It is clear that Hamas is aware of the damage it will suffer from a more brutal Israeli attack, and yet this may be the outcome it’s looking for.
As of this morning, Israel’s Airforce has attacked more than fifty targets in Gaza, in response for close to a hundred rockets fired from Gaza in the past 24 hours. The Israelis attack mostly rocket storage and firing operations, which presents the Jewish State with a familiar quandary: Hamas is in the habit of storing its rockets in residential areas, which means that at any point an attack on an arsenal of rockets could end up killing innocent civilians. These things happen, despite the fact that the IAF has been using only smart bombs and guided missiles against these targets. According to Gaza medical personnel, nine locals were wounded in Tuesday’s air strikes.
Painfully aware of these public relations booby traps, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has opted for restraint early on, even as homes in towns near the Gaza Strip were being shelled by Grad rockets, which haven’t, to date, caused injury, but were getting progressively and uncomfortably closer to homes and kindergartens.
As attested to by Netanyahu, by Israeli President Shimon Peres, and even by the US State Dept., Israel had been hoping to convince Hamas to accept a truce based on the two sides’ mutual need for it: “quiet will be met with quiet, ” Israel was promising. The messages were sent to the Hamas leadership through Egyptian channels, and were refused. So much so that the Egyptians have opted to abandon their attempts to help with the negotiations.
It is clear today that Hamas is very much aware of the damage it can suffer from a more brutal Israeli attack, should it not cease firing rockets into Israeli towns, and that it is expecting such an attack and, in a bizarre way even welcoming it. An attack will no doubt bring death and destruction, but it would also, most likely, reopen the faucets of financial support for Gaza.
Marxists in the crowd should be thrilled: it’s rare to find such a stunning example of a government launching a war for purely economic reasons. The fact is, Hamas has been at the end of its rope for some time, broke and forgotten among the larger nations of the region. This is because the Hamas leadership has been betting on one wrong horse after another:
The military coup in Egypt last year was conducted by a military that saw in Hamas an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, and were determined to isolate it completely. They bulldozed the area around Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip, creating an effective no man’s land that included blocking and destroying the bulk of the smuggling tunnels. Gaza’s economy was dealt a near-death blow.
But then Hamas lost its Iranian support, when they dared to condemn the massacre of Sunni Arabs by Syrian President Bahar Assad, favored by the Shiite Iran. There went the support that was being funneled in by Iran’s proxy, the Hezbollah.
Finally, Qatar, the last hope for Hamas, has also abandoned them. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said he did not receive the promised financial support for Gaza from that Gulf state which used to practically lavish gifts on the Hamas leadership. As a result, thousands of Hamas government employees in Gaza were not paid. According to Haaretz, in retaliation, Hamas minor officials broke dozens of ATM machines over the last two weeks, making sure that Fatah employees, who were still collecting paychecks from Abbas, couldn’t cash them.
Meanwhile, Israeli politicians have been pushing Netanyahu to stop restraining himself and to take a stab at pushing back. These included some inside Netanyahu’s government, like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who picked this time to break his election campaign partnership with the PM, intending to run without the Likud next time; and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, who demanded that his Likud party leader protect the Israeli civilian population near the Strip.
It’s tough to call these engagements between Israel and Hamas, because so much depends on uncontrollable events on the ground. If Israel manages to maintain a limited, but effective, surgical retaliation, it could cause Hamas to bleed out slowly without actually scoring a decisive win. Under the circumstances, this would be the best possible victory for Israel, as Hamas will continue to be starved, until, eventually, it will decide to cut its losses and reach a truce.
The less favorable outcome would be an even greater increase in the shelling from Gaza, which will inevitably result in a dramatic hit somewhere. At that point, Israel would have to react with a massive attack, possibly involving ground troops, and Hamas could score the outcome it’s been yearning for.