Israel Denies It, but Gaza Fighting Ended Mostly to Save Eurovision

The Israeli government acted to end the hostilities because it feared the cancellation of the song contest would hurt the country's standing internationally

Rockets are launched from Gaza Strip to Israel, Sunday, May 5, 2019.
Ariel Schalit,AP

Israel may have denied it, but the Eurovision Song Contest factored into the decision to end the fighting against Hamas earlier this month after a bloody three-day round of hostilities, in order to ensure that the event will take place in Tel Aviv as planned. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu worried that the contest's cancellation will damage Israel's image internationally, with ramifications to Israel's future hosting of large, international events.

>> Read more: Eurovision in Israel is still too tempting a target for Hamas ■ Netanyahu can no Longer pacify Gaza With Qatari cash and empty promises | Opinion

For the Israeli military, the fighting wasn't a complex or challenging operation. Over the past years, Israel has been fighting continuously with Hamas, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah in a manner that doesn't qualify as war, but is rather characterized by short rounds of fighting that last just several hours. Israel's main difficulty has been on the political level. Last week, Netanyahu had to explain to Israeli residents of Gaza-border communities, who were in their bomb shelters while 700 rockets were fired at them from the Strip in just 48 hours, why a cease-fire with Hamas was warranted.

Throughout, Netanyahu and his ministers insisted that Eurovision is not a priority. "Various cultural events should not factor into the magnitude of our attack, we must amp up our response in Gaza until quiet is restored, and renew our policy of targeted killings," said Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who is a member of the security cabinet. "It's at the bottom of the priority list," said Science Minister Ofir Akunis.

Nonetheless, it was clear to these ministers and the others who left the security cabinet session on the day these comments were made that Eurovision must take place, and that everything should be done to end the fighting. On that day, Israel permitted the transfer of fuel into the Gaza Strip, under fire. Israel also tried to send a message to Hamas that they are unafraid of further escalation, by killing Hamas's Hamed al-Khoudary, the first targeted killing since 2014. It was convenient for the political rank to make it appear as if Israel didn't care too much about Eurovision, and the military cooperated.

On Monday, at 4:00 A.M., the Israel Air Force received an order to stop its attacks in Gaza, amid denials that a cease-fire agreement has been reached. The money transfer from Qatar took place, fuel was let into the Strip, the fishing zone was enlarged, and border crossings were opened.

Even though Israel made substantive moves over the past week vis a vis Hamas to make sure that Eurovision will take place, the security apparatus cannot be certain that Hamas won't continue to blackmail Israel for more benefits. That is why the military deployed its Iron Dome missile defense system throughout the south and center of Israel. When Israel's representative in the competition will set foot off the Eurovision stage, Iron Dome soldiers will make their way back to the south, to protect residents who will be targeted in the fast-approaching next round of fighting.