People switch on the television, hear retired generals and government ministers chatter in their ears about strategy, and reach the conclusion that Israel is waging a military operation in Gaza. This operation even has a name, Protective Edge.
But the truth is that this is a false display. The conflict isn't being run by Israel, but by Hamas. From the first day of this event, we have belonged to the responding, dragged side. Sometimes it's a good thing: Israel's restrained policy in the first 10 days was seen favorably by the world's important governments and gave the government room for a diplomatic maneuver.
Sometimes it's not such a good thing: The shift to ground warfare pushes aside the huge advantage Israel had thanks to the Iron Dome system. Antitank weapons, explosive devices, booby-trapped buildings – all the weapon systems Hamas has specialized in are now being used against IDF soldiers.
It seems that the only move initiated by the Israeli government was a move it didn’t take credit for. After four small children died on the Gaza beach as a result of and IDF shelling, the Israeli government initiated a six-hour humanitarian ceasefire by turning to United Nations envoy Robert Serry, the same person Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman wanted to expel from Israel several weeks ago.
Hamas refused and continued to fire rockets which did not cause any damage. The Israeli government, very sensibly, agreed to the short ceasefire, thereby turning Hamas into the guilty party in the ongoing fire in the eyes of most of the world, and possibly in the eyes of many Gazans too.
We should not be confused by the sympathy expressed by governments in the world, as it is temporary and limited. The United States has made it clear that it supports the Israeli operation as long as it is limited to the area near the border, to the rocket launchers and tunnels. It will oppose a massive entry to the heart of Gaza.
The forces which entered the Strip are mainly busy unearthing the tunnels leading to kibbutzim in the Gaza vicinity. This activity is highly important and life-saving. But within two or three days, the number of uncovered tunnels will drop and the forces will be stuck in one place.
The cabinet will face a cruel dilemma: Should the forces move forward, deep into Gaza, and risk losing many soldiers and a mass killing of Palestinian civilians, or pull out while being fired on and give Hamas the victory?
A similar dilemma emerged during Operation Cast Lead, between December 2008 and January 2009. After 12 or 13 days, the IDF reached the conclusion that the entry into Gaza had exhausted itself. It took another 10 days of internal cabinet arguments and foot-dragging on the ground before Israel made a unilateral decision to cease fire, a decision which moderated the rocket fire from Gaza for three and a half years.
A lot has changed since then, on the Arab side. The double revolution in Egypt created a bitter enemy for Hamas – Egypt led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Hamas has grown weaker and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has grown stronger. Hamas was forced to welcome the establishment of a Palestinian unity government it will not be represented in. The agreement was fictitious, but it opened the door – at least in the international discourse – to Abbas' return to Gaza.
Since the beginning of the operation, Israel has been looking for a mediator to broker a ceasefire. The Egyptians were a convenient mediator for Israel – too convenient. Hamas accepts al-Sisi like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepts Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Americans offered to help, suggesting that the Qataris, and maybe even the Turks, be added to the mediation efforts. Egypt and Israel refused, as they do not accept Turkey and Qatar under the current emir. Abu Dhabi showed an interest too, but was rejected by Qatar.
And so Abbas' name has been raised again. He is the only person who all players outside Israel are willing to listen to, including Hamas' external leadership. It seems that the Israeli government is also beginning to understand that he is not the problem, but rather the solution. Even Netanyahu mentioned him as a partner in one of his statements over the weekend.
The irony is that the Palestinian national unity government, which the Netanyahu government fought with all its might, is the basis for Abbas' involvement in solving the Gaza problem and the justification for Israel's support for cooperating with him. What was seen as inappropriate yesterday is legitimate today.
Understandings with Abbas can improve the lives of Gaza's residents at the end of the operation, and the benefits will not be presented as a surrender to Hamas. They will give the residents hope. Hamas will find it difficult to oppose them – and if it does, it will pay a heavy price.
The Israeli government has many strategic commentators, but it has no exit strategy. The issue has been raised in the endless cabinet discussion but has yet to reach maturation and a direction has yet to be set. As I already said, Israel is not leading this affair, Hamas is.