the gradual ‎reintroduction of a reality in which Palestinian ‎arson terrorism dominates the daily routine of ‎border-adjacent communities.‎

Those who argue that Israel should not place ‎soldiers in harm’s way over kites, balloons, and burnt ‎crops are right, but until Israel reshapes its ‎policy, the residents of the border ‎communities deserve a quiet summer, even if it means ‎a few days of fighting in Gaza.

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

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