The latest Israeli attack on Gaza took place between 3-5 May as the Israeli killing machine continued to target peaceful demonstrators on the Gaza border as part of the Great Return Marches on one hand, and because of its continued policy of procrastination and stalling adopted by Israel in implementing the humanitarian understandings it agreed upon with Hamas, mediated by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations, on the other.
It is no longer a secret that more than six months after these understandings came into effect, the Israeli government has been seeking to manage the crisis caused by Gaza’s living conditions without seeking to resolve it. This is because it wants to keep Gaza in a state of neither living nor dying.
This ongoing Israeli policy has been a recurring match that ignites from time to time, given the Palestinians’ discomfort with the results of the understandings. The latest escalation in Gaza has been a very striking example of this, because Hamas accuses Israel of only implementing a fraction of what has been agreed upon.
Obviously, things do not always seem to be under control, because of the Palestinian state of frustration. The situation of the people of Gaza is becoming increasingly poor and dangerous and there is a state of dissatisfaction with the modest humanitarian facilities, which they were promised, or because they are being implemented in a slow manner.
The slower understandings are being implemented, the more frustrated Gazans become and the result of this is an increasing number of incendiary balloons, burning kites and Israel’s reactions. We have witnessed this over the past few days in the form of the most violent military escalation since the end of the Gaza war in the summer of 2014.
I will not go into the daily events and incidents of the past three days of attack, as this is not my goal. Instead, I will provide a military and political reading of these days’ developments that indicate that they were a qualitative addition to the state of security and military exhaustion experience by Israel with the resistance in Gaza since the start of the Great Return Marches in March 2018.
Over the three days of the attack, there were major Palestinian casualties, both human and material, but Israel did not avoid losses either. The settlers complained about the continued attrition war with Gaza, which has lasted much longer than the attrition war with Egypt shortly before the 1973 war. This is due to the economic and psychological losses they suffered as a result of their fear of rockets and explosions, as well as the fact that a quarter of a million students stopped going to school.
There were many Israeli reactions to the latest escalation in Gaza amid contrasting demands, ranging between a large-scale military operation against Hamas and engaging in a political process with the Palestinian Authority, stressing the need to restore the deterrent that had been dispelled in the past year without surrendering to Hamas. Instead, there were calls to continue the attacks against it and increase the assassination of its leaders.
Moreover, there has been an increase in the Israeli convictions that Hamas is extorting Israel and is succeeding, after each round of escalation, in achieving its demands, because it knows Israel is under pressure due to the upcoming events. These events include Independence Day, Memorial Day and Eurovision. Therefore, they believe Hamas is trying to take advantage of Israel and prefers to push Israel to a political precipice.
According to the Israeli evaluation, the result of the latest escalation in Gaza revealed that Hamas is determining the Israeli agenda amid increasing confessions that Israel would not find a solution to the Gaza issue because there is no magic solution to the situation there.
While the Israeli army caused great damage to Hamas’ military capabilities, it did not completely eliminate them. The matter of deterrence is complex and Gaza won’t be going anywhere, nor will it drown in the sea, like former Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, had wished during the First Intifada.
The current round against Hamas ended without Israel achieving any major achievements, because the periods of time between one round of escalation and another are shorter than before. Meanwhile, the Palestinian factions are growing stronger with time, this shows that the rounds ending in this way means that the battle was not prevented, but rather postponed.
Moreover, the launching of 700 rocket-propelled grenades towards the Israeli areas and causing deaths and injuries, is a true depiction of Israel’s loss of its deterring power. However, all its government did, as it did before, is to prepare for the next confrontation. Therefore, we should expect the outbreak of another, more dangerous battle, soon.
The recent Israeli escalation against Gaza revealed that Netanyahu, like all politicians in Israel, fell into a strategic trap, by not wanting to occupy Gaza or assume responsibility for it. Therefore, he made tactical mistakes and the result of this is that the deterring power that Hamas possesses in Gaza recuperated during the last round of escalation. Now the armed militants in Gaza define the agenda for the citizens of Israel, working as they see fit.
The Israeli attack on Netanyahu has reached the level of someone saying “Netanyahu is being blackmailed by Hamas again and he bought a temporary truce from them in order to remain in power. Netanyahu is only defending himself and leaving Israel’s security in the hands of Hamas fighters, after the last round showed that Hamas is the boss and it decides when the next round will be and how it will end.”
The recent Israeli aggression on Gaza showed a number of new indicators, especially regarding the situation on the ground, which contributed in one way or another to stopping the attack after the political, military and security circles in Israel realised what the resistance in Gaza possesses. They also became aware of the dangers of continuing the current round of escalation, fearing that it would develop into a large-scale war.
The emergence of some new military indicators of what the resistance possesses is a new incentive for Israel to respond to the efforts for a truce, fearing the emergence of more combative tools and weapons that may open the door to a devastating war. This is how the option of a ceasefire came into play, although it may not last long.
The recent attack confirmed that Israel is not the only one in the battlefield and that the resistance factions have capabilities in terms of “quantity and type” that qualifies it to inflict painful blows to Israel. We have seen some of them.
The significant qualitative development of the resistance in Gaza is evident in specific points, the most important of which are: the rockets used during the attack, which proved to be more destructive and have a longer range compared to past escalations. Israel was not able to hide the destruction caused by these rockets and the causalities suffered in major cities such as Majdal and Ashdod.
The resistance in Gaza proved that it possesses an effective deterrent force by using the Cornet missiles, precisely pin-pointing its targets, and causing casualties on those specific targets, and nowhere else. Moreover, we witnessed the video footage broadcast by the resistance factions’ joint command centre, targeting an Israeli military vehicle, while it could have targeted a train or civilian vehicle passing through the same place at the time of the attack.
This is perhaps the second time that the joint command room of the Palestinian resistance factions have broadcast footage using the Cornet missiles, despite the fact the operations in which the resistance uses high accuracy missiles stake fear and panic amongst Israelis. They fear what the resistance possesses and its ability to target military vehicles and facilities along the area around Gaza at any time.
The latest round of Israeli attacks against Gaza began at a very bad time, as the influx of foreign tourists to Ben-Gurion Airport began in preparation for the Eurovision Song Contest. This caused the political circles to be in a state of confusion about how to deal with the developments in Gaza, deciding between continuing the escalation and between fearing potential deterioration of the whole situation into a comprehensive battle.
The recent round of aggression against Gaza has confirmed that Hamas succeeded in putting pressure on Israel once again, as it does every time, and it harmed the state’s credibility in the eyes of the public. It did so in the number of rockets fired at Israeli settlements. Meanwhile, the ruling political elites in Israel preferred to focus on this after the elections, holidays and Eurovision.
Finally, the recent Israeli escalation against Gaza was written on the wall, and its repercussions were evident in the past few days, but the fog blurred the Israelis’ vision of the situation in Gaza.
No matter what we call what Gaza and the Gaza envelope settlements experienced, whether we call it an escalation, attack, or new round, we are facing new proof of the fading of Israel’s deterring power in the face of the Palestinian resistance. Meanwhile the Israeli politicians are preoccupied with exchanging accusations of failures after the recent attack.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.