The Israeli public learned of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire in this round of violence in Gaza—the worst since “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014—from Qatari news network Al Jazeera. No Israeli official saw fit to announce the truce or provide any details of what it entails.
The government’s decision to avoid war is legitimate, even if much of the public believes it is wrong. There are enough reasons not to be dragged into a large military operation, including the fear of prolonged entanglement that would result in many casualties and extensive destruction, the desire not to divert strategic attention from the northern sector and, of course, the knowledge that the “day after” would look exactly the same, if not worse.
The government should have explained all of this to the public. Its failure to do so only intensified the sense of public frustration and confusion, not to mention the feeling that Hamas has emerged victorious. If anything, everyone, especially residents in communities near the Gaza border, believes the next round of violence is only a matter of time.
The situation on the ground is more complex. Hamas suffered more blows than it dealt and lost many substantial assets, and while its senior leaders escaped with their lives, it was only because of an Israeli decision that stemmed from the belief that targeting their hideouts would place many innocent Palestinian civilians in harm’s way.
But the terrorist group was not devoid of achievements, most prominently the relatively high number of projectiles the Iron Dome missile-defense system failed to intercept.
Nearly 500 rockets and mortar shells were fired from Gaza between Monday and Tuesday: 100 were intercepted, more than 200 landed in open areas, and 30 hit urban areas in Israel, mainly in Ashkelon and Sderot, while the rest landed in Gaza. This indicates that there are issues with the defense Iron Dome offers, and these issues must be addressed immediately.
The successful missile fire on an army bus near Kibbutz Kfar Aza was also a substantial achievement for Hamas. It seems Hamas intentionally sought to minimize casualties, waiting until about 30 soldiers disembarked the bus before firing on it. In the words of a senior defense official, the entire incident was a “disgrace,” as the bus had no businesses being in a restricted military area.
The flare-up has seen the Israel Defense Forces successfully foil Hamas “surprises,” including the use of drones, but Gaza’s terrorists deliberately refrained from aggressively escalating the situation, which is probably why they did not use terror tunnels or extend rocket fire to Ashdod and Beersheva.
The IDF, too, exercised restraint. All air raids were preceded by warnings, to minimize casualties, as past experience has proved that the higher the number of casualties, the more Hamas feels obligated to prolong the fighting.
The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire will face its first test this Friday, at the weekly border protest. During this week’s flare-up, Israel insisted on preventing Palestinians from approaching the security fence in order to try to reestablish the security perimeter along the border. Hamas will likely try to challenge that over the weekend, and it is doubtful whether Israel will press the issue, so as not to trigger fresh violence.
The lull will also test Hamas’s ability to curb arson terrorism and the border riots. Israel will have to refrain, at least in the foreseeable future, from mounting any operations in Gaza (overt or covert), and the IDF will undoubtedly have to deal with a host of ensuing and complex dilemmas.
Down the line, the issue of the Israeli captives in Gaza will have to be addressed, as well as the issue of Gaza funds. Violence will surely erupt if Hamas finds itself in dire need of cash again. But allowing another delivery of Qatari money to Hamas will paint Israel as aiding not only the civilian rehabilitation of Gaza, but as aiding Hamas to rebuild its infrastructure.
All these factors all but guarantee that the Gazan headache will continue to throb for a while. In the absence of a strategic solution, Israel will continue to put out fires. This is a legitimate policy, but it is also dangerous because it gives Gaza’s terrorist rulers far too much leeway.
One can only hope that the decision not to change this policy at this time, even at the cost of undermining Israeli deterrence, will not turn out to be a mistake.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.