Hamas' Test of Responsibility

If Hamas succeeds in halting the rocket fire, it will indirectly benefit from Israeli legitimization as a serious and responsible security force, like Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has never recognized Israel or agreements with it, has not stopped using violence, and continues to get stronger and acquire rockets. Nevertheless, the situation in the North reminds us of the time before the Second Lebanon War. A balance of fear on both sides of the border between Hezbollah's long-range rockets and the Israel Air Force's firepower guarantees calm even without diplomatic agreements.

The cease-fire that ended the war did not meet all of Israel's expectations. Hezbollah was not disarmed, and the abducted soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces are still captives of that Lebanese organization. But no one in Israel, not even the most right-wing MK, has suggested that the IDF stay in southern Lebanon until the captives are returned, or until Hezbollah is disarmed.

Even now, no one here is proposing to attack Hezbollah or Syria in an attempt to stop the arms smuggling and the increase in strength across the border that continues under the aegis of the United Nations force. Nor is anyone demanding that our hostile neighbor, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, refute his ideology, accept the Quartet's conditions and recognize Israel.

Israel now faces a similar decision in the confrontation with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert this week called "a real war.".

In the South, as in the North last time around, both sides are battered. The complaints by the people of Sderot and the nearby communities distress the government and army, which for the past six years has been unable to prevent the firing of the Qassams. The idea of a ground invasion into Gaza, with its attendant losses, arouses little enthusiasm in the military and political leadership. Hamas is also exhausted and damaged by Israel's economic siege and the IDF's targeted assassinations, and wants a respite.

The deal being formulated is reminiscent of the understandings between Israel and Hezbollah: Gaza will stop firing rockets at Israel, and Israel "will respond to quiet with quiet." No formal agreements will be signed, Hamas will refrain from accepting the Quartet's conditions, and the mutual diplomatic boycott will continue.

The Palestinians' military strengthening in Gaza will also continue and occasionally create a dilemma for Israel on whether to invade the strip "so that in the next round we won't be confronting a much stronger Hamas."

But Israel has tended to engage in prophylactic activities only against nuclear programs in neighboring countries, not to eliminate the smuggling of explosives and rifles. It is hard to assume that it will embark on a Gaza conquest because of arms smuggling if the firing of rockets and mortars at Sderot is stopped.

The strategic logic of a cease-fire with Hamas will be explained with the claim that a break in the fighting will allow Israel to become stronger, reinforce the IDF and develop defense systems against rockets.

A calming of the southern front will also make it easier to focus on a possible confrontation with Iran next year.

If Israel decides to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities, Hamas will face a difficult decision on whether to renew the rocket fire to retaliate against Israel for attacking a distant country, or focus on the Palestinians' local interests. Nasrallah, who is more dependent on Iran, will face a similar dilemma.

Implementing this scenario depends on one thing: Hamas' ability to enforce the cease-fire on all the organizations, groups and gangs in Gaza, just as Hezbollah guarantees the quiet in Lebanon and prevents Palestinian organizations and others from operating independently against Israel for fear of damaging its own interests.

Hamas has not yet restrained Islamic Jihad and other groups that have fired into Israel from Gaza with the excuse that Hamas should not hamper the "resistance." Now, with Gaza under its control, Hamas faces a test of responsibility. If it succeeds in halting the fire, it will indirectly benefit from Israeli legitimization as a serious and responsible security force, like Hezbollah. But if it fails, or is evasive as in the past, it will bring Israel closer to the decision to enter the Gaza Strip once again.