‘Israel loses in Gaza escalation’

Haitham Ahmed , Friday 27 Jul 2018

Despite the ferocity of recent Israeli air strikes on Gaza, neither Hamas nor Israel would stand to gain from all-out war

Gaza Strip
A picture taken on July 20, 2018 shows tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces landing amidst protesters along the border with Israel east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip (Photo: AFP)

Palestinian analysts believe Israeli media exaggerated threats by Israeli military and political leaders to destroy Gaza, as well as preparations for a broad assault there.

These same leaders forgot that Gaza is under siege, starving, and is on the brink of explosion; any threat against the population there only increases their determination and resilience in demanding their rights.

The most basic right being an end to the siege and lifting sanctions. Anything less gives Gaza the right to fight more fiercely to defend its livelihood.

Gazans chose the easiest form of confrontation, the March of Return and burning kites, to send a message to the world that they will not die quietly and submissively.

Political analyst Fayez Abu Shmalah said all of Gaza is riding on a burning kite and residents will not stop heckling Israel as long as no one is listening to their cries from behind bars, and as long as their sons are killed and injured during the March of Return without the world batting an eye.

Starving Gaza decided to export fear to its enemies; fear is tethered to hunger – if Gaza thrives again, then fear will end in Gaza. Everyone must understand this equation, he said, especially those demanding an end to burning kites.

Political analyst Saleh Al-Noami said at first glance it appeared that agreement by Hamas and the Israeli occupation to return to a truce, after a serious escalation last Friday in the Gaza Strip, came as a big surprise.

Threats by political and security institutions in Israel in the wake of Al-Qassam Brigades’ killing of an Israeli occupation soldier on the border implied that Israel’s reaction would be extensive and lead to all-out war, similar to the summer of 2014.

However, both sides wanted to de-escalate and quickly responded to regional and international mediation.

Hamas wants to end recent confrontations, confirming the rules of engagement it declared, namely to respond to every Israeli aggression that kills resistance members.

The group responded to the death of three members on 19 July by shooting an Israeli soldier. At the same time, however, Hamas dealt with the situation with realism and did not respond to Israeli strikes on its camps last Friday.

Al-Noami said Hamas wants to de-escalate to create an environment that would make Egypt’s efforts for national conciliation successful, since conciliation would transform the economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza, and lift political and military burdens on the group as the governing body in the Gaza Strip.

The group also understood that all-out confrontations would undermine its military capabilities, even though it has proven it can surprise Israel.

Meanwhile, Israel wants to de-escalate because it understands that its ability to continue walking a tightrope in confronting Hamas is very limited.

Military escalation would lead to battles that do not serve Israel’s interests, worsening security conditions in the south and undermining its standing on the global stage.

Israel knows that all-out war with Hamas could force it to re-occupy Gaza, which would lead to one of two scenarios.

First, it either becomes embroiled in remaining in Gaza for a long time, which burdens it with the economic, security and political consequences of such an occupation.

Or second, to withdraw from Gaza and leave havoc in its wake since no one will be governing the Strip if Hamas is defeated. This would mean that the security of settlements near Gaza and in southern Israel would be more under threat.

The Israeli press reported statements by Channel 10 military correspondent Alon Ban David that the Palestinian resistance asked Egypt to intervene and reach a ceasefire, out of concern that Israel would launch all-out war against the Gaza Strip. “That’s not true, the opposite happened,” according to Fadi Abdel-Hadi, an expert on Israeli affairs. “The occupation Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, War Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisencot and the top army brass reached out to Egypt and UN special envoy Nikolay Mladenov to ask the Palestinian resistance to cease fire last night.”

Abdel-Hadi explained that this is for several reasons, most notably hundreds of Israeli soldiers in West Negev sleeping in tents and continuing to train on a simulation of invading Gaza. If the resistance launches mid-range rockets and hits those tents, many soldiers would die.

“The second reason is that Israeli air strikes came very late and only targeted areas where there are no Palestinian resistance fighters,” he added.

Abdel-Hadi said Netanyahu, Lieberman and members of the security cabinet floundered. “Less than one hour after the first cabinet meeting at the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Netanyahu held a second meeting, which demonstrates Israel’s political and military confusion.”

Yoav Limur, military writer at Israel Yahom newspaper, said Israel will not wage war now because of any balloon coming from Gaza. “Israel can no longer escape from asking itself what it wants to achieve in Gaza politically, economically and militarily. And what it is willing to do for this,” stated Limur.

“Neither side can claim victory in the events on Saturday night in Gaza. Although Hamas retreated and promised to stop kites and balloons, it succeeded in killing one soldier for the first time since Operation Protective Edge… Israel responded strongly and restored calm in the south, but it is doubtful it will truly succeed in keeping war at bay… Even if there is calm, the Gaza problem has not been resolved. Hamas will remain in a bind and will look for a way to explode the situation.”

Amos Harel, military analyst at Haaretz newspaper, agrees. “It is not certain that efforts by Egypt and Mledenov will be enough to bring calm in Gaza the [coming] time, if the number of those injured is higher,” Harel stated.

Fawzi Barhoum, spokesman for Hamas, said Israel will have to face the difficult consequences of its choice to strike and attack resistance targets, the people of Gaza and unarmed protesters.

“It will cost them more and they will feel the outcome and consequences. The reaction of the resistance to this escalation and targeting is based on the right to defend our people, enforce the deterrent equation based on tit-for-tat,” said Barhoum.

“We are ready and willing to apply this tactic, no matter what we sacrifice. Our people, supported by the courageous resistance, will forge ahead in extracting their rights and ending the siege on Gaza. We have the right to live in freedom and with dignity, and the world and decision makers in the region must work on reining in this aggression, ending the siege and supporting the just Palestinian cause.”

Yehia Al-Sinwar, Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said the Israeli army is “not immune to getting killed”. Avichay Adraee, spokesman for the Israeli army, responded: “Al-Sinwar, who has had substantial experience with Israel, should know that [Israel] will snap at some point… Sinwar chose to involve Gazans and jeopardise them due to a series of foolish steps, instead of improving their lot.”

On Friday, at least four Palestinians were killed when soldiers clashed with protesters in the March of Return campaign.

Some 140 have been killed so far since the beginning of the popular campaign in late March, while thousands have been injured due to the Israeli army using live bullets, rubber bullets and gas against peaceful demonstrations.

One Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper despite wearing a bulletproof vest.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 July 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: ‘Israel loses in Gaza escalation’

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