In the middle of winter, the Middle East has been experiencing an Israeli spring. More and more Arab countries are joining the peace camp and signing normalization and peace accords with Israel. In doing so, they are delineating the new face of the Middle East: a region where the initiative now belongs to Israel and its Arab allies, who with the White House’s help are thwarting and even pushing back Iran and its partners in the “axis of evil,” whether they be Syrian President Bashar Assad or Hezbollah, both now in distress and therefore on the defensive.
It is not just the Iranian axis that has adopted a lower profile and is now holding out for a miracle and possibly the new U.S. administration to enter office next month. The radical forces in the Arab world itself, foremost among them the Islamic movements, are in something of an existential crisis. The movements scored many successes in the early 2000s when they managed to gain control of several Arab governments. But that’s all in the past. In most Arab states, these movements have been removed from power, outlawed and their leaders imprisoned. There’s no doubt that political Islam has failed. After all, it never offered any solutions for solving the region’s problems in the first place.
It is only in the Gaza Strip that Hamas continues to flourish, thanks to Israel’s support and encouragement. Jerusalem still wrongly believes having a clear address in Gaza with Hamas is the best option. And so, while across the rest of the Middle East Israel’s allies chase off and ban the Islamic movements, Israel does the exact opposite.
Israel is missing an opportunity that could soon slip through its fingers. It is not thinking out of the box and it is not making any effort to bring about fundamental change to the reality on its southern border. After all, Hamas is politically isolated and weaker than ever, while Israel enjoys the widespread support of the Arab world and, until recently, U.S. approval for any number of bold strategic moves.
We must not forget that the reality in Gaza is different from the reality on Israel’s northern border. Hamas doesn’t have strategic depth, and its allies are limited in their ability to offer it assistance. Israel, therefore, has the ability to dictate the course of events in Gaza with the cooperation and support of its Arab allies and even the Palestinian security forces that recently renewed security cooperation ties with Israel.
It is difficult to understand where the Israeli attitude of inaction on Hamas comes from. It could stem from the paralysis that has gripped the Israeli political system in recent years, or a fixation on adhering to what may have been the right policy when Hamas first took control of Gaza 10 or 15 years ago but no longer suits the changing reality.
If Israel fails to act—and it would be wise to do so sooner rather than later—to topple the Hamas regime, or at the very least put in place new rules that are more convenient for Israel, rockets will continue to fly out of Gaza every night, and Qatar and Turkey will continue to reap the political rewards. Hamas’s rockets aren’t about to rust away; the day will come when we pay a heavy price for allowing Hamas to build a missile system directed at Israel unhindered and under our watch.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.