According to the annual IDF Intelligence assessment, which was recently presented to the General Staff, there is a "high probability that we will find ourselves in a war-like situation in 2013" on one of two fronts: Gaza-Sinai in the south or Syria-Lebanon in the north. It appears that this scenario will unfold sooner than anticipated.
The firing of an anti-tank missile from Gaza at an IDF vehicle inside Israeli territory is another stage in the deterioration into a war-like situation which Israel, Egypt and Hamas want to avoid but are being dragged into quickly. As in a Greek play, all of the sides involved are aware that a broad military campaign in Gaza may cause them great suffering and damage, but no one is able to stop the process that will apparently lead to this tragedy. The tragic heroes in this play are Hamas' leaders and the residents of south Israel.
It is safe to assume that Hamas did not initiate the missile attack on Saturday, just as it did not initiate most of the border incidents over the past few weeks, because the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo wants calm in both Sinai and Gaza.
Morsi needs this calm because he has yet to establish political dominance in Egypt and also because he wants to stabilize the economy and internal security. Hamas fears an Israeli invasion that will cause great suffering to Gaza's residents and frustration that could threaten its rule in the coastal enclave.
However, Hamas did provide backup for the defiant Gaza terror groups that were behind most of the shooting incidents and attacks along the border fence. It is important to understand that as opposed to Hamas, Palestinian terrorists belonging to Global Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian (as well as Salafi terrorists) are seeking a major confrontation between the IDF and Hamas and between the IDF and Egypt's armed forces. They are driven by ideology and religion.
Hamas, for its part, wants to engage in an armed conflict against Israel from Gaza, with the assistance of the defiant terror groups, without dragging Israel into an extensive military campaign that would also put the Egyptian leadership to the test.
IDF tank at Karni Crossing (Photo: Zeev Trachtman)
Hamas claims that it is conducting legitimate guerrilla warfare against the "occupation," just as Hezbollah did in the security zone in south Lebanon, but when the IDF returns fire and hits targets inside Gaza, thwarts attempts to launch rockets or neutralizes bombs a few hundred meters inside Palestinian territory, Hamas tells its patrons in Cairo, Qatar and Ankara that Israel is violating its sovereignty and it therefore has the right to launch rockets toward Israeli communities in the Negev.
Hamas' tactics are aimed at securing the support of the Brotherhood in Egypt and Sunnis throughout the Arab world. This is why the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire reached a few months ago following the last round of violence has been violated. The border incidents are becoming more and more frequent, and the number of injured IDF soldiers is also increasing.
Now that the intentions of Hamas and the rest of the Palestinian terror groups are clear, the ball is in Israel's court. The forces have undergone training and are ready. Now the government must decide between allowing the current situation to continue at least until after the January elections and launching an extensive military campaign in Gaza.
The decision-makers in Jerusalem must ask themselves if the conditions in the international and regional arenas will provide the IDF with enough time and freedom to operate in order to achieve its military goals in Gaza. And there are other questions: How will the new regime in Egypt respond to an Israeli campaign in Gaza? How will Turkey react? Will the political echelon be able to take advantage of the military achievements to ensure long-term calm in the south?
The elections are another consideration. Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu will most likely benefit from a successful military campaign, but a failed campaign will strengthen the opposition parties.
Another option is the targeted killing of Hamas leaders and the heads of other terror organizations in Gaza. The problem with such a campaign is that before it brings about calm (if at all), it will surely result in a long period of escalation, during which hundreds of rockets and thousands of mortars would be fired toward south Israel.
Even if Hamas decides that it wants a ceasefire, it is not at all certain that Islamic Jihad or the Popular Resistance Committees will comply. In the past, when Hamas was more dominant, a targeted-killing campaign led to nearly eight months of calm, but it is highly unlikely that such a campaign would yield the same results today.
It appears that Hamas' leadership in Gaza is assuming that the current Israeli government will not want to launch a major military operation before the elections. This is apparently one of the reasons for the escalation along the Israel-Gaza border. Now it is up to the IDF to prove to the Gaza terrorists their calculations were wrong – but without angering Egypt. This is not an easy task.