ANALYSIS / Truce is a poker game, and both sides are bluffing
Hamas exploits Gaza blockade to delay talks on Shalit, as Israel wavers on military response to Qassams.
The tahadiyeh, the partial cease-fire established two and a half weeks ago between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas, is gradually emerging as a complex, elusive deal, one whose terms may turn out to be unfavorable for Israel.
Under the terms of the agreement, Israel withdrew from its original precondition of "quiet in exchange for quiet," acceding to Hamas' request to open the crossings into the Gaza Strip to supplies. With that, Israel lost one of the main pressure points that could have led to the release of captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit - the economic blockade.
In the meantime, Hamas has shown itself to be genuinely interested in a lull in the fighting, but at the same time is unable to rein in the smaller factions operating in Gaza. Israel, in search of ways to at least ensure quiet, has turned to an old standby in its campaign for calm and again sealed the crossings.
Israel hopes that renewed economic pressure will lead the public in Gaza to apply pressure on the Hamas leadership, which in turn will seek to assert its authority over the smaller terror groups.
In the past week, it has become abundantly clear that Hamas refuses to play into Israel's hands. Its spokesman announced that each time Israel closes the crossings in response to rocket fire, it will suspend talks over a prisoner exchange for Shalit.
Hamas made good on this threat Friday, delaying the exit to Egypt of its negotiating delegation. In addition, it announced it would no longer release "signs of life" from the soldier, and that it would not budge from the list of prisoners it presented Israel for a swap.
Shalit has essentially been turned into a hostage of the crisis surrounding the crossings. The blockade, once the most important tool available to secure his release, has become the excuse Hamas is most likely to use to delay it.
Sources in the security establishment say they believe Hamas will blink first, but the current stand-off is starting to look like a poker game in which both sides are bluffing, neither very convincingly.
Another Israeli dilemma is its response to the ongoing rocket fire. A document released last week by the IDF General Staff's planning division recommends pinpoint strikes against rocket launch sites, a tactic at odds with directives issued by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The government is apparently occupied with more pressing issues than the situation in the South, such as the row between Kadima and Labor in what may be the lead-up to elections.
The escalation taking place on the southern front should not cause the government to rush to a military option - it has had legitimate reasons until now to refrain from such action in favor of a cease-fire. Nevertheless, the current situation demands a more lucid vision of the path ahead.
Repressing the reality that is taking hold in Gaza will only raise the ante Israel will have to pay later in this high-stakes poker game.