Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made it clear this week, that he is not interested in a campaign against Hamas in Gaza, at least until Knesset elections in 2019. The same is true for IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-General Gadi Eizenkott, who is stepping down on January 1, 2019.
Shin Bet Chief Nadav Argaman was not far from their minds, and if Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who chairs the Bayit Yehuda party, would have thought differently, he would have expressed himself on the subject in the media, which he did not.
In effect, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman remains alone in the Security Cabinet, calling for a military operation to deal with the escalated violence and rocket attacks from Gaza. In general, most of them are waiting for the winter, believing the violence and popular terror will be reduced along the border, or alternatively, the Knesset will move to early elections.
Until then, the Israeli public has to get used to the pictures of the thick smoke, the attempts to infiltrate, the throwing of explosive charges and the blowing up of terrorist balloons in the south. Protests and demonstrations will not really bring the government out of its wake. In order to soften the reality in Gaza, fuel and diesel tankers enter daily. Gas entered from Egypt because Hamas prefers to receive a tax at the Rafiach crossing on every tanker. The fishing area has been extended by Israel and the hours of providing electricity to Gaza residents has been extended. There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza or anything approaching it. There are certainly serious hardships, but not something that will cause Hamas to take part in a military campaign.
This does not mean that the Hamas leadership does not control the level of the violence. They created the demonstrations on the fence, the nocturnal terror, and the incendiary balloons, which foreign diplomats perceived as a popular and spontaneous act despite the fact that tens of thousands of dunams of farmland in southern Israel were set on fire. Hamas also excels in psychological warfare. When Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar wants to talk about peace, he finds the way to speak directly to the Israeli public. When he wants to produce war sounds, he blinks at the Islamic Jihad, and under the command of the leadership from Damascus and the patron from Tehran, rockets and mortar shells are fired at Israel.
The question is raised in the background of Hamas’ demand to receive millions of dollars to pay the salaries of tens of thousands of clerks as a condition for quiet and non-intensification of violence at Friday demonstrations. Diplomatic sources categorically denied that the issue had been discussed in recent days and that the message conveyed through Egypt was negative: Israel would not allow the funding of the activities of a terrorist organization, even if it was an indirect action.
This does not mean that the situation is not worrisome. The first concern is that the violent atmosphere created in the area of the fence will lead to the conclusion that the restraint has been released and it is permissible to claim lives on the Israeli side. In the past year, a Palestinian sniper has shot at IDF soldiers, killing a combatant and injuring at least one. Even worse is the identification of an operational opportunity and the execution of a strategic attack, such as the abduction of a soldier and from there the path to a major campaign is a short one, even if the Israeli cabinet members are not interested in a major military operation.
The second concern is additional sanctions imposed by Abu Mazen on Hamas. This will be an economic blow, and Israel will have to create a temporary solution or deal with terrorism, which Hamas sees as solving the organization’s problems. Therefore, it was a big mistake when Israel watched from the sidelines and did not intervene when Abu Mazen imposed the first set of sanctions on Gaza.
At the time, the messages in Israel were that Fatah was an enemy with Hamas and would not have time to deal with us. But the majority is temporary in the Middle East until someone finds the reason to direct the fire towards Jerusalem. Israel needed to prevent Abu Mazen from doing so, or alternatively, to form a payment mechanism with the assistance of the United States and Qatar, thereby saving crises in the foreseeable future.
At the moment Abu Mazen has frozen the Egyptian request to impose another set of sanctions on Gaza because he is waiting to see whether Hamas and Islamic Jihad will dispute their policy of restraint against Israel. The three youths who were killed by IDF fire when they tried to plant an explosive charge on the security fence on Sunday added more tension to the area, as well as protest demonstrations in Palestinian cities and towns in Gaza calling for revenge.
Abu Mazen must decide how he is shaking the Hamas leadership again. The moment of decision will come when the Egyptians announce the end of negotiations between Israel and Hamas and whether there will be a series that includes the Palestinian Authority.
The source of the additional concern in the foreseeable future is located on the Syrian border, Lebanon and throughout Yehuda and Shomron. The demonstrations on the fence paint the State of Israel as stressful and sensitive.
Beirut, Damascus, and the PA areas in Yehuda and Shomron interpret the IDF’s response as weakness.
Despite the fact that in the past week along 10 Palestinians have been killed and since the May clashes, more than 230 Palestinians have been killed, the cartoons speak for themselves, and the videos circulating on Palestinian social networks do not strengthen deterrence. On the Israeli side, the current situation is one of relative stability and the postponement of a military crisis that will lead to a loss of billions of shekels.
The big question now is what will precede what. For now, it appears the regular routine is destined to continue and this Friday will be another test.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)