More than a week has passed since Hamas fired seven long-range missiles toward Jerusalem, and the fighting between Israel and terror groups in Gaza continues.
As of Tuesday morning, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired more than 3,350 rockets towards Israeli cities. Twelve people in Israel, including two children, were killed in the rocket attacks from Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces has retaliated by attacking “military targets belonging to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza,” according to the IDF spokesperson. In more than 820 strikes in Gaza, at least 213 Palestinian have been killed, according to Gaza Health Ministry, including 61 children. Some 160 Hamas operatives are among the casualties in Gaza, according to the IDF spokesperson.
The fighting is expected to die down in a matter of days. “In my estimation, the operation will end on Saturday night or Sunday at the latest,” Omer Dostri, a strategy and national security expert at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, told The Media Line.
What comes next is the big question.
A change in Israeli policy will only come about when Israel decides to vanquish Hamas, instead of deterring it
In recent years, the policy employed by Israel vis-à-vis Hamas and Gaza has been that “they can do whatever they want inside the Strip,” Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, former director of the IDF’s strategic planning division and a senior researcher with Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), told The Media Line. Israel focused on stopping materials that could be used to manufacture arms from entering the Strip, Brom explains, but avoided attacking Hamas’ ammunition production sites unless first provoked by rockets being fired into the country.
In addition to allowing Hamas free rein inside Gaza, Israel approved the transfer of large sums of money, most notably from Qatar, to the organization. Israel was acting under the belief that improving the quality of life and the financial situation in Gaza, combined with the threat of its military might, would ensure stability and quiet.
But Hamas used Israel’s non-interference and money coming from the outside to develop its military capabilities, such as improving its rockets. These improvements have translated into the barrage of rockets on Israel’s most populated area, the Tel Aviv metropolis, which caught many by surprise and has placed a question mark on the policy employed until now.
Brom explains that the strategy until now has relied on the fact that “when there is such an escalation, you hit the other side so hard, and damage it to such an extent, that it should strengthen your deterrence, and should lead to quiet. Not endless quiet, because the sense of deterrence loses its power over time, and it should lead to quiet for a reasonable amount of time, a few years – and the truth is that this was achieved.”
The alternative, says Brom, is fighting against Hamas’ efforts to develop its military capabilities constantly. Such a strategy means that Israel acts inside the Strip – whether through air strikes or otherwise – to foil Hamas arms development and destroy ammunition manufacturing sites on a regular basis. “The problem with this strategy,” said Brom, “is that if you are acting against them constantly, they will retaliate.”
In such a scenario of small-scale but constant exchanges, he says, imagine that a small number of rockets fall on a daily basis on Israeli towns. “How long would it take for pressure to build up to put a stop to it? And how do you do that? With yet another large operation?” Brom asks. He explains that the strategy based on rounds of fighting was created to allow Israelis living close to Gaza to enjoy “normal lives, at least a few years at a time.”
With this dilemma in mind, Brom says, Israel can be expected to pursue its current strategy, even after the latest attacks on Tel Aviv.
I think that the only way out of such a conundrum is to strive for a political agreement
The last major flare-up between Israel and Gaza took place in 2014, and was dubbed Operation Protective Edge by the Israel Defense Forces.
Dostri also expects Israel to reach an agreement with Hamas similar to those concluded in the past, after previous flare-ups of violence. The first stage of aid for Gaza following the operation will be part of the cease-fire agreement. However, further investments in the Gazan economy, he believes, should and may be conditioned on the return of two Israeli civilians and the remains of two Israeli soldiers currently held by Hamas.
While Dostri predicts that the region will enjoy a few years of quiet, rockets can be expected to fall on Israeli territory from time to time. Contrary to the standard in recent years of very limited retaliation, he says that much more significant strikes against Hamas and Islamic Jihad are more likely in the next few years when they choose to fire at Israel. A sustained effort to counter Hamas’ efforts at strengthening militarily, however, is far less likely. “It’s possible that there will be some response to this,” he says of Hamas military-building efforts, “but not at a level that could lead to another bout of fighting.”
Where the experts differ significantly is in the path they see for long-term quiet.
“A change in Israeli policy will only come about when Israel decides to vanquish Hamas, instead of deterring it,” Dostri said. A large-scale ground operation that will bring an end to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization, followed by a short-term Israeli presence in the Strip until an alternative Palestinian leadership arises are, he said, “the only conditions that will bring quiet.”
Brom, in turn, believes solely in the power of political accords to bring true quiet. “I think that the only way out of such a conundrum is to strive for a political agreement,” he said.