Israel and Hamas are delivering quite similar messages behind the scenes, in contrast to their public statements. Both powers in the Gaza conflict want to see the end of the current round of violence, which started Friday. A cease-fire is being stymied right now by two factors: heavy rocket fire by Islamic Jihad, taking full advantage of the weapons it received from Iran; and the lack of an effective way to end the face-off.
Egypt, the natural mediator in previous rounds, is preoccupied now with its own internal troubles, and is having difficulty leading the parties to an unofficial agreement.
A senior security official in Israel told Haaretz yesterday: "We have already gotten everything possible out of this round." According to the official, Israel is not planning a ground invasion at this time into the Gaza Strip, or an attempt to topple Hamas there. Such a scenario would kick in only if Hamas decides to join Islamic Jihad's rocket fire and the killing of civilians on both sides leads to ongoing escalation. At the moment, this seems unlikely.
Israel is being careful now not to push Hamas into any involvement in the clash. Although official spokesmen in Jerusalem constantly warn that they view Hamas as responsible for events in the Gaza Strip, aerial attacks there have been relatively limited and do not include clearly Hamas targets. The organization itself continues to sit on the fence: neither shooting nor working to enforce quiet on the other factions.
The continuation of the confrontation makes the grassroots activists in Hamas pressure its leadership to respond so as not to leave the struggle against Israel to Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees alone.
Lacking a qualitative Palestinian achievement and impressed by antimissile defense system Iron Dome's interceptions, the factions in Gaza are focusing on quantity. Almost 200 rocket launches since Friday afternoon, more than during any round of fighting since Operation Cast Lead in late 2008.
But the success of the heavy barrages, intended to try to evade Iron Dome's defenses, has actually been negligible. Although Jihad has not employed its "doomsday weapons" - Fajr rockets on the greater Tel Aviv area - its Grad Katyushas have already landed north of Gedera.
The high percentage of successful intercepts by Iron Dome elicit an exaggerated sense of confidence among some inhabitants of the south. Although the Home Front Command is generally satisfied with people's responses to the rockets, there is a concern that thrill seekers streaming to see a real-life intercept could result in disaster.
Along with the successes of Iron Dome, the Israel Defense Forces has shown real improvement in coordinating intelligence and the air force. That has increased the precision of the strikes on rocket-launching cells, with relatively few civilian casualties. But these are the kinds of achievements that are in danger the longer the confrontation persists. This is another good reason to seek its end.
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