The relative quiet on the security front that Israel has enjoyed over the past two years has come to an end. The exchanges of fire between Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces along the Gaza border have escalated over the past 10 days, while in Jerusalem, a bomb exploded near a bus yesterday. And the investigation of the murders in Itamar earlier this month is still underway.
The intensification of the fighting in the south is a reminder of similar events in the not too distant past. After a period in which the exchanges of fire were relatively low-level, Hamas fired 50 mortar rounds at the western Negev. Israel responded with a series of assaults from the air as well as mortar fire, and on Tuesday, eight Palestinians, including four civilians, were killed by IDF fire. Hamas responded by shooting two Grad rockets at Be'er Sheva, a city which had been outside the confrontation zone since Operation Cast Lead in 2009.
The assault on the capital of the Negev prompted calls from the right for a harsh response, a Cast Lead 2. These calls were buttressed by the closure of schools in Be'er Sheva and Ashdod. The terrorist attack in Jerusalem, coming a matter of hours after the morning's Grad fire, will increase pressure on the government to deliver a knock-out blow against terrorism.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must display moderation and lower the flames instead of being dragged into a new operation in Gaza. The events of the last few days have shown that there is no miracle cure for the fire from Gaza; even Operation Cast Lead didn't achieve long-term deterrence. There is no reason to think another operation of the same sort would be more successful.
Moreover, Israel's diplomatic situation is totally different from what it was two years ago. The country is isolated internationally because of its refusal to compromise with the Palestinians and its insistence on expanding the settlements. The Obama administration will not support the use of brutal force in a civilian environment the way its predecessor did, nor can Israel count on the support of Arab governments that provided backing in the past.
Under these circumstances, Netanyahu needs to try to restore calm along the border and enable Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to reconcile with Hamas. Palestinian unity, fragile as it might be, would provide Israel with an address to which to deliver demands for maintaining calm and preventing terrorist attacks - something the PA is already doing in the West Bank.
Populist enthusiasm for "a large-scale operation" will only lead Israel into complications, condemnations and greater isolation.
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