The "War of Many Rounds" in Gaza: Hamas and Islamic Jihad vs. Israel

(Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser and Eitan Fischberger - Since the end of the 2014 Gaza war, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza have launched rockets against Israeli civilian targets and provoked Israeli air strikes in retaliation in eight rounds of escalation that are part of one long war. Both sides realize that this kind of war cannot lead to a significant change in the reality concerning Gaza. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad believe that the rounds of escalation serve their interests and are important in their own merit as they help demonstrate their commitment to the struggle against Israel. The escalations enable them to boast of their military capabilities, mobilize the population to the cause of fighting Zionism, distract the Gaza population from their daily miseries, and gain economic assistance from Qatar, while blaming Mahmoud Abbas for the difficulties in Gaza and pressuring the PA, Egypt, Qatar and Israel to improve living conditions in Gaza. Israel remains committed to a policy of trying to maintain a balance in which Hamas serves as the Gaza entity strong enough to maintain a monopoly over the use of force from the territory it governs, and at the same time remains weak and deterred enough to be restrained from firing on Israel. The continuing rounds of conflict raise doubts regarding the ability of Hamas to fulfill this role. It appears that PIJ and militant elements within Hamas are emboldened enough to challenge the Hamas leadership from time to time. Yet Hamas is always able to restore discipline and restraint, which means that the Israeli policy has not lost its relevance. The alternative to this policy is regarded as very costly both in the short and long term, and this is why Israel prefers to stick to its current path. In the latest round, Israel raised the price for the Palestinians, while also showing greater readiness to improve their living conditions. If this strategy convinces the Palestinians in Gaza to reach an agreement that will guarantee an extended period of calm, then the policy will have been successful. But if it fails and there is another round of the war, and if the harassment of the Israeli population along the Gaza border continues, Israel may be forced to consider other options. The fundamental problem is that the population of Gaza is comprised primarily of descendants of Palestinian refugees who have been indoctrinated by their leadership to believe that they are duty-bound to fight against Zionism until they can return to their ancestral homes in Israel. This narrative perpetuates the conflict and makes a political solution nearly impossible. This means that the slogans that call for Israel to reach a political solution to the conflict are, unfortunately, detached from reality. Palestinians in Gaza truly desire and deserve to live better lives. Regrettably, they and their leadership do not see this goal as more vital than the struggle against the State of Israel. Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Research Division, is Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center, where Eitan Fischberger, a student at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC), is a research intern.

2019-06-04 00:00:00

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