IDF artillery troops on the Gaza border on Friday

Israel, Hamas race to claim victory before Gaza truce

Analysis: Ynet's commentator Ron-Ben Yishai says IDF unlikely to send in ground forces unless terror group ruling Strip carries out a 'catastrophic' attack while veteran military pundit believes 'both sides would like to end this and go home'

Associated Press |
Published: 05.14.21 , 23:43
Israel and Hamas know that a fourth Gaza war, like the three before, would be as inconclusive as it is devastating for the impoverished territory's 2 million Palestinians. But in the days or weeks before an inevitable truce, each will aim for something it can call a victory.
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  • For Israel, that might mean assassinating a top Hamas commander, or destroying enough tunnels, rocket launchers and other infrastructure to say it "mowed the lawn" -- a phrase widely used by Israelis to describe the temporary suppression of terrorist groups before the next confrontation.
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    לוחמים של יחידת הארטילריה של צה"ל מתאספים סמוך לגבול רצועת עזה
    לוחמים של יחידת הארטילריה של צה"ל מתאספים סמוך לגבול רצועת עזה
    IDF artillery troops on the Gaza border on Friday
    (Photo: AFP)
    The senior defense officials reportedly said Friday that the previous night's massive assault on the attack tunnels under Gaza mean Israel is close to ending its operation in Gaza, dubbed Guardian of the Walls.
    For Hamas, the biggest prize would be capturing Israeli soldiers it could later trade for imprisoned Palestinians. A close second would be scoring a few more long-range rocket hits on Israeli cities to display the Palestinian organization's military prowess in confronting a much stronger enemy.
    Of course, the assassination of a Hamas kingpin or the capture of an Israeli soldier would trigger a major escalation, likely resulting in the deaths of large numbers of Gaza civilians.
    But neither side assumes it can use military means to secure its larger goals. Both expect the same eventual resolution - an internationally brokered informal truce like the ones that ended Hamas-Israeli wars in 2009, 2012 and 2014.
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    תקיפת צה"ל בעזה
    תקיפת צה"ל בעזה
    An IDF strike on Gaza
    (Photo: AFP)
    To overthrow Hamas, Israel would need to reoccupy Gaza in a prolonged and bloody operation that would provoke international condemnation. Not even the most hawkish Israelis are suggesting that course. By the same token, Hamas has no expectation of lifting the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed on Gaza when it seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
    The rockets Hamas has fired into Israel have brought waves of Israeli airstrikes, and about a fourth of the Palestinian projectiles have fallen short, landing in Gaza.
    At least 126 Gazans have been killed, including 31 children, while at least 900 people have been injured and homes and businesses left in ruins, deepening the misery in the isolated territory.
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    הלוויתו של עידו אביגל בן ה5 שנהרג מפגיעת רקטה בשדרות
    הלוויתו של עידו אביגל בן ה5 שנהרג מפגיעת רקטה בשדרות
    The funeral for five-year-old rocket victim Ido Avigal was disrupted Friday by rocket fire
    The rockets have killed seven people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a Indian woman working in the country, and sown panic as far away from Gaza as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
    But in the cruel calculations governing so much of the Middle East conflict, the ability to fire or not fire rockets gives Hamas leverage it can use to attain more limited goals. The terror group has in recent years observed a shaky, informal cease-fire with Israel, trading calm for an easing of the blockade and hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from Qatar that was delivered regularly through Israel's Erez crossing.
    "The death and destruction from the air raids are horrific," says Tareq Baconi, an analyst with the Crisis Group, an international think tank. But for Hamas, "that kind of suffering is inevitable when Palestinians are resisting Israeli occupation."
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    בניין הרוס בעזה
    בניין הרוס בעזה
    Palestinians stands on the remains of a building destroyed in an IDF strike on Gaza
    (Photo: EPA)
    The rockets also allow Hamas to rally support by portraying itself as a liberation movement fighting for Palestinian rights and defending claims to Jerusalem, the emotional center of the decades-old conflict.
    Hamas banners now hang outside Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque, where heavy clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters earlier this month -- along with a long-running effort by Jewish settlers to evict Palestinian families in East Jerusalem -- triggered the latest violence.
    Hamas can also revel in the outbreak of Arab-Jewish violence inside Israel, which in some ways resembles the kind of Palestinian uprising the militant group has long called for.
    "My sense is that both sides would like to end this and go home," says Amos Harel, the longtime military correspondent for Haaretz newspaper.
    "Hamas achieved more than it dreamed" by launching long-range rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and helping to ignite violence in Israeli cities, Harel says. "If they continue, then they will risk more casualties, more damage and hardship to Gaza."
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    יירוטים מעל אשקלון
    יירוטים מעל אשקלון
    Iron Dome activates in Ashkelon, right, as rockets are fired at the southern city from Gaza
    (Photo: Fyodor Sapir)
    Ron Ben-Yishai, Ynet's veteran war correspondent, also thinks Israel is unlikely to send in ground forces unless Hamas carries out a "catastrophic" attack.
    "If, for example, they send a big missile and this missile hits a kindergarten in Israel, there would be a ground attack," Yishai said.
    Hamas has also scored a major win against its rivals in the increasingly unpopular and autocratic Palestinian Authority, whose authority is confined to parts of the West Bank, and which has little to show for years of close security ties with Israel and billions of dollars in international aid.
    Last month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called off the first Palestinian elections in 15 years amid signs his splintering Fatah party would suffer an embarrassing defeat to Hamas.
    The terror group's stature has only grown since then, with Abbas largely sidelined by the conflict.
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    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Hamas politburo leader Khaled Mashal meeting in Cairo
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Hamas politburo leader Khaled Mashal meeting in Cairo
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Hamas politburo leader Khaled Mashal meeting in Cairo
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Israel, meanwhile, derives certain advantages from maintaining the status quo that prevailed in Gaza before the latest fighting.
    It routinely blames the failure of the peace process on Hamas, which does not recognize the country's right to exist and is considered a terrorist group by Israel and Western nations.
    But Harel says that for many Israelis, Hamas is the "preferred enemy" because it rejects a two-state solution. That allows Israel to isolate Gaza from the larger conflict while consolidating its control over East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank -- with little if any resistance from the docile Palestinian Authority.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has never said it publicly, "but one would suspect he is actually quite comfortable with Hamas," Harel says.
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    בנימין נתניהו בחמ"ל המבצעים המיוחדים
    בנימין נתניהו בחמ"ל המבצעים המיוחדים
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his situation room during the fighting with Hamas
    Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. It withdrew all its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005.
    But the Palestinians and much of the international community still view Gaza as occupied territory that should be part of an eventual Palestinian state. More than half of Gaza's population are the descendants of refugees from what is now Israel, which controls the territory's airspace, territorial waters, population registry and commercial crossings.
    Any larger resolution to the conflict appears further out of reach than ever.
    There have been no substantive peace talks in more than a decade, and Israel's expansion of settlements and its plans to eventually annex parts of the West Bank has recently led two well-known human rights groups to accuse it of practicing apartheid. Israel rejects those allegations.
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    הרחוב שנפגע בחולון
    הרחוב שנפגע בחולון
    The aftermath of a rocket strike from Gaza on the central city of Holon on Monday
    (Photo: AFP)
    Either way, there seems no end in sight to Hamas' rule in Gaza or the blockade Israel says is needed to contain it.
    "Ground offensive or no ground offensive, ultimately it does not matter," analyst Baconi said.
    "The broader strategy is going to remain one which Israelis call mowing the lawn," he said. That means maintaining the status quo, and "every time Gaza becomes a bit too powerful, hit it."

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