By William Tucker
Chief Correspondent for In Homeland Security
Following the murder of three Israeli teens and a retaliatory murder of a Palestinian teen, both Hamas and Israel have pointed the finger at the other claiming that the respective killings were state approved. Though there is sufficient evidence to suggest that these claims are the product of a decade’s long distrust stemming from unending conflict, it would appear that both sides were looking for an opening to reignite armed hostilities.
So far, the Israeli Air Force has conducted 129 airstrikes targeting 550 fixed targets, while Hamas has increased the level of its rocket barrage targeting Israeli cities. Causality reports are currently rather low, but vary widely depending on the source. It is still very early in this exchange of hostilities and statements from the leaders of Israel and Hamas suggest that they will not end anytime soon. That being said, such heated rhetoric is expected in the midst of such military operations.
In a more practical sense, however, both sides have instituted rather lofty objectives, and though they are likewise to be expected, these goals are understandable. When hostilities commence it is natural for the belligerents to issue high demands only to negotiate down to something more readily attainable.
When looking at this current crisis it doesn’t really deviate much from the realities of previous hostilities between Israel and Hamas – primarily when Gaza is concerned. Hamas feels that it is being frozen out of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks with only Fatah representing the Palestinian people.
For Hamas, it needs to have Fatah, and eventually other players in the peace process come to accept the reality of Hamas rule in Gaza. Understandably, this is difficult for many players. Perhaps more so for Fatah as it would be forced into a power sharing agreement in any future settlement. Israel’s immediate desire is to completely eliminate any missile threat emanating from Gaza. As to the political settlement, Jerusalem has other long term concerns that span well beyond a Hamas missile barrage.
Both belligerents may have been looking for an opening to restart armed hostilities, but for reasons that have to do with developments beyond Israel/Palestinian borders. In this case, Hamas’ aforementioned desires are subject to a much shorter timeframe than are the Israelis, but with Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and possibly Jordan now engulfed in a multifaceted conflict spanning a vast territory with numerous players, Israel can’t afford to get surprised by Hamas in the future only to face a larger threat from beyond. In other words, the rocket threat from Hamas is not desirable, but it is manageable at the moment. This could change, however, if players with an interest in Syria and Iraq feel threatened enough to draw Israel into a more regional conflict.
Israel has done what it can to manage any potential threats from the Syrian war from threatening its borders, but with the Islamic State finding success in Syria and Iraq the dynamic of the regional conflict has shifted. Israel has a small military force and trying to fight simultaneous battles in Gaza to the west and Syria to the north and east is rather risky. Knowing this, Jerusalem has long embraced a military philosophy simply stated as “mowing the grass;” that is essentially knocking out a rival burgeoning military capability before it can become a mature threat. Using its air force to destroy nuclear facilities under construction in Syria and Iraq are one such example. The limited use of force was thought to be a limited risk unlikely to provoke retaliation. So far, it’s held true. As has been stated on this blog by the author previously, Israel’s strategic landscape is rapidly changing. For its part, Hamas also has a limited time to maneuver before the landscape becomes so complex that their political aspirations may well have to adapt to something more complex than what is currently conceived.
Essentially, this long running conflict has become increasingly complicated, and though previously held military doctrines may still be adequate, those days are increasingly numbered.