As war clouds gather, northern storm looks more foreboding

Hamas disinterest in conflict despite humanitarian deterioration makes Israeli war with Hezbollah over Iran’s missile manufacturing the more likely course

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Israeli soldiers (top L) and UN peacekeepers (top R) look at Lebanese supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah movement attending a rally against the US president's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on January 28, 2018, in the southern Lebanese village of Alma al-Shaab, on the border with Israel. (AFP PHOTO / Mahmoud ZAYYAT)
Israeli soldiers (top L) and UN peacekeepers (top R) look at Lebanese supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah movement attending a rally against the US president's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on January 28, 2018, in the southern Lebanese village of Alma al-Shaab, on the border with Israel. (AFP PHOTO / Mahmoud ZAYYAT)

Reading the headlines, there is a clear sense that Israel will soon enter a two-front war against Hamas in Gaza and against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Statements made by senior officials, lawmakers, ministers and military personnel, one after the other, seem to be prepping their respective constituencies for such a scenario.

While tensions are rising on both fronts, it is the northern border that presents the more combustible situation and higher likelihood of actual conflict breaking out.

The IDF’s large parachute drill and Beirut’s leaks to various media outlets about its Iranian-financed underground rocket factories both create a feeling that there is serious potential for escalation along the Blue Line.

Israel has made it clear on more than one occasion that it does not intend to agree to the establishment of precision rocket factories in Lebanon.

A similar facility in Syria no longer exists, as a result of an Israeli airstrike, according to Arab media outlets.

But Iranian-backed efforts to build missiles continue in Lebanon and Yemen, where the regime is backing the Houti rebels, though it officially denies this. While the Yemen challenge is Saudi Arabia’s problem, efforts in Lebanon are of utmost concern to Jerusalem, and Israeli military action seems only a matter of time.

This is where Hezbollah’s response comes into play. The Shiite organization has made it clear in the past that while it may let Israeli actions in Syria pass with no more than angry denunciations, when it comes to Lebanese soil, there is no such grace. Rather, there is a distinct possibility that an Israeli attack would invite a Hezbollah military response.

The suspected Iranian base located 50km from the Syrian-Israeli border.

Both sides have made it clear that they are capable of causing serious damage to the other, and both are right.

The question now is whether either side will choose to blink — Israel by ignoring Hezbollah’s missile factories or Hezbollah by ignoring an Israeli attack.

No interest from Hamas

Things are a bit less explosive in Gaza, where, though there is a growing humanitarian crisis, war is apparently not necessarily on the horizon.

The distress there is indeed severe — apparently unprecedented, even for the coastal enclave. On Monday, three more medical clinics were closed due to electricity shortages, and more than 15 others are only functioning partially.

With the unemployment rate at roughly 46% and more than half of the population — 1 million people — requiring food aid from human rights organizations to survive the month, Gaza’s economic collapse, as Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot stated Sunday, is only a matter of time.

An employee of the Palestinian health ministry checks the Beit Hanoun hospital in the northern Gaza Strip after it stopped its services on January 29, 2018, having run out of fuel. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

It is true that the more severe the humanitarian crisis in the Strip, the greater the danger of a violent outbreak, since Hamas has less to lose. And yet, Hamas still has no interest in war.

The terror group does not want a violent confrontation, and that has been made clear from its actions in recent months. Hamas has reportedly been cracking down on Salafi groups in the enclave, in an effort to prevent additional rocket fire at Israel.

The endless Israeli jabbering on this issue has created a feeling in Hamas that Jerusalem might be the one to make the first military move as it has in past wars.

For this reason, Hamas headquarters have been evacuated and the terror group announced a “state of emergency” in an attempt to create as few targets as possible for the Israeli side to hit.

And again, in almost every conversation, sources in the Gaza Strip say that despite the severe economic situation, Hamas is not interested in an escalation in violence.

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