6/27/18 War or Peace With Hamas in Gaza?
Which image should dominate the minds of Israelis on Wednesday morning — that of Prince William happily interacting with volleyball players on a Tel Aviv beach Tuesday afternoon, or the notification they woke up to of rocket fire around Gaza the night before? To some extent, that answer is determined by where in Israel you live. If you live in Tel Aviv it’s easy to forget, at least momentarily, about events in the South or the North.
But, if you live in the South on a Kibbutz or Moshav, anywhere within 10 miles of the Gaza border, you have watched your fields set on fire by incendiary balloons sent from Gaza; you have been awakened in the middle of the night by missile alerts, and been relieved by the sound of missile intercepts taking place above you. If you live in the North, you worry about the consequences of the return of Assad’s forces to our border, and what will happen to the thousands of villagers who Israel has befriended and supported during the past few years.
School is out at the end of the week, which marks the official start of summer here, making it time for the yearly question in Israel — i.e. Will there be a war this summer? While that question has been asked every year, this year that question seems more relevant than it has been in some time. This summer one of two things is likely to happen between Israel and Hamas — either a war or a long-term peace agreement. For the last few years, Israeli intelligence believed Hamas was not interested in war. This year, Intelligence sources may have reached the conclusion Hamas has decided it has nothing to lose.
The world seems not to care about the conditions in Gaza. Hamas might decide that a war, with the inevitable Palestinian fatalities, will wake up the world to their situation. At the same time, discussions have been held on reaching a long-term ceasefire that would improve the lives of Gazans. This week, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman spoke to the Cypriot government to explore the possibility of their agreeing to control an off-the-coast harbor for Gaza. Israel has made it clear that any agreement resulting in the creation of a port is contingent upon the return of the two bodies of Israeli soldiers and the two Israeli civilians held by Hamas. Israel has also made clear it would not agree to any massive prisoner release to obtain those preconditions.
Events in Gaza are not taking place in a vacuum. A leadership struggle has begun to name the successor for Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas, whose health seems to be failing. Abbas opposes providing any aid to Gaza, believing that help would strengthen Hamas (who rebelled against his rule 11 years ago) and diminish any chance of the PA reestablishing control over Gaza. How the possibility of new leadership in PA will affect this equation is unknown.
Then, there is Iran. The Iranian government is contending with growing anger at Iran’s deteriorating economic situation, fueled partly by the renewal of American sanctions. That rage that has been directed at support the government has given Hezbollah, Hamas, and others. The demonstrations are unlikely to endanger the regime, however, they are a reminder that the regime's actions in the rest of the Middle East are not wildly popular. Will the regime decide it is time to pull back, or will it choose to double-down and encourage its affiliates in Gaza to push for a war? The answer to that question, together with the state of domestic politics in Israel, will determine whether or not Israel finds itself in a war with Hamas this summer.
Finally, the return of Assad’s troops to Israel’s border region has generated concern over a potential crisis developing in the North. The most immediate fear is for the welfare of those Syrians living near the border who opposed Assad. Considering the fate of his other opponents, Israel can expect a wave to refugees to appear at our doorstep requesting asylum. There has been little discussion about that possibility in Israel so far, but hopefully, we will be able to open our borders to those who will no doubt be fleeing for their lives, from one of the most brutal dictators of the 21st century.