Palestinians are well aware that the Israeli media has recently been highlighting the “growing” military strength of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Military sources in Tel Aviv are cited to support this view, which also requires Israel to embark on a new military offensive against the Palestinians in the besieged territory. This conclusion, which has been addressed seriously by the Palestinian media, leads many in Gaza to believe that they are on the verge of a new war.
However, the analysis that led to such a conclusion was based on incoherent bases. Israel’s focus on the missile testing carried out by the Hamas military wing, the Qassam Brigades, and talk of the fighters being able to rebuild their tunnels does not necessarily mean that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is planning another war. Apart from anything else, Israel has also stressed that the blockade imposed by Egypt’s Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on Gaza has contributed greatly to limiting and reducing Hamas’s military capabilities.
At this moment in time, Israel is unable to achieve its strategic goal of liquidating and eliminating the resistance groups within Gaza without reoccupying the enclave, or at least taking control of Gaza City. A strategic document produced by the Israeli Chief of General Staff, Gadi Eizenkot, and published by the army in an unprecedented move five months ago, states clearly and frankly that any future war with Gaza must aim to gain control of Hamas’s main authority and military command centres.
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The publication of this document means that the Israeli military leadership is obliging the politicians to adhere to certain conditions for a war in the Gaza Strip. These include allowing the army to achieve its strategic goals, including the reoccupation of Gaza.
Publishing Eizenkot’s document was a response to the criticisms directed by Israeli politicians and media about the army’s performance in the 2014 war, especially its failure to resolve matters in less than 51 days. The paper was viewed as a “political” document issued in the context of a confrontation between the political and military elites in Israel.
It is clear that Eizenkot was telling the politicians that the reoccupation of the Gaza Strip is crucial for the achievement of strategic goals in any future war. The go-ahead for a war that does not include this mandate provides a ready-made excuse for the army if it is unable to fulfil its duty to achieve such goals.
The decision-making circles in Tel Aviv are aware of the high military, political and economic price of reoccupying Gaza and staying there. It is no coincidence that, with the exception of former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, there is little enthusiasm in Israel for the reoccupation of the coastal territory, even among those on the political far-right.
With regards to Israel’s military focusing on evidence of Hamas’s growing strength and the reconstruction of tunnels under the border, this is specifically a means to learn lessons from the previous war. The army and Shin Bet internal security agency were accused at that time of being unable to discover the tunnels and of not providing the necessary information for the politicians to determine the goals to be achieved by the end of the offensive.
What reduces the chances of waging an all-out war is the fact that the decision-makers and strategists in Israel are aware that Hamas does not want a major military confrontation. They also know that the movement’s top priority is to tackle the effects of the illegal siege imposed on Gaza by Israel with the backing of the West and its allies in the region, notably Egypt. The Deputy Head of the Hamas Political Bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, made this priority clear on 23 January, while speaking to the press in Gaza, when he also stressed that the movement is not interested in any confrontation with Israel.
At the same time, the belief that Israel may resort to a war on Gaza to cover up its failure to prevent resistance attacks and operations in the occupied West Bank is not logical. The simple reason why is that such acts are being committed by individuals and are not coordinated with any organisations or factions. As such, no military action in Gaza will reduce the frequency of such attacks and operations; it may actually result in their escalation.
Moreover, in the event that the current discussions between Turkey and Israel result in an agreement whereby the siege of Gaza Strip will be lifted, then the chances of a new war against the territory will be reduced; Hamas would be more concerned with benefitting from the energy behind the agreement to relieve the suffering of the Palestinians. This would also benefit Hamas in trying to maintain the peace. Israel believes that normalisation of its relations with Turkey is a strategic benefit, and so it will not be keen to escalate matters against Gaza in a manner that would threaten its chances of reaching an agreement with Ankara.
Nevertheless, we cannot rule out a new war completely. If the siege and consequent economic hardship leads to the collapse of the government and public services in the Gaza Strip, then chaos would prevail. At the very least, this would probably see an escalation of attacks against Israel, and Netanyahu would feel obligated to “respond” with brute force.
Translated from Al Resalah, 25 January, 2016.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.