An Israeli research report about the successes and failures of both sides in the recent Israeli offensive against Gaza has concluded that a long-term calm in the region has to be ruled out. There are, claims the author, a number of reasons which could trigger a new confrontation.
“Following the Operation: The Balance Between the Two Sides”, written by Ephraim Kam and published by the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), provides an extensive study of the results of Operation Pillar of Defence from an Israeli point of view. The paper stresses that many questions remain regarding the offensive’s outcome, including the details of a future arrangement between Israel and Hamas.
At the military level, the researcher believes that Israel emerged from the confrontation in Gaza “with the upper hand”; it “dealt a heavy blow to the rocket systems of Hamas and the other organisations in the Gaza Strip”; and it put Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system into use for the first time, with an 84 per cent success rate.
As for Hamas, Kam says that its rockets will continue to be an important weapon in its hands, and may continue to disrupt the regularity of life in Israel. It has “earned some points” among the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim public.
While the report’s writer finds the balance of the military aspects of the conflict to be in favour of Israel, he says that the picture is more complicated at the political level. In particular, Israel enjoyed wide support from the West and the US, which “could enable Israel to embark on another military move”.
The change in the Egyptian leadership, says Kam, plays into Hamas’s hands, not least because of Israel’s fear of damaging peaceful relations with Cairo. He added that the new Egyptian regime is keen to be a prime mediator between Israel and Hamas; this in itself is regarded as a positive factor in Israel’s favour.
Excluding any possibility of a peace agreement without talking to Hamas, even indirectly, and responding to their demands, the report notes that Israel’s war has improved the movement’s status internationally at the expense of status of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. The PA, says Kam, has been weakened.
Nevertheless, the Israeli researcher believes that the military aspects of the conflict produced conditions that make Hamas more interested in maintaining the calm. He stressed, though, that it is not clear how long the current relative calm will last because the effects of the offensive are still being felt and certain conditions remain which may lead to a deterioration of the situation. Any analysis, therefore, has to be regarded as temporary.
Kam believes that two factors encourage Hamas to maintain the status quo, at least for the time being. “First, Hamas and the other organisations want to rebuild their rocket capabilities and reinforce the deterrence against Israel,” he said, “but then they will be tempted to provoke [sic] Israel once again.”
The second factor, adds Kam, is that, unlike Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas cannot ignore the strength of other resistance groups in the Gaza Strip. Thus, Iran may interfere based on its relationship with the Islamic Jihad movement and on Hamas’s increasing need for military and financial support from Tehran, which is likely to “push for radicalism”.