For now, Israel and Hamas both seek to maintain Gaza calm
Involvement in clashes with Israel will harm the image of the victim Hamas prefers to cultivate.
Jordan's King Abdullah can calm down. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who were called in the middle of the night to the royal palace in Amman, did leave some room for ambiguity regarding a large scale military action in Gaza, but in fact the chance of such an action seem quite slim.
If nothing extreme takes place, such as a mass-casualty attack against Israelis, the Israel Defense Forces will be in no hurry to enter Gaza. Barak does not want it and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi objects to it without clear diplomatic aims to be defined ahead of time. As for Olmert, it seems he would prefer to be remembered for promoting peace with the Palestinians or the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
When Olmert said Sunday he had instructed the IDF to prepare plans, the chief of staff responded that the plans were ready and had already been presented to the cabinet. A check with commanders of units along the Gaza border this week revealed that they know the plans, but no significant preparations had been made to implement them. Their main actions are defensive, in light of warnings that Hamas is planning a "strategic" attack, such as the abduction of a soldier.
Meanwhile after some two weeks of barrages, Hamas has stopped firing rockets and is working to rein in the smaller groups. One Qassasm rocket hit the western Negev Thursday afternoon.
It seems that at this point Hamas has gotten the most out of the recent clashes and the Arab press and the international community (particularly the United Nations) are focused closely on Israel's siege of the Strip. The rocket fire on Israel has garnered practically no international attention, and even Israeli media outlets have stopped showing an interest in it. For Hamas, the important achievement is the spin it managed to create in the Arab and Palestinian mind. When Hamas stymied the talks with Fatah that were to have taken place in Cairo, it was roundly criticized. The violence in Gaza allowed it once again to appear as a patriotic organization and prevent any resolution against it coming from the Arab League.
Public opinion in the territories is dealing with the distress of Gazans; no one bothers to recall that Hamas caused the reconciliation talks in Cairo to fail. For now, it is more convenient for Hamas to preserve a partial ceasefire and fire off rockets or mortars once every few days. Thus it will remain in the media spotlight, among other things with the assistance of Israel by keeping the crossings closed.
On Thursday, for example, the Arab television networks covered demonstrations of Palestinian children in Gaza calling for an end to the siege and the shutdown of most bakeries due to a fuel shortage. Involvement in clashes with Israel will harm the image of the victim Hamas prefers to cultivate for now.
In the long term, the Southern Command seems pessimistic about Gaza. In the swearing-in ceremony of the new Gaza Divsion commander Wednesday, Southern Command chief General Yoav Galant said that the new commander, Brig. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg, would face "significant tests vis-a-vis the Strip."
The ceremony was the opportunity to bid temporary farewell to the outgoing division commander, Brig. Gen. Moshe Tamir. Tamir is awaiting a decision by the IDF advocate general on what action to take against him for allowing his 14-year-old son to drive an army-issued quad-bike, and telling authorities he, rather than his son, had been driving when an accident occured.