After an intermittent lull, firefights were renewed in the Gaza Strip between Israel’s occupation forces and resistance factions. Anticipation and mystery shroud the Strip after the fighting revealed a qualitative shift in the ability of the resistance to reach Israeli targets.
Since Monday, the fighting resulted in the death of six Palestinians, five of whom were fighters, and an Israeli civilian.
It appears that Israel can’t pursue ceasefire talks in the Strip without first deterring the factions, prime among which is Hamas, to save its face on the domestic and international fronts.
This is the same quagmire resistance factions faced after Israel targeted a leading Qassam Brigades member, Nour Baraka, on Sunday. Shelling has intensified in the Strip since then.
Political writer Ibrahim Al-Madhoun believes this is the fiercest escalation since 2014, but that it is too early to speak of an all-out war. It is still possible to contain the situation, he added.
“The resistance will continue shelling the settlements surrounding the Strip and may, in case the Israeli forces continue their attacks, widen the scope of its missiles,” Al-Madhoun said.
The resistance derives its strength from the unity and power of its supporters, he pointed out. Palestinians are lined up behind the resistance and its military decisions in an unprecedented manner. They are ready to bear the consequences, and are pushing the resistance to widen the scope of its missiles and accelerate attacks, he added.
Journalist Iyad Al-Qura said, “the resistance has aborted the occupation’s plans and Israel will have to pay the price. It is difficult to let this crime go unpunished and the resistance leaders have every right not to listen to mediators now.”
Al-Qura expects the current escalation will be limited, aiming to allow the resistance to retaliate and let the occupation forces pay the price for their crime and deter them from repeating it.
Political analyst Ayman Al-Rafati pointed out that the few hours after the shelling would determine whether the Gaza Strip was heading towards confrontation or ceasefire. Confrontation means an all-out war that starts by executing assassination attempts on the part of the Israeli forces, and the resistance hitting into the depths of Israel, said Al-Rafati.
The occupation leadership was politically and militarily cornered, in and out of Israel, after its undercover operation east of Khan Younis, in which Baraka was killed, was exposed, he stated.
On Sunday an Israeli special forces unit snuck into the Gaza Strip to execute an intelligence operation, clashing in the process with Qassam Brigades fighters.
The clash resulted in the death of the Israeli operation leader and seven Qassam fighters. Had it not been for extensive Israeli air cover, the entire undercover unit could have been arrested by the resistance forces.
Apart from military analyses of the attack, the operation ricocheted strongly amid Israel’s political circles. A prominent Israeli analyst with Yedioth Ahronoth, Ron Ben Yishai said, “Was the operation meant to eliminate or kidnap? And
Ben Yishai said the incident will open up the way for more Israeli partisan actions. This was the first military intelligence operation for Avigdor Lieberman as war minister. It ended catastrophically, he added.
Lieberman had promised he was capable of engaging in intensive military battles with Hamas in Gaza. But this incident comes at a time of calm resulting after weeks of UN-Egyptian efforts, and funded by Qatari money. This compromises the occupation forces’ image in front of these countries.
“Where is Israel’s accurate intelligence information that can count the breaths Palestinians take in Gaza? Did the army and intelligence in Israel think that maybe the operation might fail and that the price to pay would be the lives of the Israeli officers and soldiers,” asked Adnan Abu Amer, an expert on Israeli affairs.
“How didn’t the unit in charge of the operation conduct more security and intelligence measures for the soldiers that infiltrated into Gaza? How come the air force that provided heavy cover for the unit to withdraw, with all their fighter jets, didn’t detect the resistance movement?” continued Abu Amer.
The gravest question Abu Amer posed was, “How was it that an operation with such magnitude was approved only militarily, without permission of the state’s leader [Benjamin] Netanyahu?”
“These are critical questions that prominent officers in the security and military institutions will not find easy to answer in light of the disappointment from the failure of the operation. Israel sufficed by saying it was the gravest incident in a long time.”
Yasser Manaa, an expert on Israeli affairs, concurred. “I have been convinced for a long time that Lieberman doesn’t have a plan of war in the Gaza Strip. He failed to execute one operation in the Strip, how can he wage a war?”
He added: “This is a failure that accolades the career of Chief of Staff Ghadi Eizenkot as he leaves the institution. [Sunday’s operation] could have annihilated the entire military institution, but it only demolished part of it.”
Alex Fishman, a military analyst at Yedioth Ahronoth, wrote: “Since Sunday, Israel and Hamas have found themselves on a dangerous flight to nowhere.
” But he believes, “Israel was obliged to hit hard, for military and domestic political reasons. Hamas and Jihad’s attacks [which started Monday] left the Israeli leadership with no choice. The current firefights, according to a ‘logical’ scenario, will last for a day or two. But then again, the scene can easily deteriorate into an all-out war.”
Fishman said Monday’s events showed “a weak restraining capability on the part of the Israeli political leadership”, which entails that Hamas be hard hit for a ceasefire to be effected on the border.
“Both sides are stuck in a place where they have to justify their actions to their supporters. Meanwhile, it was Hamas that decided on the level of violence. Israel tagged along. Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to offer the cabinet a suggestion of using adequate power in order not to find himself facing a confrontational cabinet requiring him to take military steps that he doesn’t want to execute,” Fishman added.
Fishman doubted Israeli decision-makers would decide on launching an aggressive military hit in the Gaza Strip, but he pointed out that Israel may resort to “destroying the leaders’ interests in Gaza by hitting the properties of Hamas leaders and the Strip’s prominent stratum.”
Fishman cited the shelling of the headquarters of Hamas’ TV channel as an example.
The current round of escalation, Fishman stressed, was the result of the failed military operation conducted by the Israeli army in Khan Younis.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 November, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Israel pays the price