There is no martial solution to the situation in Gaza. The army could, albeit with a small but painful price in blood, effectively topple the Hamas government in a matter of hours and seize control of the Gaza Strip in a matter of days. But then what? As Maj. Gen. (res) Avi Mizrachi said on Army Radio on Thursday morning, “Who would we give the keys to?” Who would rule? And does anarchy serve Israel’s interests more than a weakened Hamas regime?
Professor Uzi Rabi, the director of Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, perceives Gaza as a microcosm of the Middle East – a place where central control is dwindling and small terror squads have the ability to dictate the outbreak of war.
“The Gaza Strip has been taken captive by Islamic Jihad,” he said. “A sub-state actor has stolen the keys to escalation and de-escalation [of the conflict].”
And Hamas, which he terms a semi-state group, is caught in the middle – unwilling to denounce Islamic Jihad’s action and “yearning for a tahadiyeh” or truce.
Hamas, to be sure, is in dire straits. The organization has been declared an illegal terror group in Egypt, where it is seen as an enemy of the state. The vast majority of the smuggling tunnels running into Gaza have been blocked.
Its ties with Iran, the great supporter of terror “resistance” groups, are fraught due to the regional struggles. And Islamic Jihad, beholden to no one in Gaza, frustrated by the seizure of the Klos-C, eager to prove its loyalty to Iran, and aware of Hamas’s predicament – its unwillingness to be seen as doing the work of the Zionists – has seized the opportunity and begun preying on Hamas’s hold over sovereignty.
All of which leaves Israel in a bind. On Thursday Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon met with senior defense officials in advance of an emergency session of cabinet. The statement he released was somewhat conciliatory in tone, saying that “the price paid by the terror groups in Gaza has been heavy.” But if the escalation continued, Ya’alon said, Israel would strike Islamic Jihad terrorists – the group consists of only several hundred people and no easy institutional targets – and “Hamas and its wider interests.”
The threat is decapitation, the end of Hamas reign. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman advocated for just that on Wednesday. But such a move would not likely pave the path for PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s triumphant return to the Gaza Strip.
Instead, the more plausible scenario, were Hamas to be weakened to the point of losing its hold over Gaza, would be to push it more toward some of the darkest corners of the Middle East, no-go zones like the Sinai Peninsula and Somalia. Therefore, the most reasonable course of action, Rabi said, if Palestinian Islamic Jihad is able to dictate a full-scale ground operation, is for Israel to coordinate its moves with “an international tribunal” in which the United States, Egypt and other regional actors reach an implementable end-game that ensures that Gaza, post invasion, does not disintegrate into anarchy.