After several days of tension, the fragile Gaza Strip has once again grabbed the world’s headlines with the type of explosion of violence that has become predictable and puzzling.
Israel Wednesday killed the senior military commander from the Hamas Movement, and has threatened to launch an all-out offensive against Gaza, after more than 100 rockets were fired at near-by locations in southern Israel.
Naturally, observers are watching closely to gauge whether there will be a repeat of around four years ago, when well over 1,000 Palestinians lost their lives during an Israeli onslaught – while just over a dozen Israelis were killed in the fighting.
However, several significant questions should be asked when it comes to this week’s flare-up.
If Hamas militants have not been launching the rockets, with the knowledge of its political leadership, the development raises questions about the movement’s control over Gaza, five years after it took over the strip from the Palestinian Authority.
However, if the rocket fire was all the work of Hamas, there is the question of why they were fired in the first place. In recent months, much has been made of the coming to power of President Mohammad Mursi in Egypt. As analysts and politicians are fond of pointing out, Mursi is from the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization that is closest in ideology to Hamas – therefore, Egypt under Mursi forms some type of a “safety net” for the Hamas officials across the Sinai.
But a friendly government next door does not necessarily mean much when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just as during the days of President Hosni Mubarak, rockets have been fired from Gaza, Israel has threatened a response, and Israel is now responding with deadly force. If Israel responds with an intensive bombing campaign or some other military measure, it will only remind people of the past, and confirm that little has in fact changed. The reports that Egypt – the supposed “safety net” for Hamas – had engineered some type of truce turned out to be nothing more than a case of wishful thinking.
Moreover, Israel’s assassination of Ahmad Jaabari, the military commander, also raises questions about the military-intelligence situation. The missile attack destroyed Jaabari’s car, and killed a number of bystanders. The fact that Israel, several years after pulling out its army from Gaza, was able to carry out such a pinpoint strike with ease should make Hamas leaders sit up and take notice. They might have felt themselves in a stronger position in the post-withdrawal period, but in fact little has changed when it comes to Israel’s military capabilities and ability to know the precise location of Hamas military and civilian officials.
As for the political front, Palestinian leaders should remember that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu is headed for general elections in few months’ time. The Israelis have seen heightened tensions in the occupied Golan Heights, due to the spillover from the war in Syria. Netanyahu and his government will not remain silent if there is a perceived challenge to Israel’s security – in fact, they will strike back with deadly force, because the run-up to an election is the ideal time for them to score political points.
Hamas and other Palestinian groups must realize that ever since the wave of popular uprisings has rocked the Arab world, focusing attention in other directions, nothing significant has changed in their military equation with the Jewish state. The tactical value of taking on Israel while the Palestinians are trying to secure observer state status at the United Nations, and divided in the first place between Hamas and the PA, is practically nil.