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An Israeli institute with close ties to Military Intelligence also reports that Hamas is trying to exploit the Mubarak government’s fall to get Egypt to allow more weapons into Gaza. Mubarak, fearful of Hamas and its parent-organization the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt itself, had acted to stanch the flow—clearly with limited success. Egypt’s current military rulers’ attitude is uncertain; again it’s hard for Israelis to be optimistic.
Israel has never had attractive choices on Gaza, having to decide between the Scylla of occupying over a million deeply hostile Arabs and the Charybdis of terror from the Strip. Clearly, retaliatory raids like Wednesday night’s—wounding three jihadists ready for martyrdom and damaging some facilities—do not deter and have only symbolic value. Is another Cast Lead-type offensive, then, the only real option?
It would risk, for one thing, pushing the new military regime in Cairo—still an unknown quantity—into backing Hamas, and possibly even taking up arms against Israel to prove its nationalist credentials. It would also risk playing into Iran’s hands: one thing Tehran, which has its own domestic problems, may well relish is a diversionary spectacle of Israeli bombs hitting Gaza while the West—in the spirit of the Goldstone Report—joins the Arab and Muslim worlds in a fury of condemnation.
On the other hand, words like Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s on Thursday—that Israel would “not tolerate the bombardment of our citizens” and “I wouldn’t suggest that anyone test our resolve”—risk sounding dangerously hollow. Hamas, backed by Iran, is testing Israel’s resolve and getting away with it. Netanyahu and his defense minister Ehud Barak face the difficult task of deciding how much to tolerate—or when to respond more substantially and how.
To an extent it’s a game of chance. A single Grad or Kassam that causes more serious, even catastrophic harm could force Israel to act—without hope of Western (or any other) backing.
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