07/15/2014 02:30 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2014

Israel's 10th War: What's Next


As the war between Israel and Hamas flares up, most attention naturally focuses on Hamas rockets and Israeli air strikes and reserve call-ups. But, it is equally important to understand those broader factors that will govern the conduct of the war and its likely outcome.

In this war Israel enjoys several advantages in Operation Preventive Edge against Hamas that it lacked last time around. First, and foremost, there is now an implicit understanding between Al Sisi's Egypt and Israel. Having overthrown the Muslim Brotherhood Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi last July, Al Sisi's Egypt sees Muslim Brotherhood Hamas as a mortal enemy. Before this war, Egypt closed the majority of all tunnels that provided life support for Hamas. In turn, Israel significantly shut down much of the supplies that the Gazans needed for construction.

The result was a dire economic downturn for Hamas ruled-Gaza, which has a GDP/capita of less than $1,000 (compared to $52,000 for the US) and a stunning 41 percent unemployment rate. The economic war is likely to continue, since Gaza has only two borders: a 33-mile border with Israel and an 8-mile border with Egypt. Its access to the Mediterranean Sea is controlled by Israel and Egypt.

Second, Gaza's soaring unemployment rate (numbering almost 200,000 Gazans among 1.8 million people) does two important things for Israel: first, it reduces the willingness of Gazans to sacrifice for Hamas and it means that Israel will be able to gain more human intelligence from Gazans eager to find any way out. The latest June poll conducted from Ramallah found that Hamas would receive barely one-third of the vote (35 percent) in a legislative election in Gaza compared to 42 percent for Fatah. And, Israel, by one account, already has 20,000 to 30,000 Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza providing human intelligence. Now it will have even more, drawn from the majority of Gazans who have had enough of radical Hamas that has done nothing to alleviate Gaza's poverty.

Third, Hamas has also lost nearly all of its international support. Egypt is an open enemy. So, too, is Syria, which kicked the Hamas politburo out of Damascus after Hamas declared its support for ousting Bashar al-Assad. Shiite dominated Iraq, engaged in a three-sided civil war with the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, will do almost nothing for Sunni Hamas. The fact that Iran has now leaned mildly back towards Hamas guarantees that oil-rich Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, fearful of a likely nuclear Shiite Iran, will not bail it out. Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah government in the West Bank, which nominally rules Gaza (but really Hamas is still in charge), would never come to the rescue of Hamas. For it was Hamas which forcibly drove Fatah out of Gaza into the West Bank in a punishing three-day military campaign in 2007. Finally there is Jordan, direly afraid of ISIS coming across the border. With Israel committed to its defense, royalist Jordan would never come to the defense of fundamentalist Hamas.

That leaves Iran, which has reduced its support for Hamas, and Qatar, which is the lone Gulf state to support it -- but leery of getting too far out of line with its Gulf neighbors. And Iran, even if it wished, would not be able to re-supply Gaza whose borders are controlled by two Hamas enemies, Israel and Egypt.

Finally, Israel has learned from three previous wars with Hamas and Hezbollah. It has created a training camp for such a land invasion of Gaza and relentlessly trained for it. A world leader in high technology, Israel, with a first-rate air force, has benefited from technological development that allow a single airplane to attack five or even more targets simultaneously. And Gaza is very small: 5 to 8 miles wide and 28 miles long, not even 150 square miles. There is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, especially when the other side has strong technical and human intelligence.

Yet, perhaps ironically, as Israel carries out an intense air campaign and likely ground campaign, it does not want total victory. Ever since Arik Sharon took Israel out of Gaza in 2005 there is no desire in Israel to rule Gaza again. The alternatives to Hamas -- Sunni radical fundamentalist ISIS or the radical Gaza Salafists -- would be even worse for Israel. What then is the purpose of all this? Perhaps there is one.

With a land and sea blockade preventing Iran possibly resupplying Hamas with new rockets, massively depleting the 10,000 Hamas rockets suddenly seems to Israel like the most rational solution in a hopelessly irrational Middle East.