The Fourth Hamas War, as this latest conflagration may soon be called, comes as a surprise to no one. For the past six months, Hamas has been staging provocations and firing on Israeli communities at will.
Rather than taking out those who breach the border fence or launch incendiary kites, the Israel Defense Forces and the political echelon chose to let things slide, contain events and show forbearance. They decided on restraint and have been humiliated.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, like his predecessors Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin in their later years, has stated that he does not want “pointless wars.” To paraphrase Winston Churchill: Netanyahu was given the choice between war and dishonor. He chose dishonor, and he got war.
Just as was the case before the 2014 Gaza war, Hamas is not as sophisticated as Israeli intelligence officials assess. It does not have geostrategic considerations, and its activities are not based on some long-term plan. It is much simpler than that: Hamas has power, therefore it shoots.
Hamas is all about killing Jews. Thus, whenever someone rubs it the wrong way—whether Egypt, the Palestinian Authority or Israel—its response is to fire on Israel. Unfortunately, this is the only language Hamas speaks and the only modus operandi it has. That is why the protection Hamas gets from Qatar, in the form of cash-stuffed suitcases, will not help prevent its unstoppable march to war.
However, rather than making sure that those who fire at it are held accountable, Israel has accepted the defense establishment’s convoluted explanations on how this is just part of the ongoing feud between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. This misguided approach has even led to Netanyahu assigning more blame to P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas than to Hamas. Of course, Abbas is no saint, but despite his many flaws he does not dispatch terrorists into Israeli territory. Hamas does.
Looking back, it is clear that a decisive Israeli response in the spring would have prevented war in the fall (and some observed this in real time). Netanyahu, the IDF chief of staff and the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet should have sided long ago with the hawkish approach advocated by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who wanted to eradicate the threat when it was small.
Perhaps if Israel had taken this approach, the past eight months of frequent rocket-warning sirens, incendiary kites and widespread fires would have looked very different. Moreover, the use of force earlier would have prevented or led to a scaled back military effort now.
Ariel Kahana is a diplomatic correspondent for Israel Hayom.