Several months ago already, the defense minister asked attorneys to look into the question of renewing artillery fire at the Strip. Back then already the lawyers told him it won’t work; we are dealing with fire at populated areas, which borders on war crimes. They told him that IDF officers will not be able to enter any European Union country as a result.
Now, following the latest round of fire at Sderot and Ashkelon, at the end of security consultations, the defense minister again turned to the lawyers to examine the possible responses vis-à-vis Gaza. The High Court of Justice forbids deliberate power outages in the Strip, we have to transfer food into Gaza, and artillery fire is still banned. So is it any wonder that Hamas is teaching us a lesson?
In recent days Hamas explained to us exactly what the limits are, and what’s the price we shall pay for every military operation. When the IDF operated against the borderline tunnel about two weeks ago, Hamas directed fire at open areas. Meanwhile, it also turned a blind eye to Qassam attacks by Islamic Jihad and by the Popular Resistance Committees.
However, last Thursday, when the IDF killed four Hamas gunmen who approached the fence, Hamas declared that we went too far. For this, it said, you will pay dearly. At that stage, Grad missiles were fired at Ashkelon and Qassam rockets were fired at Sderot in an orderly and deliberate fashion. This was a very grave attack which no sovereign state would ignore. A disaster was only averted by miracle.
In order for us to clearly understand the message, a Hamas spokesman explained: This is the price Israel shall be paying for “illegitimate violations” of the lull agreement. He also added commentary implying that the State of Israel understood Hamas’ message and is therefore no longer responding.
At this time, it appears both sides are trying to take a step back. In the ongoing dispute within Hamas it appears that the pragmatic branch is still stronger than the militant group. Therefore, even after two Popular Resistance Committees’ members were killed Saturday in a “work accident,” no rockets were directed at Israel. Now, Hamas is waiting to see whether Israel indeed internalized the lesson.
The Hamas too understands that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is traveling to United States this week, that he is scheduled to meet Mahmoud Abbas this week, and that Israeli officials are trying to find a way to calm the situation. Hamas can certainly assume that next time a cell approaches the fence or that another underground tunnel dug to carry out an attack is exposed, Israel will think 10 times before responding.
And what if Israel didn’t get it? That’s not too bad either. In any case, Hamas is going to dismantle the lull agreement in its current format. Perhaps then our lawyers will realize we’re at war.