Amid Tense Calm, Israel & Hamas Contemplate Next Moves
Israel’s security cabinet met for the second time in four days to discuss the ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip and a United Nations- and Egyptian-drafted proposal for a long-term truce with Hamas. Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stressed that his government is demanding nothing less than a complete cessation of hostilities. “We are in the midst of a campaign against terror in Gaza,” the premier asserted. “It entails an exchange of blows; it will not end in one strike. Our demand is clear: a complete cease-fire. We will not suffice with less than this.” In this respect, Jerusalem reportedly is working on three parallel tracks, including exploring the possibility of forging a comprehensive five-year deal with Hamas that would include a prisoner-swap and the launch of economic projects Gaza; reaching a simpler understanding by which calm is temporarily restored in exchange for the easing of certain restrictions on the Palestinian enclave; and preparing for a full-scale military campaign that would likely involve Hamas’ overthrow. As regards the third option, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of the security cabinet, claimed Sunday that Israel was “closer than ever” to toppling Gaza’s terrorist regime; this, as reports surfaced that Jerusalem also is mulling the re-implementation of a long-shelved policy of assassinating top Hamas leaders. The current tense calm comes after clashes erupted on Friday during the latest installment of the so-called “March of Return” protests; and a series of Israeli air strikes on Saturday targeting a Gaza-based cell that was flying incendiary objects across the border. These low-intensity exchanges, in turn, followed a major 24-hour flare-up beginning last Wednesday, in which some 200 projectiles were fired from Gaza into Israel, to which the army responded with about 150 strikes against Hamas targets.