Rockets fired from the Gaza Strip on July 14, 2018. Source: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
Rockets fired from the Gaza Strip on July 14, 2018. Source: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
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Escalating tensions on Gaza border spell crunch time for Israel, Hamas

Palestinian arson terrorism is wearing ‎Israel’s patience and increasing the chances of ‎a larger conflict in Gaza, something both sides seem to want to avoid.

Gaza’s rulers may not realize it yet, but Israel ‎has run out of patience. A few more bouts of arson ‎terrorism and a full-fledged escalation will follow.‎

For some reason, Hamas has convinced itself that ‎Israel’s warnings are just for show. Its leaders ‎believe that the recent military exercise ‎simulating a ground operation in the coastal enclave ‎is merely a scare tactic; that the massive Israeli ‎airstrikes are a hollow show of force; and that ‎Israel is far too focused on its border with Syria ‎to engage the Gaza frontier.‎

These assumptions, however, are fundamentally ‎flawed. Senior government and defense officials are ‎unanimous in saying that Israel has run out of ‎patience‎. Many still believe that the Israel Defense Forces should not ‎launch a military campaign over incendiary kites and ‎balloons, especially since arson terrorism has yet ‎to claim any lives—something ‎war will do—but ‎these voices are growing ‎increasingly faint. ‎

While there is a consensus among decision-makers ‎that Hamas has exhausted the opportunities offered ‎to it to curb border riots and kite terrorism.‎

Still, politicians or pundits that think Israel is ‎eager to go to war are wrong. Israel does not want ‎to launch another military campaign in the Gaza ‎Strip, which is why it has been sparing no effort to ‎find other countermeasures to quash border riots, terrorist ‎attacks and the onslaught of arson terrorism.‎

Over the past few months, every possible avenue has ‎been used to relay this message to Hamas, from ‎envoys—mainly from Egypt, but also from Persian ‎Gulf states, Russia, the United States and the European Union—to more blunt ‎instruments, such as targeting kite terrorist cells, ‎bombing Hamas posts and destroying Hamas cross-border terror tunnels.‎

When all else failed, Israel shuttered the Kerem ‎Shalom cargo crossing—the only goods crossing in ‎Gaza. The move did not affect humanitarian aid ‎delivered to the Strip, but it crippled commerce, ‎thus dealing Hamas a double blow: targeting both tax ‎revenues and painting Hamas as one whose moves only ‎aggravate the already dire situation in Gaza. ‎

The Defense Ministry’s decision on Monday to ‎temporarily suspend the delivery of petroleum fuels ‎and natural gas ‎to Gaza was coordinated with Egypt, ‎which temporarily shuttered the Rafah crossing, as a ‎last-ditch effort to make Hamas come to its senses.‎

Still, it’s doubtful that Hamas leaders understand ‎that they have pushed Israel to the brink. With containment no ‎longer an option, a clash seems inevitable and only ‎Hamas will make that call. ‎

Israeli defense officials remain convinced that ‎Hamas would rather avoid a war, but this is largely just ‎an assumption and it has been somewhat rattled given that ‎Hamas, like the IDF, has carried out several ‎tactical moves this week that demonstrate it is ‎ready for war.‎

A prominent player trying to prevent another bloody ‎clash between Israel and Hamas is Egypt. But even if ‎Cairo’s efforts prove successful in the short term, ‎Hamas is unlikely to make a strategic U-turn, ‎bringing us right back to the growing assumption ‎that a conflict with Gaza will take place this ‎summer.‎

The scope of this clash remains unknown and it ‎depends on the number of casualties and scale of ‎destruction on both sides; mediation efforts, and ‎domestic and international pressure, but mostly, it ‎depends on the objectives Israel will try to ‎achieve. ‎

Extinguishing arson terrorism is an important ‎objective but it is not a strategic one. Before we ‎rally the troops, the government has to clearly ‎define the objective of this operation. Restoring ‎peace and quiet on the southern border is a solid ‎starting point, as long as it is used to introduce ‎a strategic shift in the reality opposite Gaza.‎

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