Hamas' Independence Day attack on the western Negev desert was a highly calculated strategic move meant to achieve far-reaching military and diplomatic objectives. It is completely clear that those who planned the offensive formulated it based on the Hizbullah model implemented on July 12 of last year, when IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were kidnapped. This was the same modus operandi that led Israel to launch the Second Lebanon War.
There is no doubt that those who initiated the Hamas offensive took into account an Israeli military response featuring various levels
The strategic move was aimed at accomplishing five main objectives. The first one was to bring the Palestinians back into an active and intensive military confrontation with Israel. That is, fan the flames of conflict in the Gaza Strip after they were lowered recently (the firing of Qassam rockets greatly declined in recent weeks.) This was done in order to create a new situation whereby Israel agrees to a comprehensive ceasefire that would include an end to IDF and Shin Bet counter-terror operations in Judea and Samaria.
In addition, the attacking Palestinians intended to torpedo the Palestinian national unity government and particularly its effort to achieve overall calm in the confrontation with Israel; to undermine Arab initiatives to engage in diplomatic dialogue with Israel; to acquire additional bargaining chips in order to work out a massive prisoner swap deal; and finally, to humiliate Israel and undermine the morale of its citizens on Independence Day.
Hamas assessment realistic
In order to accomplish these five objectives, leaders of Hamas' radical wing and heads of the armed factions that cooperate with them (in the framework of the Popular Resistance Committees) were willing – and still are – to expose Gaza residents to the risk of an Israeli invasion. This was done based on an assumption that their new military deployment would allow them to cause IDF casualties if the army launched a ground operation, while at the same time maintaining their strength and utilizing their ability to disappear and assimilate in the area. Just like Hizbullah.
Moreover, they hope that an IDF invasion would force Hamas' moderate branch to join forces with Fatah loyalists and Mahmoud Abbas to fight the IDF and force the Palestinian national unity government to abandon its efforts to end Qassam fire and dismantle Hamas' "operational force," and also thwart Abbas' plan to deploy his loyalists in order to prevent smuggling through the Philadelphi Route.
Those who initiated the attack also hope that the friction between the IDF and Palestinian civilians, and the casualties among non-combatants as a result of a ground operation or even a powerful Israeli bombardment, would lead moderate Arab states to end the dialogue they are about to engage in with Israel, and bring about Israel's isolation in the international community and scathing criticism against it.
The result they hope for is an Israeli withdrawal from the Strip before the IDF completes its missions, with the Israeli government losing its appetite for similar operations in the future.
Unfortunately, assessments by heads of the militant Hamas branch are quite realistic and based on something. It's a fact. Even though the Independence Day offensive failed to achieve its initial objective – no soldiers or civilians were abducted and there were no casualties on our side – it managed to position the government of Israel and the IDF on the verge of a complicated dilemma. With no casualties or abductees on our side, Israel would find it difficult to enlist international support and silent agreement by moderate Arab leaders for a wide-scale Gaza operation.
Should a broad IDF operation be undertaken under the current circumstances, Israel would be playing into the hands of the radical Hamas and enable it to achieve its goals. On the other hand, should Israel restrain itself and refrain from powerfully responding to the offensive, it would be humiliated, sustain a difficult moral blow, and repeat the errors made in the face of Hizbullah's rise in Lebanon.
Therefore, in the coming hours and days, the Israeli government is required to formulate a measured counter move that on the one hand would make it clear to those behind the Independence Day offensive that their provocation did not pay off and that they would be paying the price for it, while on the other hand enable Israel to proceed with a large-scale ground operation in Gaza, which will apparently be needed eventually – such move would then come at the right timing with sweeping international legitimacy.
Therefore, the first move that Israel should undertake must be in the diplomatic arena. It should not just be public relations work, but a diplomatic offensive in every international theater and through any bilateral relationship. First, we must make clear to Arab states and the international community that the Independence Day offensive was a Hamas initiative undertaken without any substantive cause. It was aimed at civilians in order to start a fire and undermine diplomatic peace efforts. Israel should also make clear that it cannot renounce its duty to protect its citizens.
Secondly, we must stress that those are radical elements that are even working against a national Palestinian agreement and in contradiction to the Palestinian interest.
There is also a need for a military operation that would be mostly manifested through massively boosting the IDF's immediate response capability in the face of bombardments and abduction attempts originating in the Gaza Strip – whether this is done by thwarting such attempts or a pursuit of the shooters or attackers. In addition, we must greatly boost the pace of reinforcing Gaza-region communities against rocket attacks and turn it into a high priority national project.
These moves and others, should they be undertaken immediately and comprehensively, could make Hamas lose its appetite for similar strategic strikes and enable Israel and its security forces to select the timing and objectives for a large-scale operation in the Strip, if and when such move needs to be undertaken.
Notably, the IDF is able and ready to carry out a wide-scale operation in the Gaza Strip even today, but this must be done under circumstances that would ensure its success. The State of Israel must not waste such move, which it would not be able to repeat too many times.