A victory for Israel … and Hamas?

With the Palestinian Islamic Jihad reeling from the assassination of its leaders, Hamas has an opportunity to reshape the balance of power in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar at a rally in Beit Lahiya on May 30, 2021. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar at a rally in Beit Lahiya on May 30, 2021. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

The situation in southern Israel returned to normal on Monday, exactly a week after the escalations that sparked another round of fighting between Israel and terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip. All restrictions in the Gaza vicinity have been lifted, as was the ban on the entry of Palestinian workers into Israel, the transfer of goods in and out of the Strip, and the opening of fishing areas.

This economic leverage was a major reason why Hamas stayed out of the fighting. Even so, Gaza’s civil and economic crisis is great. On Monday, for example, residents only had electricity for two hours. Burdened, they did not want the fighting to renew just a year after “Operation Guardian of the Walls.”

As far as they’re concerned, the current round of fighting was unnecessary and illogical, which is why they demanded it end as soon as possible. The lesson is clear: Hamas is a jihadist group that will continue to seek the destruction of Israel, but it is also in charge of the Gaza Strip and heeds the residents.

Steps that will increase the standard of living in Gaza will certainly also increase Hamas’ future considerations when it comes to initiating conflict. Of course, this should happen alongside Israel maintaining deterrence, similarly to how it’s acted in the past year, harshly responding to every rocket, shooting, or incendiary balloon.

The combination of these two aspects—security and civil—may enable Israel to create a more reasonable equation vis-à-vis Gaza. It could also serve as a springboard for broader agreements that Egypt is trying to promote, and even be a platform for the return of the bodies of fallen soldiers and captives held by Hamas. The terror group has made impossible demands with regard to the matter so far, but may now be more flexible. The senior political-security echelon is slated to discuss the issue next week.

The results of the operation also give Hamas an opportunity to create a new balance of power in Gaza, as PIJ was significantly weakened.

Whether or not Hamas will do so is unclear, however, because it, too, depends on Iranian funds. It is likely to make sure, though, that the PIJ never drags them and Gaza into another unnecessary escalation again, especially one with losses only on their side.

Israel seeks to leverage the clear deterrence achieved in the operation in sectors as well, especially with regard to Hezbollah.

The terror group has recently threatened to harm Israeli gas installations in the Eastern Mediterranean unless the maritime border dispute between the countries is resolved. Perhaps Hezbollah, too, needs to rethink things. Although an all-out war in the north is not the same as a few-days-long conflict in the south, Israel has conveyed the message that it was right to launch the operation and will not give up on its principles.

This vital lesson might also help solve the maritime crisis with Lebanon. U.S. mediators are expected to travel to the Middle East soon, and if all goes well, the parties will meet directly already this month.

And yet, the success of the operation must not overshadow the big picture: Gaza is not gone, and is not going anywhere. Its two million residents—due to their problems and the terrorist organizations that control them—are here to stay, and they will continue to challenge Israel in the future as well. Although Israel scored some good points and strengthened deterrence, it will need much more than that to solve the Gaza problem.

Yoav Limor is a veteran journalist and defense analyst.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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