What was this latest Gaza kerfuffle about, anyway?

Hamas risked outright war by firing on the Sharon region on Monday – and for what? To embarrass Netanyahu? To prepare for Saturday’s ‘million man march?’

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.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh flashes a 'v for victory' sign on March 27, 2019, next to the rubble of what was once his office in Gaza City, which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike two days earlier. (Hamas)
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh flashes a 'v for victory' sign on March 27, 2019, next to the rubble of what was once his office in Gaza City, which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike two days earlier. (Hamas)

It is hard to know who to believe. Do we believe the politicians who told us that “there was no cease-fire”; the army, which at that same moment lifted restrictions in the south, or perhaps the leader of Hamas, who said, summing up the flare-up, that “the resistance had its say and the occupation got the message?”

As of this writing, late Wednesday, the cease-fire is being kept, even if the Israeli prime minister will not acknowledge that there is one, due to his election campaign. Hamas succeeded in scuttling his plans time and again — first by keeping him from appearing on the stage he loves so much, the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, which he “abandoned” to Benny Gantz — and then by shattering his image as “Mr. Security” by showing what every child in Gaza knows: that the Israeli government wants Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Neither Netanyahu nor his ministers will admit it, but the alternative to Hamas’s regime in Gaza would be far more chaotic and dangerous, which is why the prime minister would rather reach an agreement with Hamas, of whatever kind, than start a war that will lead nowhere.

IDF tanks stationed near the Israeli Gaza border on March 27, 2019. (Dudi Modan/Flash90)

Yet even now it is not clear what Hamas was trying to accomplish in this week’s escalation — which began with a rocket attack that flattened a home and injured seven Israelis early Monday — other than keeping Gaza in the headlines.

It was willing to risk war, firing a rocket at the Sharon region while fully aware that no real change would happen on the ground from any fallout, at least until after the elections. Hamas’s leaders realize that a brief round of rocket strikes, such as the one we’ve just witnessed, proceeded according to the Arabic saying: “Titi titi, zay ma ruhti, zay ma jiti” — As I came in, so I went out.

The situation in Gaza remained unchanged, and Hamas continues to make a show of wanting escalation without actually doing anything that might precipitate a war. The best that might be said for this policy, from Hamas’s perspective, is that it proves Hamas has not become like the Palestinian Authority, which cooperates with Israel.

The question now is how fragile the non-cease-fire will prove to be, after it was reached in the nick of time through the mediation of Egypt and of UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov. The latter two are growing used to serving as babysitters of sorts to quarreling children who keep calling on them to break up the latest fight.

An infant’s swing outside the home of the Wolf family in the central Israeli village of Mishmeret, which was destroyed in the early morning hours of March 25, 2019 by a rocket fired from Gaza. (Jack Guez/AFP)

With no comprehensive solution in sight for the Gaza Strip, the next fight is only a matter of time — very little time; it may come as soon as this Saturday. That’s the date, March 30, that Hamas has slated to mark the one-year anniversary of its “march of return” protests. The group continues to plan its “million man march” (which may actually reach as high as a few tens of thousands of participants) for that day, and will want to make the event particularly bloody.

And with images of dead and wounded boosting Hamas’s credibility, what will be the response from Palestinians and Israelis? Will the rocket fire at Israel resume? Will the Israeli election campaign turn to focus once more on Gaza? Or will it all pass quietly by, returning Israelis to more comfortable regular campaign chatter about hacked telephones, submarines and other ordinary things?

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