Never a dull moment in the Middle East, and now AGAIN Gaza is burning, and while we have not come close to the climax of the crisis, which is an all-out Israeli ground invasion, the likelihood of it happening is very high, while it is also very likely that none of the parties involved really wants it to happen. Complicated? Well, this is the Middle East, and so a terror crime, cruel but not unprecedented, committed by Hamas operatives leading to the murder of three innocent Israeli boys started a chain of events which seem to get out of control.
The kidnapping and crime of murder are part of the DNA of Hamas, whereas the cruel murder of an innocent Palestinian boy was unprecedented, obnoxious and ought to be punished exactly as the punishment due the Palestinian murderers. The Israeli government and law enforcement agencies are being closely scrutinized now, and they will have to do what is right. Yet the current fighting is having a wider background than just two heinous cases of criminal murder. It reflects the sense among certain elements in Hamas, particularly, if not solely in its military wing, that the agreement with the Palestinian Authority [PA] has given them a license to provoke troubles with Israel, while at the same time providing them with the shelter of being part of the PA.
They proved right until now, but only just. Sure, all the signs are that the Israeli government is not interested in a full-blown military confrontation with Hamas, but not so much because of the concerns of Mahmoud Abbas rather than the possible negative implications on the relationships with the new Al-Sisi administration in Egypt. The new president is not going to deviate from the basic parameters of the Mubarak policy/strategy towards Israel, with one exception though, and a very significant one, which is connected with Hamas. The Palestinian terror organization is considered a sworn enemy of the new Egyptian President and his regime, due to their alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood [MB].
There have been many signs, mostly covert and subtle, that there has been achieved a tacit Israeli-Egyptian understanding, even coordination as to how to handle Hamas.
Handle? Better say strangle it, and some signs that the terror organization started losing ground in Gaza, mainly due to increasing economic pressure, part of it is the result of a much more effective and forceful Egyptian effort to stem the flow of goods and arms smuggling via Sinai to Gaza.
That said, the Israelis know full well that Sisi is in a very delicate stage of consolidating his control in Egypt, the MB are still there, and large segments of Egyptian public opinion are opposed to any sign of friendship towards Israel. For Sisi, a full-scale Israeli campaign against Hamas at the right juncture is a bad scenario. The Israelis are aware of it, as much as they are aware of the possible difficulties for Jordan, whose attention is currently focused on Iraq and Syria. Some Israelis may think that as the Arab world's attention is exclusively focused on domestic and regional issues, they will acquiesce to a big Israeli operation in Gaza, but they are somewhat unrealistic about that.
A major Israeli assault will inevitably lead to a large number of casualties, including civilians. The sights will inevitably lead to a strong reaction, not an actual Arab involvement, but to sharp diplomatic reactions, which the Israelis will be unhappy about.
In fact, the Gaza situation is NOT primarily a military issue, rather a political and PR problem for Israel. A much larger use of the Israeli fire power, even without the use of massive ground forces, will lead to a huge number of casualties in Gaza. Hamas hides rockets underneath schools and hospitals. The Israelis know it, as well as it is known, that the leadership is hiding there as well, but not the ordinary citizens who have no proper means of defense.
No government in Israel, including one that might be led by noisy right wingers, such as Lieberman and Benett, will unleash the full might of the IDF against Gaza.
They talk about this, but they do NOT want to do it, and so the Israeli leadership knows that at best they can further weaken Hamas, but not totally destroy it.
Surely Netanyahu and Ya'alon do not want it happening. Hamas is aware of it, so it engages in this round of brinkmanship, but brinkmanship between two sides who fundamentally mistrust and hate each other is a very risky business. One thing is certain-: Netanyahu cannot accept indiscriminate firing of rockets at population centers in Israel. THAT ought to stop. HOW? This is the dilemma for the Israeli leader.
Hamas may solve it for him, and lead Israel to do what is undesirable but may prove unavoidable.
The people of Gaza will be the first to suffer, as well as innocent Israelis.
It can still be prevented, but time is running out.