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Prof. Boaz Ganor, Founder and Exective Director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), and Dean & Lauder Chair for Counter- Terrorism at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy & Strategy at IDC Herzliya
Israel and Hamas were ostensibly close to reaching an arrangement before the latest round of fire. On the surface, this round of fighting appears to push the possibility of an arrangement further away, but it may actually turn out to be a tailwind that pushes Hamas to reach an arrangement with Israel. Throughout recent history, there have been many cases in which Arab states should have made such a conscious achievement in order to advance toward what they perceive to be a compromise (as Hamas perceives the arrangement). The Yom Kippur War, for example, eventually led to the peace agreement with Egypt. Deterrence is a central motive in modern warfare, in the framework of which one party sets an ultimatum that the other party must refrain from some action; otherwise the former will cause the latter harm, the price of which will be higher than any possible benefit that
may be incurred by carrying out this action. In order to achieve the desired deterrence effect, the deterring party must convince the deterred party that it has the capability to cause it the damage in question and that it is determined to do so if the deterred party does not submit to the ultimatum. Deterrence, therefore, exists in the world of impressions. Thus, there may be a situation in which the deterring party will have the capability and determination to implement the ultimatum, but deterrence will not be achieved because the deterred party will assess that the deterring party does not have the necessary capability or determination. Thus, there may be a situation in which the deterring party will have the capability and determination to implement the ultimatum, but deterrence will not be achieved because the deterred party will assess that the deterring party does not have the necessary capability or determination. And vice versa, deterrence will be achieved even when the deterring party does not have sufficient capability or determination but succeeds in giving the deterred party the impression that it does. Against the backdrop of statements by Israeli spokesmen about the dangers of an attack on the home front and the difference between the nature of the threat to residents of the south and the
threat toresidents of the center and Tel Aviv, came statements by Yahya Sinwar. Sinwar is trying to create deterrence against Israel, and thereforehe declared that he has the ability and determination to send missiles to Tel Aviv in the next round of fighting. Theoretically, there are three ways to end the rounds of massive rocket fire into Israel: 1. A ceasefire – an agreed-upon arrangement on the terms of a ceasefire. 2. Defeat by Israel – using the "scorched earth" policy - massive artillery and aerial bombings, causing very high collateral damage. 3. Occupation of territories in the Gaza Strip from which rockets are fired at Israel. Since Israel cannot, or does not want to, pay the costs involved in a defeat using the “scorched-earth” bombing method, the question is whether Israel should have ended the campaign by occupying territory in the Gaza Strip. On the surface, the Israeli government did not want to pay the price in the lives of soldiers that an occupation of territories in the Gaza Strip would necessitate, and even more so it did not want a return to occupied rule over Gaza or parts of it after the campaign. There are those who believe that after the occupation of the Gaza Strip, it will be possible to hand the keys to Abu Mazen, but it seems that Abu Mazen will not agree to take control of the Gaza Strip over the Israeli bayonets. Moreover, Gaza does not pose an existential threat or even a strategic threat to Israel, but it does pose a tactical-operative threat. Therefore, Israel will not be willing to pay a strategic price for a (temporary) solution to the problem in Gaza (in terms of soldiers’ lives in the case of an occupation of the Gaza Strip, or an international price in the case of “scorched earth” bombings). This is different than in the northern arena - Hezbollah, Lebanon and Syria - where the threat is strategic, and Israel will probably be willing to pay a strategic price to deal with the threat.
Therefore, in the existing reality vis-à-vis Hamas, the rounds of fighting are likely to continue with ceasefires lasting as long as possible. In the event of a broad arrangement, it will be a long time until the next round. In Ganor's opinion, the solution to reducing the threat to Israel is to conduct the next round differently from the previous rounds. According to the new strategy, Israel must announce publicly (before the start of the next round) that it will no longer
tolerate rocket fire into its territory. And, if and when it should happen again, Israel will them immediately with a large warhead's missiles, allowing penetration into underground bunkers (where the launchers are usually located). This would result in fatal damage to a predefined radius in the launching area, which could cause the destruction of facilities and buildings within this radius. In addition, Israel will inform Palestinian residents that no further warning will further warning will be given prior to Israeli fire (leaflets, taps on the roof, or text messages), and that the firing of a rocket is a warning to civilians to flee within a predefined radius from the launcher. This policy may achieve the required deterrent effect that will lead Hamas to accept and sustain long-term ceasefires.
Itzhak Levanon, Associate, ICT, and former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt
Hamas’s situation in Gaza is stable. The population gives it backing, either out of desire or fear, and no one will challenge the government in light of the economic and social difficulties there. Hamas would prefer an arrangement according to its conditions in order to obtain a "dowry" that it could show to the population in the Gaza Strip. However, since it appears not to be deterred, Hamas may use force
against Israel if necessary. Hamas’s threats should not be underestimated for several reasons. First, Hamas has nothing to lose. Second, the organization must show the Gazan population that its keeps its word. In addition, one must take into account the fact that Sinwar hates Israel, which is reflected in his decisions. A ground incursion into the Gaza Strip that will result in many casualties will not help. However, Levanon believes that Israel stopped its surgical attacks too early. A longer lasting quiet in the Gaza Strip can only be realized if Israel continues to
provide concessions and benefits to the residents of the Gaza Strip (that can be canceled if necessary). Mediation through Egypt is the best option since Abu Mazen cannot be taken too seriously.
Former senior military official
Hamas is currently in its most difficult situation since its establishment. Control over the Gaza Strip has become a major burden on the organization. Therefore, its motivation is to reach an arrangement with Israel, thereby helping to improve the situation of residents of the Gaza Strip. In addition, the organization wants to please Egypt, which is a central player in attempts to mediate between Hamas and Israel, and in attempts at internal Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. The fact that Egypt deals directly without Abu
Mazen is an insult to the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas is aware of this. In the Paris agreements, for example, it was determined that every product entering the Strip must pass through the customs of the Palestinian Authority. Egypt is now finalizing other agreements with Hamas (the introduction of Qatari fuel, etc.), and is doing so consciously despite its close relations with Abu Mazen. Hamas will only head towards escalation if it reaches the point of despair and feels that there is no reasonable solution to the lives of the residents. If this is the scenario, then it will be a "no choice" war on it part. Sinwar’s statement regarding rocket fire at Tel Aviv was intended solely for Palestinian ears for the purpose of stirring up the masses. Hamas tried to portray the exposure of IDF forces that entered Gaza as a great success for the organization, while threatening Israel at the same time.
However, this was not the first threat of its kind. Sinwar has spoken in the past about Hamas reaching Tel Aviv on foot or using missiles.
The Israeli government’s decision not to continue a military operation is correct. Despite how it looks to the Israeli public, Hamas is humiliated by the fact that IDF soldiers penetrated undercover deep into the Gaza Strip and spent many hours among the houses and near the tunnels, gathering information. Even when they were exposed, they managed to escape from the organization after killing seven of its operatives, including several senior officials. For Hamas’ part, rocket fire is a logical response to IDF activity. In previous rounds against Hamas, the organization fired 200-300 rockets at Israel, while in the latest round they fired around 500 rockets. In addition, Israel must not be dragged into a new round of fighting; it must decide when and how to take action. It should be noted that prior to Operation “Cast Lead”, when rockets were being fired at communities in the south, they were not intercepted as there was no Iron Dome. However, this rocket fire did not bother they managed to escape from the organization after killing seven of its
operatives, including several senior officials. For Hamas’ part, rocket fire is a logical response to IDF activity. In previous rounds against Hamas, the organization fired 200-300 rockets at Israel, while in the latest round they fired around 500 rockets. In addition, Israel must not be dragged into a new round of fighting; it must decide when and how to take action. It should be noted that prior to Operation “Cast Lead”, when rockets were being fired at communities in the south, they were not intercepted as there was no Iron Dome. However, this rocket fire did not bother the public to the same extent as today, according to the same source. Therefore, in order to calm the public, it is necessary to check how many rockets fell within populated areas (which the Iron Dome failed to intercept) instead of checking how many rockets in total were launched, and compare it to the number of rockets fired at Israel before Operation “Cast Lead”. A long period of quiet can be achieved if there is a significant improvement in the civilian arena in Gaza, including energy, water, sources of employment and export capability. The question is whether the government in Gaza will be maintained by Hamas over time, or if it will be transferred to Abu Mazen or to a third party? If Hamas remains in power, the quiet will last for a long time because Hamas will not want to "waste" the achievements it is fighting to attain.
Col. (Res.) Avi Eliyahu, Associate, ICT, former Southern Command Chief Intelligence Officer
Hamas has a vested interest at the present time to reach an agreement with Israel after the recent tension stemming from the infiltration of IDF forces into the Gaza Strip. The movement has been in control of the Gaza Strip for the past 11 years since it succeeded in removing the Palestinian Authority and its apparatuses (2007). However, the economic situation of the residents of the Gaza Strip is deteriorating (a lack of basic needs and rising unemployment), and the only existing horizon is through Israeli leverage. The organization understands that there is unrest underneath the surface of Gazan society in light of its difficult economic and humanitarian situation, despite the fact that Hamas operates its dictatorial
mechanisms and rigid internal policy that succeeds in thwarting any attempt at opposition or expression of a defiant opinion against the regime. Therefore, Hamas's primary strategic interest is to bring about a significant improvement in the welfare of Gaza residents. The Palestinian Authority, for its part, has not only restricted Hamas and prevented it from improving the situation, but it is doing everything to further deteriorate the situation. This is one of the reasons for the failure of efforts to bring about a reconciliation between Hamas and the
Palestinian Authority (which will not succeed in the future either, according to Eliyahu). Beyond improving the economic situation and building long-term infrastructures in the Gaza Strip, Hamas has additional interests in reaching an agreement with Israel through Egyptian mediation and Qatari assistance. Namely, it will provide Hamas with long-term political and internal strategic achievements beyond what it achieved in the last ceasefire. The organization succeeding in returning to the center of the international arena as an independent entity with which Israel has reached a ceasefire. The ceasefire tilts the balance of power between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in favor of that latter, since it is taking place at the same time that the Palestinian Authority is not even able to reach negotiations with Israel, leading to an unequivocal victory for Hamas and its perception of resistance over the perception of the Palestinian Authority’s negotiations. The statements made by Sinwar and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad about rocket fire at Tel Aviv are part of a conscious and psychological campaign that Hamas is waging against Israeli residents in an effort to influence the political echelon. There was nothing new in these statements. Already in Operation Protective Edge", Hamas fired rockets at the Dan region and beyond. In fact, the movement's military wing has not used this weapon since Operation "Protective Edge” since it is reserving for itself various levels of response. Rocket fire at Tel Aviv constitutes a very high response level with clear implications that Eliyahu assumes Hamas knows how to ana lyze. Therefore, he does not believe that Hamas will be quick to implement its threats, but rather will continue to use the tools it possesses in the framework of the battle for hearts and minds to bring Israel back to the negotiating table of the Egyptian mediator. A military campaign at the present time is not in the interest of either side, even though it always arises as an option, because entering a campaign requires that Hamas emerge from it with strategic achievements, and that it analyze the reasons for initiating the campaign as well as its ability to achieve successes that will bring about political and economic achievements. In Operation “Protective Edge”, the campaign ended without any strategic achievements for
Hamas. Moreover, the campaign led to a deterioration of the internal, regional and international situation of the Gaza Strip. Therefore, in choosing between entering a battle or trying to exhaust attempts to reach an arrangement, it will continue to choose the second option in the near future. The greatest danger is that if Hamas senses that there is no economic improvement in the Gaza Strip, that there is no longer an Israeli interest to reach an arrangement and that there is no
external assistance, it may enter a military campaign that will lead the entire system, both local and international, to a renewed discussion about Hamas and the Gaza Strip. Israel emerged from the latest round of fighting against Hamas with the lower hand. According to Eliyahu, Israel should have continued to manage the escalation in order to emerge from it with a better balance. Deterrence, in his opinion, is a significant tool that Israel is constantly strengthening through a multitude of actions. Although deterrence took a hit in the latest round of fighting, it was not completely damaged. There is a big difference between the way the public views deterrence and the way the enemy views it. Hamas has an interest in showing that deterrence has eroded, but it is aware of Israel's capabilities. Therefore, Hamas has the option of launching a campaign against Israel, but it is equally aware of its implications. Hamas’s achievement is that it keeps the Gaza Strip in the daily discourse among the public and the decision-makers in Israel, using the Friday demonstrations along the fence as well as the launch of kites and incendiary balloons towards the Gaza envelope. These are tools that maintain the tension and public discourse on the one hand, but do not lead to escalation in Hamas’ view - on the other hand.
Hamas is in a state of multi-dimensional distress. On the one hand, it cannot provide a solution for residents of the Gaza Strip, and on the other hand it lacks international backing and support. The organization is also in a state of military distress. It stands to lose its strategic asset – attack tunnels – and it is failing to become as strong as it would like. Therefore, Hamas is looking for a way to break the siege on the Gaza Strip and provide a minimal response to the residents. Internal reconciliation with Fatah failed, and military confrontation with Israel (like the Operation “Protective Edge”) caused severe damage to the Gaza Strip without significant gains. Therefore, the only thing left for Hamas to do is enter an arrangement. In order to do so, Hamas is trying to stir up the sector without going to war by initiating "marches to the fence", kite terrorism and
limited combat rounds. This tactic is aimed at highlighting Hamas' multi-dimensional distress and exerting internal and international pressure on Israel without deteriorating into war.Sinwar himself said that he is not interested in war because “it does not achieve anything”. Simwar’s statement about rocket fire at Tel Aviv in the event of continued Israeli aggression is intended mainly for the ears of Gaza Strip residents in order to show them that Hamas is acting for their benefit. Contrary to what has been said recently in the political echelon, there is no difference between rocket fire at Sderot and rocket fire at Tel Aviv. The government must formulate a political strategy vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip and decide how it can avoid controlling the Gaza Strip without being threatened by elements inside it. Only then will it be possible to make military decisions. The rocket threat to Israel should not change the selected political strategy, since a tactical problem is not solved by a strategic change. Hamas is not interested in war and neither is Israel. Therefore, in order to ensure quiet even for a short period of time, Israel must allow the fundamental problems in Gaza to be addressed, and perhaps this way to increase the period of quiet to long-term.
Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Shalom Harari Associate, ICT, and former senior advisor on Arab affairs, Ministry of Defense
At present, Hamas prefers to pursue a civil arrangement in order to stabilize its situation and its poor image vis-à-vis the Gazan public (which, it should be recalled, elected the organization by a decisive majority in the Palestinian municipal and parliamentary elections 12 years ago). Today, Hamas is incapable of presenting any change for the better, only for the worse, in all areas of civilian life. Therefore, it worked on developing the "march-to-the-fences method," the ultimate goal of which is an overall break of the siege on the Gaza Strip, according to
Hamas. Hamas feels that it has found a "magic formula" to exert increasing pressure on the Israeli government and the IDF. Using a trial-by-error learning method, Hamas developed a combination of marches (seemingly non-violent), which creates growing fear in Gaza envelope communities of the possibility of a breach of the fence and mass attacks on a settlement, coupled
with the threatening nuisance of clouds of black smoke and incendiary balloons against Gaza envelope residents. It is important to note that residents of the Gaza Strip pay a heavy price for the marches (including financial) since IDF snipers, who have so far prevented a mass breach of the fence, have already caused approximately 6,000 injuries and more than 240 fatalities in the Strip. Here, however, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad are exploiting thecultural/religious differences between them and us. In other words, their youth go out to attack with a real desire to die as martyrs, such that the many injuries do not deter them. The fact that Hamas does not dare to deteriorate the situation to an all-out war at this stage (in its terms, Operation “Protective Edge” was a war, not just a “military operation”) indicates that it is still subject to significant restraints, including partial remnants of the deterrence created by Operation “Protective Edge”.
Sinwar’s recent statement that Hamas is able to fire rockets at Tel Aviv is part of a type of psychological warfare aimed at influencing public opinion in Israel and the political echelon. Hamas and its leadership are closely following the Israeli media and the movements of aware that during a period of internal political instability in Israel and talk of have more influence than at other times. Therefore, they can certainly also take credit for the latest political shake-up in Israel, namely the resignation of the defense minister. On the other hand, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s threat of long-range fire inside Israel is more threatening because of the fact that the organization has no state responsibility to provide services to the population in the Gaza Strip, and it is more influenced than Hamas is by potential pressure from Iran to open fire that would drag Israel into a forced ground attack at an inconvenient time.
approaching elections, threats of this kind have more influence than at other times. Therefore, they can certainly also take credit for the latest political shake-up in Israel, namely the resignation of the defense minister. On the other hand, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s threat of long-range fire inside Israel is more threatening because of the fact that the organization has no state responsibility to provide services to the population in the Gaza Strip, and it is more influenced than Hamas is bypotential pressure from Iran to open fire that would drag Israel into a forced ground attack at an inconvenient time. The decision by the Prime Minister and the IDF to continue to conduct a policy of restraint and containment, coupled with the slow erosion of Hamas' military capability, mainly by aerial bombardments, after the firing of 500 rockets and mortar shells was – in Harari’s opinion – a well thought out and correct decision. This is based on a broad view of various constraints, most of which the Israeli civilian has no knowledge as these threats are usually censored to the public. Some of the onstraints are operational. For example, priority is given to focusing attention on the northern arena, Syria and Lebanon, without spreading attention and intelligence efforts on two arenas simultaneously. (This threat is not censored). Some of the
constraints are strategic-political. For example, quiet requests are made by Arab rulers with whom Israel has a strategic partnership not to carry out a ground invasion in Gaza, but rather to suffice with bombardments so as not to cause instability for them “at home” (in their capital cities). In addition, senior western leaders request restraint in order to allow continued advancement towards an arrangement and progress in the rehabilitation of Gaza, and in order to promote various strategic Israeli interests on the part of those Western statesmen. For example, Donald Trump or his people may request such restraint in order to pave the way to submit their "Deal of the Century” soon, which includes an important appendix on the rehabilitation and relief of the Gaza Strip, according to leaks. The citizens of Israel internalized (and perhaps exaggerated) the threat posed by tunnels that cross the fence into Israeli territory. However, unlike the IDF, they did not sufficiently internalize the threat posed by the vast network of tunnels underneath the cities of Gaza Strip and mainly Gaza City – kilometers of tunnels that were built for various purposes, such as the explosion of Israeli convoys, exit tunnels for suicide bombers to carry out attacks against Israeli ground forces, sniper tunnels, tunnels for reaching and kidnapping targets. In terms of Hamas/the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other factions, the tunnels are an ideal killing area into which Hamas wants to drag IDF ground forces, and such an entry by a magnitude of brigades and divisions could result in hundreds of dead and seriously wounded as well as dozens of kidnapped Israeli soldiers. At the end of the operation, Israel does not want to remain in the area, nor does it have anyone to hand it over to since no Arab body, not even Abu Mazen, will agree to enter and remain in the Gaza Strip over Israeli "bayonets". For those who do not believe this scenario, Harari recommends checking how long it took the US army and coalition forces in Iraq to capture the city of Mosul, with thousands of dead and wounded. It took about a year. Unlike the United States, Israel has no veto rights in the United Nations and has no foreign ground forces to be assisted by Iraqis, Kurds, or Shi’ites, nor does it have the "luxury" of a year of fighting to purge the Gaza Strip from terrorist organizations. Mosul was also demolished to the ground and, to this day, most of the residents evacuated from there cannot return to their homes due to the destruction. In light of this, if Israel is ultimately forced to launch a painful military strike on Gaza, it should strive for a minimal entry of ground forces, mainly by sending in special forces to carry out targeted operations that minimize casualties, mostly using air strikes and counter-fire. Gaza is a bubbling economic/religious/security swamp to which Israel cannot currently In light of this, if Israel is ultimately forced to launch a painful military strike on Gaza, it should strive for a minimal entry of ground forces, mainly by sending in special forces to carry out targeted operations that minimize casualties, mostly using air strikes and counter-fire. Gaza is a bubbling economic/religious/security swamp to which Israel cannot currently provide basic solutions that will calm it for many years. It is, therefore, difficult to achieve long-term peace. What is possible is to manage the "conflict" it faces with ups and downs, using the proposal made by the IDF and the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories unit for a broad and lenient civil economic policy that may provide a period of quiet for the short and medium term. Harari claims that anyone who is counting on talks with Abu Mazen or his successors to bring the Palestinian Authority into control of the Gaza Strip is not connected to reality, since Abu Mazen has lost his legitimacy in the eyes of his people as a result of his failure to hold real elections for PLO (PNC) institutions and the Palestinian Authority (parliament and presidency) for many years. And until such elections are held, he will be seen as an empty tool both in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip.