Is Israel going easy on Hamas?

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Article Summary
Israel plays it safe in Gaza while giving priority to its northern border; Hamas looking for a friend in Moscow; Israel’s nuclear ambiguity.

Israel’s ‘soft’ response to Hamas attacks

Ben Caspit writes that “over the last two years, Israel has employed two different and even contradictory military strategies: one on its northern front against Syria, Hezbollah and Iran, and the other on its southern front, against Hamas Islamic Jihad and other “recalcitrant” organizations in Gaza.”

“In the north,” Caspit continues, “Israel is constantly on the offensive and — according to foreign reports — quick to threaten, initiate and exact a price from the enemy. In the south, however, Israel has adopted a cautious tone of containment and is on guard to avoid being dragged into a military confrontation. In short, Israel shows a lot less initiative in the south and takes Hamas’ needs into account. In the north, however, Israel uses all its strength to fan the flames of domestic Iranian conflicts and try to undermine the ayatollah-led regime. In the south, Israel uses all its strength to maintain and protect Hamas’ rule.”

“Despite Hamas being viewed as the long arm of the Iranian Revolution,” adds Caspit, “Israel is extremely careful not to rock the Gaza boat too much or do anything that might, including accidentally, cause Hamas to fall.”

Shlomi Eldar reports that the Israel Defense Forces have focused on sending “messages,” or employing “soft” attacks, in regard to Hamas and Gaza.

“In the early morning hours of June 27, 13 rockets were fired from Gaza at towns and villages in southern Israel,” Eldar reports. “It was another rough night, with Israelis living around the Gaza Strip ordered to go to their protected spaces. The rocket fire did not surprise the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). In fact, it was expected. Shortly before, an Israeli aircraft had fired a missile at the empty car of a Hamas activist who is a member — according to an IDF representative — of the squad that has been releasing flaming balloons into Israeli territory. At the same time, IDF tanks fired mortar shells at two Hamas observation posts, which also happened to be unmanned.”

“The IDF made a conscious decision not to harm members of Hamas, including that same activist (whose name has not been released), who had been using his car to deliver the flaming balloons to the border with Israel,” Eldar states.

“If Israel attacks and kills members of the Hamas military wing or activists in other groups suspected of releasing the fire balloons into Israel, the situation in Gaza could deteriorate into a full-fledged war,” Eldar adds. “This could entail calling up the IDF reserves, massive aerial attacks, the entry of ground troops into the Gaza Strip and hundreds if not thousands of casualties there. There is no such thing as an easy war. An extensive military operation in battered and overcrowded Gaza would cause a total collapse of existing infrastructures and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis that Israel is trying to prevent, even if it is too late. It would also result in a deluge of condemnations from all around the world. … It seems that in order to avoid this scenario, the IDF has chosen the supposedly easy way out. It attacked an empty car and two unmanned positions from the air.”

It is true that the leaders of Hamas are not interested in going to war right now,” Eldar continues. “They also understand what armed conflict with Israel could mean, and see the inherent dangers it poses to their continued rule and control of the Gaza Strip. But given the situation that has emerged as a result of the demonstrations along the fence, the burning kites, and Israel’s embarrassment, they also believe that this is the time for Hamas to set its own red lines and institute a new equation by which every attack will be met with an organization-wide response in Gaza.”

Hamas seeks to build bridges with Russia

Adnan Abu Amer reports on a seeming warming trend in Russia’s times with Hamas.

“Hamas is experiencing a rough patch at the moment in its relations with several countries in the region,” Abu Amer writes. “Meanwhile, the United States and the European Union consider it a terrorist group, and its relations with some Arab countries, of note, Egypt and Jordan, are frigid. Its ties with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Syria are severed. That said, it has good relations with Iran, Qatar and Turkey.”

“Hamas is trying to compensate for its regional and international isolation by cozying up to Russia, adds Abu Amer. “Israel, however, might nip this relationship in the bud by approaching Russia. Israel wants to deprive Hamas of any and all international recognition, which means the movement’s road to the Kremlin won’t be a bed of roses. A tug-of-war between Russia and Israel could ensue.

“Hamas leaders’ increasing visits and contacts with Russia are in search of ways around the isolation imposed on it by Israel, the United States and some Arab countries,” Abu Amer concludes. “Russia has close relations with Hamas allies Qatar, Turkey and Iran, which perhaps aligns with Moscow’s desire to foster its role in the region. With the United States cutting back its presence in Syria, Russia’s regional influence is expanding. It sees in Hamas a chance to fill the void resulting from deteriorating US relations with several parties in the region.”

An end to Israel’s nuclear ambiguity?

Akiva Eldar explains how US support has been essential for Israel’s ability both “to create nuclear deterrence and to prevent inspection of all its nuclear facilities.”

“For over five decades, Israel has been playing both sides,” writes Eldar. “Despite numerous and persistent indications that not all of its nuclear reactors are designed for peaceful use, Israel does not admit to having a bomb. In fact, for years, it has maintained a policy of ambiguity, neither denying nor admitting possession of a nuclear bomb...

“The vision of a denuclearized Middle East cannot be realized without addressing the region’s political and security issues,” Eldar concludes. “However, these issues cannot be addressed without dealing with the prolonged Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and breathing life into the long dormant 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which foresees Arab states normalizing ties with Israel in return for its withdrawal from the occupied territories. To avoid background noise that could disrupt the on-again, off-again Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic negotiations over the years, the American partners in what is known as the Middle East Quartet (which also includes Russia, the UN and the European Union) have been ignoring Israel’s refusal to join the NPT. … The bear hug between Israel and Trump might prove the beginning of the end of Israel’s nuclear ambiguity policy and the opening shot of a wild nuclear weapons race in the Middle East.”

Found in: Gaza
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