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Analysis

Israel has Iran on the brain, and all the kites in Gaza won’t change that

Realpolitik dictates that threats from Syria trump Hamas, leaving Israelis and Palestinians on both sides of the border little hope for change beyond the cycles of flareups

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.

A picture taken on July 14, 2018, shows a smoke plume rising following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
A picture taken on July 14, 2018, shows a smoke plume rising following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

There’s a popular saying in Arabic that roughly translates to “I came the way I left.” In other words, there was a lot of fuss, but no progress has been made. It’s a sentiment familiar to anyone watching the Gaza border’s seemingly endless cycles of violence.

It is likely too early to summarize what happened in and around Gaza over the last 48 hours, but there is a feeling that the latest bout of violence — the most serious confrontation between Israel and Hamas since the 2014 war — was unnecessary and unproductive, and left the situation in the Palestinian territory unchanged.

Early Sunday, several mortar shells were fired at Gaza-adjacent Israeli communities, apparently remnants of the violence a day earlier. Technically, this latest bout of violence, starting with Israeli airstrikes late Friday night, was a direct response to a violent riot along the Gaza border earlier in the day in which an IDF soldier was injured by a grenade thrown by a Palestinian.

But in practice, the IDF bombardment was an opportunity for Israel to destroy Hamas’s cross border tunnels it has long known about, and an effort to change the status quo with the Strip’s rulers regarding the increasing arson balloon and kite attacks.

There were those in Israel and in the IDF who believed that bombing empty Hamas facilities would cause the organization to panic and order its members to stop flying incendiary devices over the border that have burned thousands of acres of forests and agricultural fields in recent months. In addition, Israel hoped the strikes would appease residents of southern Israel and right-wing politicians who have been demanding a heavier response to the increasing arson attacks.

It’s doubtful the arson kite phenomenon will be stemmed, however, and thus the demands for action will only intensify.

Palestinian protesters fly a kite with a burning rag dangling from its tail to during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

Hamas was less than enthusiastic about the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire deal reached on Saturday. When it was informed the deal was going into effect, the terror group launched dozens of rockets at Israeli communities on the other side of the border to register its discontent without completely refusing to accept it.

And again, a few hours into the ceasefire, Hamas sources leaked that Egypt was pressuring the group to stop launching rockets and adhere to the ceasefire.

Nonetheless, both sides did want Egypt to successfully broker that truce to end the violence.

And everyone knows — Israel, Hamas and Egypt — that the next round of fighting is on the horizon, and that the reality in Gaza is unlikely to change significantly in the wake of the weekend violence.

The Israeli politicians who are quick to announce the government must not tolerate the ongoing “kite terrorism” are not telling the public the truth.

Firstly, the kites are not the most urgent security threat facing Israel but more like third or fourth down that list. Gaza has been downgraded, and is now regarded to be a less critical threat to Israel than the one posed by the Iranian military along the northern border in the sunset of the Syrian war.

Palestinian boys walk through the wreckage of a building that was damaged by Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on July 15, 2018. (AFP / MAHMUD HAMS)

Israel sees getting dragged into a complicated war in Gaza over incendiary kites as unnecessary for the IDF while a much more critical campaign is being waged in Syria over Iran.

So long as Iran is trying to entrench itself near the Golan border, it’s doubtful the reality for the Israeli residents living near the Gaza border — where kites are sparking multiple fires every day — will radically change in the near future.

Secondly, Israel — though politicians from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government generally refrain from saying this in public — wants to ensure the survival of Hamas in Gaza. Not out of affection for the organization, but because the alternatives to that terrorist group ruling the Strip are either complete chaos or Israel re-occupying Gaza and ruling over its 2 million residents.

This is the consideration behind Israel’s cautious policy regarding Gaza. A bout of violence, incendiary kites and demonstrations along the border is considered to be “tolerable.” It certainly does not warrant an all-out war that could force Israel to deal with far more difficult decisions than those it is already facing.

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