In the coming days, we will likely see yet another escalation in the south. Hamas will seek to avenge the IDF operation early Saturday where three members of the group’s military wing were assassinated and a fourth was gravely wounded. We can assume that Hamas’ retribution will be joined by Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees, and the Popular Front.
This should come as no surprise. Spokesmen for these organizations already declared it, and they may be joined by other armed groups inspired by Global Jihad. The conclusion is that southern residents must prepare for attacks.
Meanwhile, the IDF must prepare to curb such attacks and undertake operations that will exact a price from the rocket launchers in a way that minimizes the escalation and restores deterrence. However, the bad weather expected in the area in the coming days will make it more difficult to prevent rocket strikes and hunt down launching cells.
Should the escalation continue and spin out of control, the IDF may be forced to embark on ground operations in Gaza, a situation that neither Israel nor Hamas (which fears a Cast Lead-style operation) want. Both sides have an interest in restoring the calm that prevailed in the region following Cast Lead, but they lack the ability to control the height of the flames, and therefore may end up being dragged into a major confrontation against their will.
Hamas losing control
This absurd situation stems from several reasons .First, Israel’s deterrent power has been eroded since Operation Cast Lead. Moreover, Hamas and other Gaza groups are right to estimate that Jerusalem will not rush into another major operation in the Strip at a time of diplomatic isolation on the global front.
The rulers of Gaza realize that Arab world uprisings have already improved their strategic situation. Turkey will not stand by idly as it did during Cast Lead, and Egypt may also take action on the diplomatic (and possibly military) front, under Muslim Brotherhood pressure, to ensure Israel does not eliminate Hamas’ rule in Gaza or considerably weaken it.
Moreover, against the backdrop of Mideastern unrest, Arab rulers such as Assad may exploit a major Israeli operation in Gaza to divert the mass fury in our direction. A major Israeli op may also play into the hands of the organizers of Gaza solidarity flotillas, scheduled to set sail on May 30th, the anniversary of the Marmara raid. All of the above weakens Gaza’s concern about the prospect of an Israeli operation and reinforces Hamas’ and Islamic Jihad’s audacity.
A third reason for the absurd situation has to do with internal Gaza politics: Hamas’ political leadership lost some of its control over other organizations, and also over its own military wing. Currently, partial anarchy prevails in the Strip and is exploited by “rogue” factions in order to do as they please.
Iran wants Gaza flare-up
Finally, there is the current interest of Iran’s leadership in a major Gaza confrontation. Such flare-up would assist Assad’s regime in Syria, divert public anger in Iran, and focus al-Jazeera’s attentions on events in the Strip. This will also create an opportunity for Ahmadinejad to tighten his ties with Egypt and other Muslim countries. Hence, Tehran is encouraging Islamic Jihad, which follows Iran’s orders, to provoke Israel.
Tehran appears to be boosting its mortar shell deliveries to Islamic Jihad in Gaza as of late. This may stem from estimates that the deployment of the Iron Dome anti-rocket system may render rocket fire from the Strip ineffective. Yet Iron Dome cannot prevent massive mortar fire at Israeli communities adjacent to the border fence – such attacks have proven lethal in the past.
As result of all these reasons, Hamas and the other large groups operating in Gaza are increasingly bolder. Hence, they are now attempting to impose new “rules of play” on the IDF and Israel’s political leadership – rules that would enable them to maintain a limited war of attrition against southern communities, while restoring relative calm whenever they see fit, in order to serve their own interests.
Part 2 of article to be published Monday evening
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