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Gaza's rulers may not realize it yet, but Israel has run out of patience. A few more bouts of arson terrorism and a full-fledged escalation will follow.
For some reason, Hamas has convinced itself that Israel's warnings are just for show. Its leaders believe that the recent military exercise simulating a ground operation in the coastal enclave is merely a scare tactic; that the massive Israeli airstrikes are a hollow show of force; and that Israel is far too focused on its border with Syria to engage the Gaza frontier.
These assumptions, however, are fundamentally flawed. Senior government and defense officials are unanimous in saying that Israel has run out of patience. Many still believe that the Israel Defense Forces should not launch a military campaign over incendiary kites and balloons, especially since arson terrorism has yet to claim any lives--something war will do--but these voices are growing increasingly faint.
While there is a consensus among decision-makers that Hamas has exhausted the opportunities offered to it to curb border riots and kite terrorism.
Still, politicians or pundits that think Israel is eager to go to war are wrong. Israel does not want to launch another military campaign in the Gaza Strip, which is why it has been sparing no effort to find other countermeasures to quash border riots, terrorist attacks and the onslaught of arson terrorism.
Over the past few months, every possible avenue has been used to relay this message to Hamas, from envoys--mainly from Egypt, but also from Persian Gulf states, Russia, the United States and the European Union--to more blunt instruments, such as targeting kite terrorist cells, bombing Hamas posts and destroying Hamas cross-border terror tunnels.
When all else failed, Israel shuttered the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing--the only goods crossing in Gaza. The move did not affect humanitarian aid delivered to the Strip, but it crippled commerce, thus dealing Hamas a double blow: targeting both tax revenues and painting Hamas as one whose moves only aggravate the already dire situation in Gaza.
The Defense Ministry's decision on Monday to temporarily suspend the delivery of petroleum fuels and natural gas to Gaza was coordinated with Egypt, which temporarily shuttered the Rafah crossing, as a last-ditch effort to make Hamas come to its senses.
Still, it's doubtful that Hamas leaders understand that they have pushed Israel to the brink. With containment no longer an option, a clash seems inevitable and only Hamas will make that call.
Israeli defense officials remain convinced that Hamas would rather avoid a war, but this is largely just an assumption and it has been somewhat rattled given that Hamas, like the IDF, has carried out several tactical moves this week that demonstrate it is ready for war.
A prominent player trying to prevent another bloody clash between Israel and Hamas is Egypt. But even if Cairo's efforts prove successful in the short term, Hamas is unlikely to make a strategic U-turn, bringing us right back to the growing assumption that a conflict with Gaza will take place this summer.
The scope of this clash remains unknown and it depends on the number of casualties and scale of destruction on both sides; mediation efforts, and domestic and international pressure, but mostly, it depends on the objectives Israel will try to achieve.
Extinguishing arson terrorism is an important objective but it is not a strategic one. Before we rally the troops, the government has to clearly define the objective of this operation. Restoring peace and quiet on the southern border is a solid starting point, as long as it is used to introduce a strategic shift in the reality opposite Gaza.
Originally published at JNS.org
- reposted with permission.