Opinion

Israel Hayom

Hamas, the political poker player, makes its gamble

The round of violence on the Israel-Gaza ‎border this weekend was the broadest since ‎“Operation Protective Edge” ended four years ago. ‎

View of the trail left in the sky by a Patriot missile that was fired to intercept a drone entering Israel from Syria, as seen in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat on July 13, 2018. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90.
View of the trail left in the sky by a Patriot missile that was fired to intercept a drone entering Israel from Syria, as seen in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat on July 13, 2018. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90.
Eyal Zisser
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

The round of violence on the Israel-Gaza ‎border over the weekend was the broadest since ‎“Operation Protective Edge” ended four years ago. ‎

The border has remained largely quiet since then, ‎but as time went by, Hamas has been increasingly ‎struggling to uphold the cease-fire Egyptian and ‎Qatari envoys were able to broker in 2014. If ‎anything, the past few months have proved that Hamas ‎is willing to take steps that will inevitably lead ‎to a conflict with Israel, such as the border-riot ‎campaign, arson terrorism or trying to cement an ‎equation by which any Israeli strike over the former ‎two would trigger rocket fire on Israel’s south. ‎

Hamas is not really interested in facing off Israel ‎again, as it knows that fresh hostilities will not ‎result in it being better off. It also knows that if ‎it pushes Israel too far, the Israel Defense Forces will bring about ‎the end of Hamas rule in Gaza. ‎

This, for itself, is nothing new, the difference is ‎that now, Hamas feels strong enough—confident ‎enough—to take this chance and deal with its ‎potential consequences. ‎

Being the seasoned political poker players that they ‎are, Hamas’s leaders assume Israel will be the first ‎to blink; that even if the IDF launches a military ‎campaign in Gaza, it will be short and end with yet ‎another flimsy cease-fire, one that will not ‎harm Hamas and maybe even result in an agreement ‎that would alleviate the dire economic situation in ‎Gaza.‎

It is therefore highly unlikely that Hamas will stop ‎its provocations, especially as it seems to be ‎marking some achievements, even if those are mostly ‎psychological, opposite Israel. It is equally ‎difficult to see Hamas agree to the first phase of ‎the U.S. peace plan, which entails the ‎demilitarization of Gaza in exchange for economic ‎relief. Hamas, just like the other terrorist groups ‎in Gaza, believes relinquishing its arsenal is akin ‎to suicide, which is why it will never agree to it.‎

In the absence of dialogue between Israel and Hamas, ‎and given the rift between Palestinian Authority ‎leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Ramallah government and ‎Hamas leadership in Gaza, both sides need someone to ‎help them climb down from the ‎very tall tree on which they are perched.‎

Such mediation could lead to an agreement that would ‎curb Hamas’s military activities and perhaps even ‎advance a deal that would secure the return of the ‎Israelis held captive by Hamas, which, in turn, would ‎enable Israeli gestures that would ease Gaza’s ‎economic plight.‎

Past experience has seen rivals Egypt and Qatar ‎assume the role of mediator. Egypt has a clear ‎interest in preventing a security escalation in ‎Gaza, as it may spill over its own border.‎

It remains to be seen, however, whether it still ‎wields the same influence on Gaza as before, given ‎the newfound chumminess between Hamas and Iran. The ‎latter would like nothing more than to see an ‎escalation in Gaza, as it would take the pressure ‎off Israel’s efforts to curb its entrenchment in ‎Syria. ‎

Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

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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