1. PIJ on hold: The latest round of fighting with Gaza appears to be in the history books, but lingering are the fears surrounding the flareup, the kids still home from school, and a sense of disbelief that the flareup is really over, especially after an earlier ceasefire that was supposed to go into effect Monday night fell apart within minutes.
- Israel Hayom writes that there is a tense calm near the border. “Roads are open, but 55,000 students are staying home.”
- “We are waiting to see if the quiet is stable. We don’t want to take risks at the expense of kids and students,” deputy public security minister Avi Dichter tells Army Radio.
- ToI correspondent Judah Ari Gross tweets that he’s happy his prediction of rockets after the ceasefire proved wrong.
Thrilled to be wrong so far.
Military allows train service to return in southern Israel as shaky ceasefire seems to take hold. https://t.co/LSMTCGeYPc
— Judah Ari Gross (@JudahAriGross) February 25, 2020
2. Half a solution: Walla reports that the south has “partially returned to normal,” listing the panoply of half easements okayed the IDF, like allowing large gatherings, but only indoors.
- And it’s not just in Israel. The site reports that “the Kerem Shalom crossing was open this morning, and some 20 fuel tankers were allowed into Gaza.”
- Speaking to Army Radio, Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah uses the flareup to attack Netanyahu for not knowing what he is doing: “Netanyahu has been talking about a ‘war in Gaza’ since 2009. He doesn’t do a thing because he does not have any foreign policy beyond trying to buy another week of quiet.”
- In Yedioth Ahronoth, Yossi Yehoshua takes aim at Israel’s “half-measures” and the “empty threats” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett.
- “Even though the politicians threatened a ‘harsh blow’ against the Hamas leadership, the orders on the ground were the opposite,” he writes. “ The instruction to the IDF over the last 48 hours were to keep the violence from escalating. Thus the attacks on Gaza during the night were very minor.”
- He also predicts that any ceasefire will be “very fragile,” since Islamic Jihad will want to shoot rockets no matter what up until elections.
- Israel Hayom’s Yoav Limor makes the same prediction: “Hamas wants a broader deal, but the PIJ – which has its own independent and anarchistic policies, backed by Iran – will keep throwing wrenches in the works. It’s doubtful Israel can continue to ignore that for much longer and allow the organization to keep dictating the terms of life for residents of southern Israel.”
3. You Jihad me at hello: He is not alone in trying to delve into the Islamic Jihad mindset, especially in trying to figure out how this whole round of violence got started.
- Several Western news outlets have reported that a video of Israel snatching the corpse of an alleged terrorist with a bulldozer led to massive pressure on Islamic Jihad, which responded by launching rockets, sparking the flareup. Israeli pundits, though, are not buying it.
- Channel 13’s Hezi Sternlicht calls it an “excuse” that the terror group decided to take advantage of “to the maximum degree,” for reasons having to do with internal power struggles.
- The group used the incident to “try and position itself as the group to defend the honor of Gazans, against the lily-livered Hamas which prefers to reach understandings with Israel,” he writes.
- In ToI, Avi Issacharoff says that while Israel’s body-hoarding isn’t doing it any favors, Islamic Jihad is the one to blame: “Even by its own standard, PIJ went overboard with its response, considering it all started with a cell trying to lay an explosive device. Having launched dozens of rockets into the night and on Monday, it is clear the organization seeks to drag the whole of Gaza into war — despite this being one of the better periods the Strip has experienced recently in terms of Israeli concessions.”
- But Kan reports that Islamic Jihad sources told it that it was ready for a ceasefire as far back as Sunday, and only went back to fighting after Israel killed two of its people in Syria. “According to senior officials, Islamic Jihad told mediators that it has no desire to go to war in Gaza, before or after elections.”
4. Hamas is not actually your friend: Hamas’s role, or lack thereof, in the fighting is also under the microscope, with pundits casting a jaundiced eye on the behavior of the terror group.
- Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el writes that Hamas is taking advantage of the complex web of ties in the region in which Qatar holds the key to any progress but uses it sparingly, and not how Israel might like. “If Egypt holds a carrot and a stick, Qatar holds a carton of carrots whose use depends on Israel’s wishes. Therefore, a balance of interests is created in which Israel and two Arab states hostile to one another cooperate against an organization that knows how to exploit the balance of violence it maintains with Israel.”
- Ynet’s Elior Levy maintains that Hamas is also exploiting its role as the supposed adult in the room, while allowing Islamic Jihad to do the grunt work: “Hamas does not have to do its own dirty work. It has Islamic Jihad, the problem child who is more than happy to attack Israel at every opportunity,” he writes. This makes Hamas’ new policy much easier to implement: No more balloon bombs, but when Islamic Jihad raises its heads to attack Israel, Hamas will turn the other way.”
- Channel 12’s Ehud Yaari, however, says the two groups are at actually at each other’s throats, writing that Islamic Jihad a) wants a piece of the benefits flowing into the Strip via Qatar; b) wants to torpedo any arrangement being worked out between Israel and Hamas, at the behest of Iran; and c) wanted to hurt Netanyahu at the polls, since he is the one pushing sanctions against Iran.
- “We shouldn’t refer to Islamic Jihad as a normal Palestinian group. Rather we should see them as they really are: another militia acting in the name and on the orders of Iran, like its counterparts in Iraq and Syria,” he writes.
5. Ballot boxed: It’s not clear how much the Gaza violence will actually affect the elections, though the anti-Netanyahu brigade is certainly trying to exploit it to score political brownie points.
- “It seems the last thing [Netanyahu] needed was a violent eruption in the Strip,” writes Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev. “All the internal polls the Likud is having done indicate that Gaza is his Achilles’ heel. Swing voters aren’t giving the government high scores for its handling of Hamas. An uncontrolled upsurge at this time could actually hurt Netanyahu’s chances more than it would help him.”
- But a poll published by Kan Tuesday, conducted Monday, continues to show Likud leading Blue and White, as it did right before the flareup. However, while a poll published Sunday showed it up by two seats, the Tuesday poll drops that lead to a single seat.
- Tamar Hermann, an expert on Israeli public opinion at the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, tells the AP that Israelis are so used to rounds of fighting, and elections, that the violence shouldn’t have too big of an impact.
- “It’s expected and people are used to it, and resilience is not being eroded because of such ‘normal events,’” she says.
6. Lockdown nation: Reports about the coronavirus ruining elections are apparently yesterday’s news, replaced by reports of the real damage the virus, which is barely present in Israel, is affecting the economy.
- ToI’s Luke Tress reports that officials at an emergency meeting Monday warned that the epidemic could cost Israel 1 percent of its GDP, equal to about NIS 14 billion.
- According to Globes, that’s just in the case of a normal outbreak and not a “nightmare scenario.”
- Economy Minister Eli Cohen tells Army Radio that Israel is “looking into the possibility of reimbursing businesses and airlines over damage from the coronavirus. It could be that we will need to update our tax rules.”
- Haaretz op-ed writer David Rosenberg writes that in the case of an outbreak here Israel’s small size and tradition of freedoms could have an outsize affect on the economy, for the worse: “In area, Israel is smaller than Lombardy and Veneto. Even worse, Israel’s business and high-tech are concentrated in one very small area: The urban conurbation that stretches north and south, and a little east on Tel Aviv.
- “If 150 people in Tel Aviv or Givatayim show coronavirus symptoms, a lockdown of the Tel Aviv area for a few weeks will be economically devastating,” he writes. “There is no other part of the country that comes close to generating the economic activity of greater Tel Aviv.”