Memory of Cast Lead still fresh on both sides of the Gaza border
Hamas has no particular desire to return to the battlefront – but it could still be pushed into a conflict.
Ehud Barak, Gabi Ashkenazi and Yoav Galant, the people who managed Operation Cast Lead in Gaza almost four years ago, will appear at a seminar assessing the implications of the campaign, to be held on Friday at the Israeli Air Force House in Herzliya.
While there will probably not be a joint picture of the trio, due to the fallout of the Harpaz affair, it is interesting to consider the results of that campaign - particularly in light of the exchanges of fire on the Gaza border over the last few days, in which the Israel Defense Forces killed five armed Palestinians.
This past week has seen something of an increase in the volume of fire on the Israeli communities located on the edge of the Gaza Strip. On Wednesday evening, an Islamic extremist squad preparing to fire a long-range Katyusha rocket, apparently in the direction of Be'er Sheva, but was identified and hit by the Air Force.
On Thursday morning, armed Palestinians who planted an explosive device near the fence on the Strip's northern border also came under IDF fire. This time the dead belonged to a faction that had broken off from Hamas, though they may have maintained some kind of connection with the larger organization. Nevertheless, at least for the moment there does not appear to be a Palestinian will to transform losses and escalate into a wider confrontation.
The basic reason, it appears, is connected to the outcome of Cast Lead. The memory of the aggressive Israeli response in the last days of 2008, which underlined the real balance of power between the two sides, is still vivid in Hamas' memory, and it appears that the organization has no particular desire to return to the battlefront. Islamic Jihad is also sitting by quietly, for now.
In addition to the strategic consideration (that a military confrontation will result in Hamas's loss of its hold over the Strip) there are also secondary considerations for Hamas. Relations between Hamas and its big brother, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, remain delicate, and the organization has difficulty gauging how the new regime in Cairo will react to a wide escalation between Gaza and Israel.
In the background there's also the relative improvement of the situation inside the Strip. The indirect – and formally denied – cooperation with Israel is important to the Hamas leadership, which in the meantime is careful not to endanger it. Only this week, the organization's military apparatus arrested about 20 members of Salafist groups.
But the current round still hasn't ended. In the coming hours, the extremist organizations may fire rockets in revenge, and additional Palestinian losses could push Hamas to change its current stance.
In addition to escalation on the Gaza border, it's worth noting recent events in the West Bank. The desecration at the Latrun monastery, inside the borders of the State of Israel, have attracted more attention than the Jewish-terror "price-tag" attacks in the West Bank, attempts to set fire to mosques or to uproot olive groves.
This week's evacuation of the Migron settlement outpost may have passed somewhat uneventfully, but the rage it generated may express itself in other ways – such as attacks against Palestinians by right-wing extremists, which in turn might trigger revenge-motivated Palestinian counter-strikes.
The continued failure of the Shin Bet and the police to locate and bring to trial the perpetrators of the campaign of attacks against Palestinians, their property and their places of worship, could ignite a larger conflagration on the West Bank, despite the mutual interest of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to maintain quiet.