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Analysis

Hamas thinks Israel will want to end this conflict quickly; it could be wrong

The terror group got its ‘victory pictures’ but has no exit plan for the violence it started, Gaza is paying a heavy price, and Netanyahu may not rush to end the IDF counterstrikes

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.

Medics evacuate an injured man at the scene where an apartment building was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in Ashkelon, southern Israel, on May 11, 2021. (Edi Israel/Flash90)
Medics evacuate an injured man at the scene where an apartment building was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in Ashkelon, southern Israel, on May 11, 2021. (Edi Israel/Flash90)

At 6 p.m. on Monday, Hamas elected to embark on a foolish, arrogant misadventure. It might score some points with the Arab public, including in the West Bank and the wider region, but it will cost the Gaza Strip a heavy price and, as the Gaza death toll mounts, is unlikely to boost Hamas’s standing there.

Rather like the case with Hezbollah in 2006, Hamas’s assumption is that the Israeli leadership will want to end this round of fighting as quickly as possible. That’s what its experience with Netanyahu governments has taught it. The prime minister has created an almost surreal reality over the years in which Israel has essentially done no small amount to help enable Hamas to retain its rule over Gaza, including permitting the distribution by Qatar of funding to alleviate some of the Strip’s acute poverty, while Hamas for its part has generally avoided crossing red lines in its dealings with Israel.

But on Monday Hamas shattered the status quo, having determined that the benefits of doing so outweighed the costs. It reckons it will be portrayed as the defender of Jerusalem and of Al-Aqsa Mosque, the restorer of lost Palestinian honor, while the rival Palestinian Authority is left looking particularly ridiculous. But Hamas, which initiated the incitement regarding Jerusalem in recent weeks, maintained it, and managed to set the city on fire, went one step too far.

When its absurd “ultimatum” to Israel to withdraw by 6 p.m. from Sheikh Jarrah and the Temple Mount Compound expired, it attained its desired victory pictures: The barrage of rockets it fired at Jerusalem prompted the evacuation of MKs from the Knesset plenum and halted the Jerusalem Flag March.

The Knesset plenum is evacuated during a Hamas rocket barrage from Gaza, May 10, 2021. The Knesset was holding a session marking the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. (Twitter screenshot)

But the true nature of victory is far from determined yet. Hamas has no exit plan, apart from a reliance on the intuition of commanders such as Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif that Israel will want to end this conflict quickly. Whoever made the decision to fire those rockets appears to have failed to think this through, and it looks like a miscalculation. A prolonged conflict against Hamas could actually give the Netanyahu government the oxygen it needs to torpedo the establishment of a “change bloc” coalition relying on the Arab Islamist party Ra’am.

What exactly were Deif and his colleagues thinking when they decided to ruin Eid al-Fitr, the celebration at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, for the 2 million residents of Gaza? Apparently, not a lot. But plainly, the narrow political considerations of the Hamas leadership outweighed the interests of the Gazan public. The sound of vast crowds of young Palestinians on the Temple Mount calling out, “Deif, blow up Tel Aviv,” apparently went to the terror commander’s head; after so many years in the shadows he seems to have let his ego take center stage.

An overhead view of an Ashkelon home badly damaged by a rocket fired from Gaza on May 11, 2021. A man was seriously hurt in the attack. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Two final points.

First, despite all the furor in Jerusalem, all the clashes, and the hundreds injured on the Temple Mount, the West Bank Palestinian public has remained largely indifferent, disconnected from Gaza and Jerusalem, and a third intifada does not, at this stage, appear to be on the horizon.

A descent into major conflict with Gaza, by contrast, is an unfortunately more realistic prospect.

The mother of Hussein Hamad, 11, is comforted by mourners during his funeral in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip on May 11, 2021. Israel and Hamas exchanged heavy fire, with 22 Palestinians killed in Gaza, nine of them children, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. The IDF said several of the Gaza fatalities were caused by Gaza rockets aimed at Israel that misfired or landed inside Gaza. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Second, despite what would appear to have been a deliberate decision by Hamas to escalate toward such full-scale conflict, the terror group, after that 6 p.m. barrage,  and as of this writing, has focused its fire into Israeli areas closer to Gaza, rather than into central Israel and the Jerusalem area again — indicating a desire to avoid complicating the situation still further. In the meantime, Egypt, the UN and all the usual players are already trying to stop the conflict.

The question is whether Netanyahu is motivated to end it at this stage, when Monday’s Hamas escalation already caused the halting of negotiations between Ra’am, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett on the establishment of a “change bloc” government.

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