ANALYSIS / Hamas is calling the shots as Israel's leaders bicker
As Hamas grows more confident, reinstated cease-fire likely to be even more fragile than previous one.
As things looked Saturday night, it seems Hamas can confidently tack on a few advantage points recently accumulated in its conflict with Israel in the Gaza Strip. The massive barrage of Qassam rockets (as well as, in recent days, Katyushas and Grads) completely removed from Palestinian discourse criticism of the organization, which recently left reconciliation talks with Fatah.
Hamas has successfully conveyed the message that it has overpowered Israel and will soon be able to return to the cease-fire [tahadiyeh] from an advantageous position.
On Saturday night, after 24 hours without rockets, it seems that chances are growing of the cease-fire going back into effect. Still, in light of similar estimates being proven false in recent days, it is still too early to determine whether Hamas will remain loyal to its word and impose discipline on its members and the smaller Palestinian factions.
Israeli policy is clearer. Despite Minister Haim Ramon's recent declaration that the tahadiyeh is "dead," it appears that a large-scale military operation in the Strip is still not in the offing.
On Saturday night, Defense Minister Ehud Barak criticized both Prime Minister Olmert and Ramon, and by implication Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, for what he called the rush to the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
If turns out that the tahadiyeh may drag on for another month or month and a half, we can already count on the largest stumbling blocks that could lead to its fall.
This could come in the form of a clash around an area of several hundred meters in Palestinian territory, whose off-limit status to armed groups the Israel Defense Forces wants returned. Last week Hamas militants responded to the IDF killing four of their number near the security fence by firing Katyushas at Ashkelon. Such will likely be their response in the future as well.
It is difficult to see both sides arriving at an agreement over who is allowed to enter this area. This dispute, along with the opposition of Hamas' military wing to extending the tahadiyeh past the six-month mark (which ends December 19) could compromise any future cease-fire.
So even if a cease-fire is attained in the future, it will likely be a "tahadiyeh light," even more fragile than its predecessor. Hamas is now faced by another temptation: Escalating the conflict in Gaza, and even committing a suicide bombing within the Green Line, can affect Israel's electoral process. Hamas may believe that a rise in terrorism will lead to the election of Likud, which will improve the group's own image in the international community.