The escalation in Gaza / In no one's interest
The continued fighting on the Gaza Strip border is surprising not only because it contradicts Israeli intelligence forecasts, but also because it seems to be opposed to both sides' direct interests. And yet, in the last 10 days the IDF killed 11 Palestinians in armed clashes, seven Israeli soldiers were wounded and at least 70 rockets and mortar shells landed in the Negev. (See news story, page A2)
The Israeli and Palestinian leaderships continue to proclaim commitment to the truce but are engaged in high-intensity conflict, even if it is restricted to a narrow strip, for the time being.
Why is this happening? The latest round of fighting stems from Israel's fear that Hamas, despite its support for the lull, would not hesitate to gain a "strategic" advantage like kidnapping a soldier, if it gets the chance. Hence the decision to expose the tunnel near Kisufim earlier this month, at which six Hamas men were killed. The IDF resumed operations within a strip of a few hundred meters beyond the border to prevent Hamas from planting explosives there.
These incidents are exacting a high price from the Palestinians. Hamas, which feels committed to respond to every strike, launches rockets or mortar shells, thus complicating the situation and reducing the chance of halting the conflagration. On Wednesday Hamas resumed rocket launching after refraining from doing so for several days, and has apparently authorized the small organizations to launch rockets. It is no accident that most of these rockets have been fired at open areas.
Defense sources suggest that the continued conflict stems from Hamas feeling Gazans' expectations of it as a resistance organization, whose people always fought Israel to the death. Tolerance of having its men killed would not be acceptable, and Israel's new tightening of the siege on the Gaza Strip also forces Hamas to prove it does not surrender.
Shortly after 6 P.M. yesterday, Al Jazeera's reporter in Gaza interrupted scheduled broadcasts to report that large parts of Gaza would soon be cut off from electric power, due to Israel's blocking delivery of oil products. Broadcasts of another blackout night will not harm Hamas in the political battle against Fatah. After it was blamed for sabotaging the conciliation summit in Cairo, Hamas is now reestablishing its position as the leading organization in the struggle against Israel.
The continued escalation has obliged the IDF to take unusual precautions. Replacing the Gaza division commander was put off yesterday due to the fear of a "strategic" strike on Hamas' part. Brig.Gen. Moshe Tamir, who entered his post in August 2006, had hoped for a long time to lead a large offensive into Gaza. This is not likely to happen on his watch.