ANALYSIS: Hamas wants lull in Gaza, but only on its own terms
Israel believes Hamas is ready for truce, but it is forgetting that Hamas is continuing rocket fire on Negev.
The prevailing opinion in the government and Israel Defense Forces leadership on Sunday was that Hamas wants to end the current round of fighting with Israel. The Palestinians, it is thought, have suffered a nearly intolerable amount of casualties this past week and are looking for a way out of the hostilities.
But it appears that Israel forgot to take into consideration Hamas' military wing, whose operatives have continued to launch Qassam and Grad Katyusha rockets on the western and northern Negev.
Sunday's fighting was indeed more limited than the blood-drenched violence on Saturday. But some 40 rockets in one day, in addition to >12 Palestinian fatalities, cannot be considered a return to normal.
In principle, the Israeli view is logical: Hamas is indeed interested in a lull. But at least for the meantime, despite the pressure being exerted by the IDF, the organization is prepared to agree to a cessation of hostility only on its own terms - after it proves that it can withstand Israel's steamroller.
The importance of the death toll should not be ignored. After the IDF operation in Jabalya, with some 100 Palestinian fatalities in less than a week, the Gaza Strip is thirsty for revenge. Hamas, like Hezbollah, wants to be the one to fire last. It will be able to live with a gradual reduction in shooting, as long as it does not look like it was the one that gave in.
In addition, Hamas is scoring some victories of its own. It managed to paralyze the West Bank, where a full strike was declared, though not on the orders of the Palestinian Authority. The schools shut down and students took to the streets to protest the IDF operation in Gaza on Sunday. Settlers' cars became targets for stones and firebombs.
Hamas also dominated Palestinian media discourse, with Fatah being attacked on all the television stations ¬ an impressive political victory for the Islamic organization.
The IDF, for its part, is recommending that the government allow a continuation of the offensive. The General Staff is pleased that the army has been allowed to take its gloves off, and envisions a long series of actions. These include additional ground operations of limited scope, a continued aerial hunt for the people involved in manufacturing and launching rockets, and possible attacks on leaders of the Hamas political bureau. The IDF is considering sending more troops into Gaza because the forces there may not suffice.
The primary objective of the Gaza move is to get Ashkelon out of the firing line and to prevent Hamas from launching a large number of Qassams at Sderot in response to the death of every operative. The army's operations are also meant to provide the basis for a possible decision to embark on an expanded ground offensive, because the IDF will be able to argue that it has tried everything and that it is bringing extensive forces into the Strip only as a last resort.
It seems that those who boast about the IDF's achievements sometimes confuse efficiency with effectiveness. The fact that the army has been completing its tasks with relative efficiency does not necessarily lead to a fundamental change in the situation. As in previous clashes with the Palestinians, Israel has quickly moved toward a focus on the body count.
Even if there is a gap between the haughty statements of Hamas spokesmen and the movement's actual situation, it is clear that Hamas sees its losses in a different way than Israel does and that it views the ongoing conflict in the context of a totally different time frame than that envisioned by the impatient Israelis.