15
Nov

Operation Cast Lead 2.0

Israel and Hamas are battling it out in the Gaza Strip in a conflict no one can win. 

By Hussein Ibish

Israel’s assassination of Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jaabari in a missile attack has shattered the short-lived and fragile calm in the Gaza Strip, and could be another step in the transformation of the basic balance of power within Hamas — and even the broader Palestinian national movement. The attack is the most significant escalation since Operation Cast Lead, the offensive Israel launched in Gaza in December 2008, and which cost an estimated 1,400 Palestinian and 13 Israeli lives.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced that Jaabari’s killing was the first strike in “a widespread campaign” to “protect Israeli civilians and to cripple the terrorist infrastructure” — and indeed, the IDF hit a number of targets across Gaza in the hours that followed, killing at least eight Palestinians. It’s possible that these developments are laying prelude to another Israeli ground intervention in Gaza. On Nov. 11, Israel’s Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter declared, “Israel must perform a reformatting of Gaza, and rearrange it” — but gave no indication of what that dire-sounding phrase might mean in practice.

It is impossible to know how the conflict will unfold in the days ahead, but what is clear is that the outbreak of violence is the result of a swirl of events that are reshaping power structures within Hamas and its relationships with regional forces, including with Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

During most of the period since Cast Lead, the Hamas rulers in Gaza have refrained from attacks against Israel and tried to prevent other militant groups from launching attacks as well. But as 2012 has progressed, that policy has changed — largely due to internal transformations within the group itself.

The internal dynamic of Hamas has traditionally been that leaders in its Politburo, which is based almost entirely in neighboring Arab countries, were more militant than their compatriots inside Gaza. It was the leaders in exile who maintained close relations with the radical regimes in Iran and Syria, while the Hamas government in Gaza was more restrained because it had more to lose from violence with Israel. Read more…

Hussein Ibish is a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on November 14, 2012.

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