JISS - The Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies

The latest round of violence on the Israel-Gaza border has followed its familiar pattern. Neither party wants to blink first; whoever does will be at a disadvantage down the line.

As of late Thursday night, it was still unclear ‎where Israel and Hamas are headed – escalation or a ‎cease-fire. ‎Over the past two days, it seems the situation on ‎the Israel-Gaza Strip border has become ‎exceptionally volatile: Hamas – confident over ‎Israel’s apparent apprehension to launch a large-scale military operation in Gaza – has allowed its ‎operatives to stage a sniping exercise right on the ‎border. ‎

The IDF saw this as an imminent threat and opened ‎fire, killing two Hamas operatives. What followed ‎was the familiar cycle of rocket fire on border-‎adjacent communities and Israeli strikes on Gaza ‎targets in response, and so on and so forth. ‎

In these types of situations, each party is somewhat ‎forced to prove it will not be the first to blink ‎and therefore keeps firing, and each party assumes ‎that calling a unilateral cease-fire would be ‎perceived as a show of weakness that would erode ‎their ability to generate deterrence. This, in turn, ‎will position the warier side at a disadvantage down ‎the line, because it is clear to everyone that this ‎will not be the last round of violence between ‎Israel and Hamas. ‎

Hamas’ fire on Beersheba and the ‎IDF’s targeting of a five-story Hamas building in Gaza indicate ‎that until last night, things were heading downhill, despite the fact that both parties would prefer to ‎hit the brakes.‎

We know mediation efforts are already ongoing. Egypt ‎has plenty of experience, as well as various ‎leverages it can use against Hamas, and U.N. Middle ‎East envoy Nickolay Mladenov, a veteran diplomat with ‎experience in navigating regional politics, have ‎taken the lead here, and naturally so. ‎

Recent weeks have shown that both Israel and Hamas ‎have, until now, followed the familiar pattern of ‎border flare-ups. Israel may be militarily superior ‎to Hamas, but Gaza’s rulers can inflict serious ‎damage if they decide to widen the range of their ‎rocket fire. ‎

Meanwhile, even if the Iron Dome defense system ‎keeps intercepting rockets, the constant sirens and ‎the situation as a whole are making the Israeli ‎public anxious. ‎

The perception of public panic, together with the ‎assumption that the IDF cannot really counter rocket ‎fire, is pushing Hamas to continue despite the blow ‎it has already sustained. ‎

As things stand now, only third-party mediators ‎would be able to stop what appears to be a ‎guaranteed security escalation. We will have to wait ‎and see.

 

Published in Israel Hayom 10.08.2018


JISS Policy Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.


photo: By Nicoleon [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

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