When two Gazans fight, Israel suffers

Strip’s Hamas rulers have an interest in keeping things calm after Tuesday’s flareup, but only to a point

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 photo from the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border shows a smoke trail of rockets being fired by Palestinian terrorists from the Gaza Strip into Israel, August 22, 2014. (AFP/Jack Guez)
A photo from the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border shows a smoke trail of rockets being fired by Palestinian terrorists from the Gaza Strip into Israel, August 22, 2014. (AFP/Jack Guez)

As of Wednesday morning, the latest violent flareup between Israel and the Gaza Strip appears to have come to a quick conclusion, as expected.

The rocket barrage that Islamic Jihad launched — due to internal tensions within the group — drew a limited, measured Israeli response that included bombardments of two of its targets in Rafah and Khan Yunis, the headquarters of the Popular Resistance Committees, and a Hamas position in the northern Gaza Strip. All the positions were empty and no one was injured, evidently due to an Israeli effort to prevent loss of life that likely would have drawn an additional Palestinian attack.

Despite the rocket attack on the Ashdod area, Hamas and Israel seem to have a clear interest in keeping things calm between them. Israel’s measured response was a message to Hamas that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government wants to maintain the status quo. In other words, calm will be answered with calm, and Israel will work to enable Gaza’s economic survival.

Beyond that message, Israel’s bombardment of empty buildings overnight also shows its acknowledgment of the situation that has been created vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip: As far as the Israeli government and its security forces are concerned, keeping Hamas in power is a security interest since the alternatives are worse. Israeli security officials know that the fall of Hamas’s regime will mean either long-term anarchy in the Gaza Strip or Israel’s recapture of the region — neither of which Israel wants.

Still, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of this situation, as well. Hamas, which acted Tuesday night to arrest those suspected of launching the rockets, is trying to prevent the various groups, including Islamic Jihad, from dragging Gaza and Israel into a war. But Hamas cannot prevent every such attempt.

Gaza’s rulers also find it convenient, to a certain extent, to enable sporadic rocket fire in order to avoid being dragged into an internal war in Gaza, to not be seen as collaborating with Israel, and to signal to Jerusalem that total calm will remain elusive as long as the Gaza problem is not solved entirely and comprehensively.

Tuesday night’s rocket fire, as The Times of Israel reported, came out of an internal conflict between sector commanders in Islamic Jihad. In a personal conflict between the incoming and outgoing commanders of the northern Gaza Strip — a conflict that included the kidnapping of activists close to the dismissed commander — close associates of the latter fired rockets at Israel. And that is the status quo between Israel and the Gaza Strip: Two Gazans fight one another, and the chips fly at Israel.

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