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July 23, 2018 12:28 pm

Will Hamas Heed Israel’s Warnings or Will War Follow?

avatar by Yoav Limor / JNS.org

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Hamas supporters take part in a rally celebrating the 30th anniversary of the group’s founding in Gaza City on Dec. 14, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Mohammed Salem.

JNS.orgGaza’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.‎

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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.

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