On the second day of Operation Protective Edge, it’s clear that both sides are trying to cause maximum harm to each other. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put it, the gloves are off. Israel and Hamas are out for blood and there is no sign of a solution on the horizon. The key to that — the “exit strategy” — lies with a third party, Egypt. To some extent, Hamas is firing rockets and missiles at Israel in order to pressure Cairo to open the Rafah border crossing, and to enable the transfer of money via that crossing, in order to ensure the future survival of its regime.
Since the start of the operation, the IDF has attacked a large number of targets, some of Hamas, others of Islamic Jihad, including the homes of operatives who are using their families as human shields. That was the case on Tuesday with the Kaware family from Khan Yunis. Initially, warning shots were fired at the home of a family member, a Hamas operative, but instead of evacuating the building a large number of his relatives gathered on the roof to try to prevent an attack. Minutes later, however, the bombing took place, and seven members of a single family were killed, children among them.
This incident gave Hamas the pretext it wanted to launch rockets at the Dan region. For now, that is Hamas’s “great” achievement: its success in firing missiles not merely at Tel Aviv, but beyond Tel Aviv, all the way to Hadera — about 110 kilometers from northern Gaza. Hezbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah bragged during the Second Lebanon War of 2006 that he could hit south of Haifa; now Hamas has shown it can hit north of Tel Aviv.
This isn’t the only Hezbollah tactic that Hamas is attempting to imitate. Just like the Lebanese Shiite group, Hamas is also attempting to carry out “quality” acts of terrorism. Thus far, its two attempts have failed: the infiltration of Hamas frogmen via the northern beaches of Gaza, heading to Zikim; and the explosives-filled tunnel at Rafah. In the case of the Zikim attack, all five members of the Hamas terror cell were killed. Not long before, the commander of that Hamas unit, Muhammed Shaaban, and two of his aides were eliminated in an Israeli airstrike. As for the Rafah tunnel, Israeli intelligence managed to thwart an unusual attempted attack: Hamas had spent months, if not years, digging that tunnel, which was intended to enable dozens of armed Hamas terrorists to carry out simultaneous raids inside Israel on numerous targets, including civilians.
The paradox, the Catch-22, is that the absence of a “victory picture,” so frustrating for Hamas, is only encouraging its operatives to intensify their attempted attacks. Hamas TV and the Arabic satellite stations are celebrating the rocket attacks and the “raids” on Zikim and at Rafah, but Hamas’s military chiefs can be expected to continue to invest no little planning and effort in the bid for a successful “quality” attack.
Hamas has options: raids via Sinai, paragliders or explosive-carrying drones, Zikim-style infiltrations from the sea, attacks on Israeli naval vessels, and more. The IDF suspects that Hamas has land-to-sea rockets with a 35-kilometer (22 mile) range.
How might all this end? Hamas has presented a list of demands, headed by its call for the release of security prisoners freed in the 2011 Shalit deal who were re-arrested in recent weeks. That’s actually the only demand it is making of Israel. The rest are addressed to Egypt: Hamas wants Cairo to allow the transfer of funds from to Gaza from Qatar so it can pay the salaries of its 40,000 clerks and thus continue to govern. It also wants the Rafah crossing opened so that it can export goods and so that Gazans can travel. The organization is no longer prepared to live with the “quiet for quiet” formula.
But Egypt has other priorities and concerns right now. Fuel prices have risen 78 percent with the cancellation of subsidies; cigarettes and alcohol are up 200 percent. More pertinently, Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi’s Egypt regards Hamas as a firm ally of the Muslim Brotherhood and is more than happy to see it sweat. The chances of Egypt agreeing to the permanent re-opening of the Rafah crossing are slim to none.
The only demand that Israel, Cairo’s partner and ally in the shaping of the security reality in the region, can hope to see accepted is the transfer of the Qatar salary payments by one means or another. Would that be enough to bring Hamas around? Right now, possibly not.