Today in Tel Aviv there is a sense that things have finally changed. There is a feeling that there may actually be an end to this war that will not leave Israel worse off than when it started. I was in the Carmel Market today (Tel Aviv’s open air marketplace). Much to my surprise it was packed with people.
The war may have resumed three days ago, but as of now the sirens have not yet gone off in Tel Aviv. Tonight Hamas shot one long range missile in what seems to have been the general direction of Ben Gurion Airport. It was way off course, and in any case, it was easily intercepted by the Iron Dome system. Of course, if you live in those parts of Israel closer to Gaza – and within range of their smaller missiles and mortars – the last three days have been days of endless Red Alerts with missiles being fired constantly. Today one person was seriously injured, when a mortar landed next to a kindergarten.
In retrospect, clearly Hamas’s decision to resume the fighting, despite having a very minimal number of long range missiles, will surely be seen as a mistake. Beyond that fact, it has taken a major intelligence break, together with the seeming mistake of Mohamed Deif that allowed Israel to target him – an action that seems to have changed the calculus of events here. It is not totally clear that the assassination attempt was successful. However, what experts on the organization have seen is that Hamas is acting confused. They do not seem to know how to react, which is likely a sign that Deif is either dead or mortally wounded. That confusion explains the fatal miscalculation made by two of the top Hamas leaders last night, by meeting above ground in a place they could be targeting by the IDF. That error resulted in the successful assassination of two of the top leader of the military wing of Hamas, including the person who was in charge of the tunnels, and the person responsible for orchestrating all of the attacks via Egypt on southern Israel. One of the people killed was also someone who oversaw the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit eight year ago.
These successful operations will not bring about the immediate collapse of Hamas, but have changed the rules of the game. To have removed almost half the top leadership of Hamas, over the course of just over two days, is a major blow to Hamas. Coming at a time when its rocket supply seems to be reaching the bottom of the barrel is a major blow.
It is hoped that if the Cairo talks get going again, (a step that is assumed will soon follow) that Hamas’s first demand will be not for a port, but rather for the targeted killing of its leaders to stop. The sense in Israel is that those talks will not resume until next week. The Egyptians seem to be in no rush to bring the sides back to the table – especially at a time when they believe Hamas is getting what they perceive as "their just deserts" for breaking the ceasefire and ending the talks.
Reports from Qatar today pointed to the fact that Khaled Mashal, political leader of Hamas, told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he was prepared to have Hamas undertake a War of Attrition for months. Sitting in his hotel in Qatar, Mashal can say that, but the people of Gaza cannot sustain a War of Attrition much longer. Some people in Tel Aviv may be hurting economically (and certainly those who live near the border under constant missile attacks find them much more than a nuisance), but we all have water, electricity, internet. Our stores are full and our banks are working. This war has its economic costs, and its psychological costs, especially if you live in the South. However, it is clear who can sustain a War of Attrition who cannot. Mashal may think his people can continue, but every report from Gaza says the opposite. We can only hope that the reality will catch up to the political leadership of Hamas, before its too late for their people.