Hamas’s latest round of aggression against Israel ended with Israel agreeing to permit Qatar to transfer cash to the terror regime that rules the de facto Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip.
From last Friday through Sunday, Hamas and its junior partner Islamic Jihad subjected Israel to a massive assault. It began Friday when Hamas forces wounded an Israeli female soldier and an officer engaged in operations to protect Israel’s border with Gaza from Hamas’s ongoing terror offensive, which involves deploying large crowds to the border and using them as cover for various terror operations. These operations have been going on for the past year. Israel responded to the attack by bombing a Hamas installation in Gaza.
Then Saturday morning, Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched their most intensive missile and rocket offensive on Israel to date. As a military correspondent for one of Israel’s large circulation Hebrew dailies noted, whereas over the weekend, in two days the Palestinians launched nearly 700 rockets and missiles at Israel and killed four Israelis civilians, during the entirety of Operation Protective Edge (Hamas’s 2014 terror offensive against Israel, which lasted 51 days), the Palestinians launched 4,400 rockets and missiles at Israel and killed 5 Israeli civilians. In other words, the onslaught over the weekend was unprecedented.
Israel’s retaliation entailed bombing some 350 Hamas and Islamic Jihad installations; and killing the Hamas operative responsible for transferring funds from the Iranian regime to the terror group; and killing a drone operator. Israel’s counterattacks were qualitatively harsher than they were in previous rounds of Hamas missile barrages. Israel specifically targeted the homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad commanders and other targets of high value to the terror groups and their leaders. But in the end, Israel exacted no long-term price from either Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
According to media reports, under the terms of the ceasefire reached by mediators from Egypt’s intelligence agencies, Israel agreed to loosen restrictions on the importation of dual-use products into Gaza. That is, Israel agreed to permit the terror regime to import civilian goods, like concrete, that are also used to produce armaments like rockets and terror tunnels. Israel also agreed to increase the size of the maritime fishing zones along Gaza’s coast. And Israel agreed to permit Qatar to continue delivering cash to Hamas in Gaza.
IDF commanders told the media that they are satisfied with the results of the operation because Hamas didn’t receive anything it didn’t already have. But the flipside of that assessment is that Hamas paid no price for its aggression against innocent civilians. Millions of Israelis live in the areas targeted by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In 48 hours of attacks, more than 14 missiles an hour, on average, were shot into Israel. Even worse, the widely shared assessment of Israeli military analysts and commanders is that Hamas’s next round of attacks is around the corner, perhaps waiting for the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan in early June, or perhaps until the load of cash Hamas receives from Qatar this week is all spent. And, the military sources warn, the next round will likely be even more lethal than the one that just ended.
There are three reasons that every round of Hamas aggression ends so inconclusively. The first is that Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, will never accept any meaningful ceasefire with Israel. It is a jihadist group that exists to annihilate Israel. This is why it devotes all of its resources to attacking Israel rather than developing Gaza for the welfare of its residents. As a result, so long as Hamas controls Gaza, it will continue to use the area as a launchpad for attacks against Israel.
The second reason is that there is no alternative to Hamas among the Palestinians. Fatah, Hamas’s main rival and the group that controls the Palestinian Authority, is no match for it. Hamas seized control over Gaza from Fatah in 2007 with little effort. And no other alternative exists, even in theory.
Israelis recognize that the only way to overthrow Hamas is to fight a major war, and o pay a huge price in civilian and military casualties. And then end of the war would leave Israel with no choice but to continue to control Gaza through its military. There is little appetite in Israel for this option. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated repeatedly that he will only employ it if he convinced that there is no other option.
But the truth is that even among the no-good options that Israel confronts with Hamas-controlled Gaza, there are better scenarios than the one in which Israel now finds itself, where it is literally paying Hamas for temporary ceasefires in between its massive projectile offensives against Israeli civilians.
For the first few years following Operation Protective Edge, Hamas accepted that it would receive nothing in exchange for a ceasefire with Israel other than an Israeli agreement not to attack it. The informal agreement, of ceasefire for ceasefire, meant that Israel’s responses to Hamas aggression only lasted as long as Hamas continued to attack.
It wasn’t an ideal situation. But at least Israel wasn’t rewarding Hamas for its aggression. Over the past two years, however, Hamas’s financial situation grew significantly worse as Fatah and Palestinian Authority leader Abbas opted to end the PA’s financial support for Hamas-controlled Gaza. Beginning in 2017, Abbas began suspending PA payment for electricity and water Israel supplies to Gaza. In 2018, Abbas began suspending salary transfers to PA employees in Gaza. Together, the moves rendered Hamas incapable of providing for the basic needs of the residents of Gaza.
Abbas had hoped that his move would force Hamas to accept his leadership. But Hamas had another idea. Rather than accept Fatah’s authority, Hamas opened a new front against Israel. Last May, it began its assaults on Gaza’s border with Israel and punctuated the assaults with incendiary balloons and rocket fire. Israel, which has a strategic interest in keeping Hamas-controlled Gaza separate from Fatah-controlled areas in Judea and Samaria, had no interest in pressuring Hamas to accept Abbas’s authority or money. So, when Qatar entered the picture as an alternative funding source, Israel accepted it.
The problem is that at that point, the rocket assaults became a means for Hamas to extort monetary concessions from Israel. And its calculations seemed to shift from shooting at Israel when it felt like proving it was still in the jihad game, to attacking Israel to get money. And as the reported ceasefire terms from the weekend’s offensive indicate, the balance of power has shifted in Hamas’s favor.
To remedy the situation, and given Israel’s reasonable aversion to carrying out a major operation to overthrow Hamas in Gaza, Israel needs to restore the balance of deterrence it maintained with Hamas for the three years following Operation Cast Lead. That is, it needs to restore the “ceasefire-for-ceasefire” reality that held until Abbas ended his transfer payments to Gaza. To achieve this end, Israel apparently needs to deliver the sort of blow on Hamas and its key terror masters that will force them to their knees. This sort of operation would involve two major components.
First, Israel needs undermine Hamas’s ability to attack Israeli territory by restoring the kilometer-wide buffer zone on the Gaza side of the border to block assaults on its border, and by destroying Hamas’s store of rockets, mortars and missiles.
Second, Israel needs to carry out strikes against Hamas and Islamic Jihad commanders.
Such operations will make clear that Hamas will receive no further payoffs for desisting from its wanton aggression against Israel. Gaza’s economic plight can be solved through a combination of increased employment for Gazans in the northern Sinai on the Egyptian side of the border, and through humanitarian aid projects. The former will diminish Hamas’s hold on the local population.
If Israel’s military commanders are correct, and the next round of Hamas aggression is waiting around the corner, then Israel should use the coming weeks to prepare itself for an operation that will convince Hamas that it is wrong to view attacks on Israel as a means to ensure its economic survival.
Caroline Glick is a world-renowned journalist and commentator on the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, and the author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East. Read more at www.CarolineGlick.com.