In a series of moves made by Mahmoud Abbas in the past few weeks, the Palestinians succeeded in shaping the immediate agenda in their conflict with Israel.
Israel's reactions were "measured," as the government spokespeople said. Cautious economic punishing, a campaign aimed at degrading Abbas, and of course – criticism against the American administration's weak response. Inwards, Israel's ministers called on the opposition to put the usual disputes aside and stand by the state's leaders in the battle which suddenly came upon us. "We don't talk to terrorists," nor to those who join forces with them.
And what about Hamas? What will become of it in the situation created?
Everyone agrees with the estimate that this is one of Hamas' toughest hours. It rushed to run into the open arms of its bitter enemy – Fatah – after a series of defeats. It was expelled from its base in Damascus, Iran cut its aid to the organization because of the stance it adopted, and Egypt – which was Hamas' strategic support not so long ago – declared it a terror organization.
In the international arena, the US cannot make any contact with Hamas under the law, and Europe is committed not to recognize the organization until it adopts the three principles of the Middle East Quartet. Turkey is embroiled in internal struggles, and it is unlikely that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will get involved in the Gaza Strip issues. Most Arab and Islamic countries have had enough of the Strip, so Hamas is isolated, humiliated and weaker than ever.
Its only ray of light is Russia, which is indeed committed to the Quartet decisions by virtue of its membership in it, but supports the intra-Palestinian reconciliation agreement. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov even telephoned Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and congratulated him on the reconciliation with Fatah.
This is the moment for the Israeli government to seriously consider the option of destroying Hamas fervently. No one will come to its rescue, no one will incite the public opinion to save it, no one will suggest the appointment of an international commission of inquiry into what happened in this war. This way, the prime minister will be able to "remove the threat from its root" and prevent a future Hamas takeover of Judea and Samaria sponsored by a Palestinian national unity government.
Such a war will exact a heavy, bloody price from Israel – in losses and injuries. This is a terrible price. But if we accomplish our mission, we shall remove the greatest threat to Israel of its destruction by Hamas, a threat which Israel's spokespersons never cease to mention. Such a move will seriously harm Hezbollah, whose leader has been stating recently that he is not interested in war with Israel.
This is the only context in which one can understand the preparation of the public opinion here for a war to the point that the opposition will be required to suspend its struggle against the government's policy.
The swiftness of events taking place in the Middle East obliges us to make decisions as soon as possible, while the world is still preoccupied with the Ukraine crisis (and so Russia will not rush to intervene in favor of Hamas), and the international economy has yet to enter another crisis.
If Israel fails to take advantage of this rare opportunity it has chanced upon, the circumstances may change. The aforementioned coincidence will pass and Hamas will survive and gain renewed strength. The region's countries will realize that even in the extreme situation described here, Israel was deterred from confronting its weakened enemy, which still aspires to destroy it, in a fatal conflict. This could have far-reaching implications on the status of a country which sees itself as a regional power. The credibility of its deterrence will wear out completely.
There is, of course, another alternative, which is to negotiate with the rival while it is in its inferior position. I have been writing and talking about this for 10 years now. If this option is rejected out of hand, we are left with the two I mentioned – taking advantage of the circumstances to destroy the threat or continue to march in place in the "no policy" swamp while accepting its malignant prices until Israel's power of deterrence against a non-state enemy disappears.
Efraim Halevy is a former head of Mossad.