Despite the Pressure, Hamas Hasn't Reached Its Breaking Point

Israel's political and military leaders are being overly optimistic if they think Hamas will cave in without an 'achievement' to show for it.

AFP

Israel's television stations, which are driving themselves and their viewers out of their minds with continuous live broadcasts all day long, made a big deal out of a rocket that was fired Monday from the Gaza Strip and struck an uninhabited area near Haifa.

A false alarm regarding a possible barrage even brought the residents of the northern town of Nahariya into their shelters, a day after rockets from Lebanon landed in the Western Galilee. Hamas definitely broke the local and regional records when it fired a rocket with a particularly long range. But the rocket, like most of its predecessors, caused practically no damage.

Hamas’ military wing, desperate for an "achievement," has been behaving over the past few days like a gang of frustrated copywriters. The day before the Islamist movement fired that rocket at Haifa, it arranged a bombardment of Tel Aviv at prime time, 9 P.M., with an hour’s notice, so as to arouse fear throughout the greater Tel Aviv area.

But even though Hamas has succeeded in getting millions of Israelis to head into and out of their protected spaces, it has chalked up no real successes so far. True, the protection that Iron Dome provides is not perfect. Technical malfunctions sometimes occur, and possibly rare instances of human error, plus a problem is starting to arise in terms of the lax behavior of certain citizens in Israel’s central region during the warning sirens. All these could lead in the end to casualties.

Still, the protection that Iron Dome provides is a game-changer. The large arsenal of rockets that Hamas built to break Israel’s military advantage in the air and defeat its intelligence has not managed to penetrate the layers of defense at this point. We can guess what the military experts of Iran and Hezbollah, who built entire theories of warfare based on striking at Israel’s weak and despondent home front, think of this situation.

Strengthening the "envelope" of Israel’s defense later on, by adding more batteries that will aid in interception of missiles at various distances, will make threatening Israel even more difficult to do in the future.

In the Jabalya refugee camp, north of Gaza City, dozens celebrated the barrage of rockets on Tel Aviv on Saturday night, but that made for a pretty poor picture of victory.

The less encouraging part of the whole equation is that in the meantime, Hamas seems determined to keep fighting. According to assessments heard by the political echelon over the past few days, the organization’s leadership is showing no signs of being close to the breaking point. It refuses to stop the rocket fire before it garners what it sees as a significant accomplishment, by either continuing to fight or by having its demands for a cease-fire met (of particular importance to Hamas is the issue of the relief measures it hopes to obtain from Egypt at the Rafah border crossing).

Although the organization has lost some of its rockets and missiles, and the homes of more than 100 of its high-ranking operatives have been destroyed from the air, its command and control center remains almost intact, and despite the bombardments, it still has enough small- and medium-range rockets in its possession to keep up the rocket fire for a long time.

At such times as these, as in previous situations (the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense), Israel is busy looking for signs of a breakdown on the other side. Mostly, in hindsight, it appears that Israel’s intelligence array — and, even more, its political and military leadership — err in their overly optimistic assessments of the enemy’s hardship.

True, there is much destruction in Gaza, and once Hamas leaders emerge from their tunnels and bunkers they will not be happy to find that their homes have been destroyed and their family members hurt. And there is also no doubt that Hamas has fueled the fire in the current round out of strategic hardship, and that it is still under a great deal of pressure.

But the ongoing broadcasts on Al Jazeera, which has put the war in Syria aside for a moment, are once more branding Hamas as the darling of the Arab people, which is striking successfully at Israel — even if that is far from the reality on the ground. Since communication between the heads of Hamas’ military and political wings with the outside world is limited, it is hard to get a clear picture of the calculations and considerations they are engaged in.

High-ranking Israeli officials who say, one after the other, that Hamas is just a day or two away from admitting defeat sound like people who rely on vague hopes more than on solid facts.

Naturally, the statistical reality — aerial attacks on the one hand, rockets on the other, with no decisive victory — intensifies the frustration on the Israeli side as well. The demand that army forces go into Gaza and put an end to the problem once and for all is being voiced more and more in person-in-the-street interviews – certainly in cities where many rockets have struck (Ashdod leads in damage so far with some 120 landing in its environs, and 50 intercepted).

Still, it seems that neither the security cabinet nor the army is in any rush to act. The former held yet another meeting following the end of the sixth day of the operation. If it and the rest of Israel's leadership were so determined to act on the ground as well with all its might, the regular troops would have been sent into Gaza long ago.

The delays show that Israel's leaders are still hesitating about embarking on a ground operation and, at least for now, are still keeping open the option of a diplomatic way out of the entanglement. Despite an abundance of reports in the Arabic media, there is no such breakthrough as yet. But the rising international interest, together with what seems to be renewed involvement by Egypt in the goings-on here, could help in reaching such a solution.

One way or the other, it seems that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is managing Israeli policy with a fair amount of level-headedness and caution despite the pressure being brought to bear in the political arena and in some media outlets.

A ping-pong match is still taking place in the background between Israel's military and political echelons, each side hinting to the media that while it is ready to go to a ground operation, the final decision depends on the other side. As far as anyone knows, for now, these tugs-of-war are still on a reasonable level.

However, the final decision is Netanyahu’s to make. His caution at present may be attributed to his tough experiences with the defense establishment throughout the years — the opening of the Western Wall Tunnel and the failed attempt on the life of Hamas leader Khaled Meshal during his first term, and, according to foreign reports, the assassination of the head of that organization's military wing, Mohammed al-Mabhouh, during Netanyahu's second.

In accordance with a plan that it made known in advance, the Israel Defense Forces have begun to ask the residents of the Gaza Strip’s eastern neighborhoods and northern towns to leave their homes. In the next stage, bombardments of Hamas targets in the evacuated areas will begin. All this still does not necessarily presage a large-scale ground incursion into the Strip, but these could be preparative steps before a decision is made to launch one.