Attacks on and from the Gaza Strip have become more frequent recently, to the point where it seems Israel must once again prepare for a military operation. Faithful to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s view that “our orders to the Israel Defense Forces are to act with full force until the other side cries uncle and raises a white flag,” Israel has responded aggressively to the launch of every lone rocket from Gaza – bombing Hamas command posts, but also civilian buildings.
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Israel acknowledges that Hamas isn’t the one launching occasional missiles at its territory, and that the guilty parties are Salafi organizations close to or affiliated with the Islamic State. Despite this, it holds Hamas responsible for the rocket fire and demands that the organization, which it doesn’t recognize and which it defines as a terrorist group, fight the Salafists.
These are the same groups that launched missiles at Eilat from Sinai in early February, but Israel doesn’t operate in or bomb Egyptian territory – at least not publicly. It leaves the work to the Egyptian army. Nor does it denounce Egypt or hold it responsible for the rocket fire on the grounds that it is the sovereign power in Sinai.
The paradoxical situation in which Israel views Hamas as the sovereign, and therefore holds it responsible for what happens in Gaza yet at the same time fights against it, cannot produce the quiet it seeks.
Residents of border-area communities around Gaza shouldn’t have to endure a “trickle” of rockets. But brutal clashes with Hamas – at the very moment when the organization is strengthening its ties with Egypt and cooperating with Cairo in the battle against terrorist organizations in Sinai – don’t demonstrate wisdom. Rather, they demonstrate a reliance on measures that haven’t proven themselves in the past. The ink on the state comptroller’s report on the 2014 war in Gaza hasn’t yet dried, and the report’s harsh criticism of the failure to discuss alternatives to a military operation still echoes, yet Israel is once again adopting its standard approach under which “victory” is derived from military blows.
Israel’s government cannot ignore the IDF’s warnings about the dangerous situation in Gaza – the shameful poverty, the severe unemployment, the terrible overcrowding and lack of basic services. According to Military Intelligence Director Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi, an outbreak of violence is only a matter of time.
In these discouraging circumstances, one can only be amazed by Hamas’ ability to maintain comparative quiet, and the steps it has taken against the organizations that seek to undermine its authority by launching rockets at Israel. Given the absence of any intent to conduct negotiations with the Palestinians in general and Hamas in particular, the government must immediately consider other ways of halting the deterioration in Gaza – first and foremost by alleviating the wretchedness of life there.