(August 13, 2018 / JNS)
This week will mark 12 years since the Second Lebanon War ended. Since then, the Israel-Lebanon border has been the quietest it has been for decades.
It is true that Hezbollah has been using this peace and quiet to build up its missile arsenal. It is believed that the Shi’ite terrorist group is currently in possession of more than 100,000 missiles—10 times more than it had in 2006—and it is no secret that it currently strives to increase their range and improve their accuracy.
Still, Hezbollah has made sure to avoid any provocation along the border. The memory of the blow Israel dealt it is still fresh, as is the memory of the humiliation suffered by its leader, Hassan Nasrallah.
One cannot forget, however, that there are two sides to this coin. Yes, Hezbollah remains deterred but Israel is also careful not to target its interests, neither on the border nor on Lebanese soil. Thus, in the shadow of a balance of mutual deterrence, both parties are careful not to violate the tacit understandings formed between them following the 2006 conflict.
A similar balance of mutual deterrence is also being hammered out on Syrian soil, opposite Iran. Foreign media outlets may keep reporting on alleged Israeli strikes against Iranian assets in Syria, but since Israel and Iran traded blows in May—after Iranian-backed troops fired missiles at the Golan Heights—Israel has been making a conscious effort not to target Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officials in Syria.
In Gaza, however, Israeli deterrence has been eroded, at times to the point of seeming hollow, and the last few weeks have taught us that deterrence is not enough to prevent rocket fire and flare-ups on the border.
Hamas may avoid, at this time, firing rockets deeper into Israel, but it does not hesitate to fire a barrage of mortar shells and Qassam rockets at Israeli border-adjacent communities. Israel, for its part, has opted to exercise restraint, and while it does not carry out lethal attacks in Gaza, it has been pounding Hamas positions there.
In recent weeks, it seems that Hamas has become envious of the equation reached with Hezbollah and seeks to impose a similar one on the Gaza border, meaning to deny the Israel Defense Forces its operational freedom along the security fence by way of cementing a reality in which any Israeli strike in Gaza would trigger a rocket salvo on the south.
In the absence of a comprehensive, long-term Israeli strategy with respect to Hamas rule in Gaza, and in the absence of a viable alternative to this rule, Israel has, time and again, been forced to accept understanding brokers with Hamas via Egyptian mediation.
It seems that now, Israel is willing to undertake even broader understandings that would limit its operational freedom along the border. This time, however, it is doubtful Hamas can ensure peace and quiet along the border.
Hamas, unlike Hezbollah, lacks solid domestic support, and it would struggle to enforce a ceasefire on the rival terrorist groups in Gaza, which repeatedly flout its authority.
Moreover, Gaza is under a maritime Israeli blockade, as well as strict Israeli and Egyptian limitations on land crossings, which have rendered its economy to shambles. This means that Hamas has no clear interest to enforce a ceasefire and prevent an escalation.
One can only hope that despite the Swiss cheese-like nature of any deal with Hamas, Gaza’s rulers would be able to uphold the temporary truce for a while.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.