by Prof. Eyal Zisser
Israel, for its part, has repeatedly clarified to the terrorist organization that it will maintain its freedom to take action on the Palestinian side of the border and that it will respond not only to terrorist activity carried out by Hamas but also to preparations to carry out such activity.
As usual, Hamas wants to have its cake and eat it too. On the one hand, it wants to keep its cease-fire agreement with Israel so it can reinvigorate its political status and build up its military strength. On the other hand, Hamas wants to present itself as a resistance organization dedicated to the armed struggle against Israel, as a group that allows terror activity against Israel from its own operatives and from other organizations in the Gaza Strip, such as Islamic Jihad.
The cease-fire is important to Hamas because the 2 million Gazans that live under its rule need the calm that a cease-fire would grant. They expect the Hamas leadership to respect them and keep them safe, allowing them to live their lives and to cope with the economic hardship that has become the norm in the Gaza Strip. But Hamas does not always act in accordance with the interests of Gaza residents. And in any case, the decision is not necessarily in the hands of Hamas' political leadership, including Ismail Haniyeh, who in a speech over the weekend also asked to have his cake and eat it too. That is, to maintain calm and at the same time to draw red lines for what the IDF can and cannot do along the Gaza border.
Past experience teaches us that military decisions, including renewing rocket fire on Israel, are often in the hands of Hamas' military leadership, led by Mohammed Deif and having its own logic and considerations.
Hamas sees itself as following the advice of its friends, the Iranians, and following in the footsteps of Hezbollah in Lebanon. For example, Hamas made the effort to set up a rocket system that covers large swathes of Israeli territory, including central Israel, in order to achieve deterrent power against Israel in the manner of Hezbollah. Now, Hamas is trying to establish the rules of the game based on the Lebanese model, according to which Israel would not have the authority to cross the border line and to operate beyond it, even if the IDF identifies preparations for terrorist activity, and even if it discovers terror tunnels that Hamas is digging underneath Israeli sovereign territory.
Israel, for its part, has repeatedly clarified to the terrorist organization that it will maintain its freedom to take action on the Palestinian side of the border and that it will respond not only to terrorist activity carried out by Hamas but also to preparations to carry out such activity. Given the unstable situation in the Gaza Strip and along its border with Israel, the Israeli stance is logical and justified. After all, in the last few weeks alone, the IDF discovered terror tunnels directed at Israeli territory. Moreover, today's concession will become the starting point for tomorrow's negotiations, and the situation may deteriorate to that of the border with southern Lebanon, where Israel is limited in its ability to proactively prevent Hezbollah's actions against it. This is why Israel cannot let Hamas drag it into a limited war of attrition along the border, with a price that would be paid by the citizens who live in the Gaza border area communities.
Additionally, at the Lebanon border, which Hamas sees as an ideal model, Israel anchored its shaky cease-fire agreement with Hezbollah with a U.N. Security Council resolution, with the deployment of the Lebanese military along the border and with the presence of U.N. Peacekeepers. This does not address Israel's basic security needs, but even this bare minimum cannot be found in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas' willingness to try to negotiate with Israel via exchanging fire and incidents along the border is not necessarily a show of strength. The terrorist organization is facing internal issues, and in light of the closure imposed by Egypt,the situation is very fragile and likely to escalate. It is possible that Hamas was encouraged by the fact that Israel decided to leave it in control of the Gaza Strip. However, in a situation like this, it is up to Hamas to consider the fact that if Israel reaches the conclusion that Hamas is unwilling or incapable of keeping the peace along the border, Israel will no longer do what it did during Operation Protective Edge, when it kept Hamas in power and preferred it to other, more radical groups that could have taken its place.
Prof. Eyal Zisser
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