Will Hamas Heed Israel’s Warnings or Will War Follow?
JNS.org – Gaza’s rulers may not realize it yet, but Israel has run out of patience. A few more bouts of arson terrorism and a full-fledged escalation could follow.
For some reason, Hamas has convinced itself that Israel’s warnings are just for show. Its leaders believe that the recent military exercise simulating a ground operation in the coastal enclave is merely a scare tactic, the massive Israeli airstrikes are a hollow show of force, and Israel is far too focused on its border with Syria to engage with Gaza.
These assumptions are fundamentally flawed. Senior government and defense officials are unanimous in saying that Israel’s patience is exhausted. Many still believe that the IDF should not launch a military campaign over incendiary kites and balloons, especially since arson terrorism has yet to claim any lives (something war will do), but these voices are growing increasingly faint.
Meanwhile, there is a consensus among decision-makers that Hamas has exhausted the opportunities offered to curb border riots and kite terrorism.
Still, politicians or pundits who think Israel is eager to go to war are wrong. Israel does not want to launch another military campaign in the Gaza Strip, which is why it has been sparing no effort to find other countermeasures to quash border riots, terrorist attacks, and the onslaught of arson terrorism.
Over the past few months, every possible avenue has been used to relay this message to Hamas, from envoys — mainly from Egypt, but also from Persian Gulf states, Russia, the United States, and the European Union — to more blunt instruments, such as targeting kite terrorist cells, bombing Hamas posts, and destroying Hamas cross-border terror tunnels.
When all else failed, Israel shuttered the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing, the only such crossing in Gaza. The move did not affect humanitarian aid delivered to the Strip, but it crippled commerce, thus dealing Hamas a double blow, targeting tax revenues and making the situation worse for the lives of Hamas’ subjects in Gaza.
The Israeli Defense Ministry’s decision last week to temporarily suspend the delivery of petroleum fuels and natural gas to Gaza was coordinated with Egypt, which temporarily shuttered the Rafah crossing as a last-ditch effort to make Hamas come to its senses.
Still, it’s doubtful that Hamas leaders understand that they have pushed Israel to the brink. With containment no longer an option, a clash seems inevitable — but only Hamas will make that call.
Israeli defense officials remain convinced that Hamas would rather avoid a war, but this is largely just an assumption. Furthermore, Hamas (like the IDF) has carried out several tactical moves in recent weeks that demonstrate that the terror group is ready for war.
A prominent player trying to prevent another bloody clash between Israel and Hamas is Egypt. But even if Cairo’s efforts prove successful in the short term, Hamas is unlikely to make a strategic U-turn, bringing us right back to the growing assumption that a conflict with Gaza will take place this summer.
Extinguishing arson terrorism is an important objective but it is not a strategic one. Before we rally the troops, the government has to clearly define the objective of this operation. Restoring peace and quiet on the southern border is a solid starting point, as long as it is used to introduce a strategic shift in the reality opposite Gaza.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.