THE BLOG
07/14/2014 09:56 am ET Updated Sep 13, 2014

Reactions to the Gaza-Israel War -- Hamas Needs to Worry

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The current round of hostilities between Hamas and Israel is continuing along familiar lines. First, Hamas starts the round by indiscriminately firing rockets designed to hit civilians. Then, the Israelis start reacting, first slowly, then more intensely, and inevitably Hamas launches the campaign of self-victimization, yelling of foul play, claiming that the Israeli reaction is disproportional, as if there is any universally accepted scale of reaction to barbaric attacks on civilian population, the type of which Hamas is engaged in.

As it all drags itself into the second week, without any end in sight, there are other familiar features from former rounds which come out into the open, almost as an inevitable ritual. One of them is demonstrations by pro-Palestinians in Europe and South America, mostly attended by Muslims, much less so by others. What is SO noticeable in many of these demonstrations is the overt anti-Semitic tone. There is no attempt even to hide it, and while once it was the shout of "down with Zionists" (bad enough...), now it is "burn all the Jews," and a siege on a crowded synagogue in Paris. PR and psychological warfare are always a very integral part of all that, so in Israel, at least, these manifestations of hatred achieve the obvious effect of solidifying and cementing nationalist feelings, not something that the Netanyahu government is sorry about ... If there is a sense of some isolation in Israel, then it is largely mitigated by the obvious anger at the double standards that are so much in display, surely as is being viewed by the vast majority of Israelis.

Jews abroad, however, react very strongly. French Jews, for example, are already engaged in what some call as the exodus from France, as more and more Jews move to Israel and/or are considering doing this. Not bad for the Israelis either.

The truth is that in this round the volume of international criticism of Israel voiced by governments is more muted than before, at least until now. Altogether, there is NO domestic pressure on the government to go softer on Hamas and public opinion polls indicate over 90% support for the government. As the hostilities will drag on, this rate of support is likely to drop somewhat, but not in a way leading to any major problem for Netanyahu. Such pressure will be more significant only if the public will sense that the round ends with no clear victory in sight, a scenario which will then play to the hands of the likes of Benett and Lieberman. But that remains to be seen.

Where there is a noticeable departure from the all too familiar features of previous rounds it is in the Middle East itself. Let us start in Gaza, where many thousands of locals DO NOT heed the cruel call of their hiding leaders, and DO evacuate large parts of the northern strip in compliance with the Israeli calls to do so. They want to live, and the well-sheltered Hamas leaders want them to be a "human shield." Now, the Hamas leaders from underneath the hospitals and schools of Gaza lament the absence of shelters for their population. Who stopped them from doing exactly that, providing their people with this elementary service? Better, who asked them to start the current round of aggression in the first place?

Many Gazans are interviewed by foreign news organizations and say loudly and clearly exactly that. This was NOT the case in previous rounds. Even Gazan journalists are interviewed in Israeli media outlets and say exactly that.

Then there is Egypt, which is playing an important role, not only behind the scenes. As was explained in this blog previously, the Israelis take note of the al-Sisi administration. According to unverified reports, Hamas rejects Egyptian attempts to mediate a ceasefire, and they know why ... While the campaign is on, the Egyptian army publicly announces the closure of smuggling tunnels from Sinai to Gaza and the Gaza-Sinai crossing points are closed, something which puts enormous pressure on the Palestinians, at a time, by the way, when the Israelis ALLOW convoys of supply to cross from Israel to Gaza.

Surely, Hamas pays the price for the alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and there are many in Egypt who know, remember and cannot forgive it. There are many all over the Sunni Middle East who also remember how Hamas has played a double game about Syria, and its greatest sin of all, the ongoing relationships with Iran. There are more than few references to that in the Arab press; the Arab League is very sluggish in its reactions; and there are bigger demonstrations in Europe than in the Middle East. A new Middle East? Far from it, but a changing one, as the automatic instinct to blame Israel, while still there, is diminishing in favor of a more nuanced approach -- one which is based on the TRUE interests of some countries, which places the Palestinians and their problems much lower in the list of priorities than ever before.

All this may be good news for Israel, but only just. The Netanyahu government plays cleverly the card of a major ground attack, basically telling the Arab states and the international community "hold us," while it REALLY does not want to engage in such a campaign. It could be conceived as a bluff, and when bluffs are called, positions and situations tend to change, and in the Middle East, such changes can be swift.

So, also Netanyhu acts within constraints, and while he has quite a few reasons to feel that he still has time on his side, he SHOULD realize that it is not limitless.