Political maneuvering rather than security considerations has occupied the Israeli Knesset (parliament) in recent years, certainly as it applies to Gaza. The Israeli government worked on arrangements of a long term quiet with Hamas in exchange for Israel easing up on the Gaza blockade and other concessions, including allowing Qatari money to reach Hamas. Israel’s attention was focused on four rounds of elections, with attempts to form coalition governments, a task not yet accomplished. Hamas sensed the chaos in Israel’s governance, and considered it an opportune time to strike and exact more concessions from Israel, while at the same time strengthening its standing among Palestinians in the West Bank. Israel, on its part, was wedded to the conception that Hamas “doesn’t want to escalate things,” and was thus caught by surprise. Since 2014 (Operation Protective Edge), there has been relative quiet on the Gaza border with sporadic rocket attacks that were stopped within days, with little damage to life and property. This time the quantity and quality of the Hamas rockets in terms of accuracy, increased dramatically.
It has now become a sort of ritualistic dance between Hamas and Israel. Hamas in Gaza provocatively fires rockets into Israeli population centers; Israel retaliates, but limits the scope of fire to conform to what the United Nations (UN), and European Union (EU) are likely to consider anyway as “disproportionality” and condemn Israel anyway, while proverbially “slapping the wrist” of the Palestinians. To extinguish the source of the rocket fire, the Israeli Air Force usually attacks the rocket launchers, and invariably some Palestinian civilians get hurt in the process. Israel, in valuing human lives, delivers phone calls and drops leaflets to Gaza residents of an impending attack in order to minimize and avoid civilian casualties. Hamas, on the other hand, deliberately targets Israeli civilians and children.
Hamas has placed missile launchers and other lethal weapons in residential areas, and for Hamas, the loss of Palestinian lives is inconsequential, as long as they can parade their “martyrs”, and declare “victory.” When Hamas gets hit hard, they immediately run to the Egyptians asking for a cease-fire, and Israel complies. This round of violence initiated by Hamas last week is different, and it sets a new precedence. The pretext for their current offensive is the eviction notices sent to Arab families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. The owners of the properties are Jewish foundations (the land and homes in Sheikh Jarrah were purchased by Jews in the 19th century) who seek action on Palestinian violations of contracts. Hamas incited the Palestinians of East Jerusalem to begin violent riots. However, there is a legal channel, namely the Israeli Supreme Court that might be able to resolve the problem. Hamas is not interested in a resolution. Hamas’ actions served to score points with the West Bank Palestinians as the “defenders of Al-Quds” (Jerusalem).
Beyond the public relations aspects, Hamas seems to have reacted to the cancellation of the scheduled Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections by Mahmud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), chairman of the Fatah party, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), due to take place this month. The Islamist Hamas is aiming to replace the PA and Fatah in the West Bank, and become the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Unfortunately for Israel, Hamas impressed both the Palestinian masses in the West Bank, and many Arabs in Israel that its ideology of armed struggle is far more effective than Mahmud Abbas’ diplomacy.
For the first time, to the cheers of Palestinian Muslim worshippers at the Al-Aqsa mosque, Hamas has targeted the Jerusalem area to be rocketed. Feeling empowered by Hamas, many of those Palestinian Muslim worshippers at the top of Temple Mount threw rocks on Jewish worshippers below at the Western Wall, and on police. All this has occurred during Ramadan, the holy Islamic month. Israeli police tried to disperse the rioters on Temple Mount, and it appeared on social media as “an attack on the Al-Aqsa mosque.” “Al-Aqsa under attack” has been a charge code phrase for Arab Muslim mobilization against Jews since the days of the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, Hitler’s ally, and a proponent of the final solution to Jews in Palestine. Turkey’s dictator, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, used the Al-Aqsa charge to incite the Muslim world, and has called on Muslims worldwide to unite against Israel.
Meanwhile, Arab Israeli Muslim mobs have gone on a rampage in mixed cities throughout Israel, attempting to lynch Jews in Jerusalem, burning scores of cars, burning Jewish businesses, and homes in Lod (close to Ben Gurion International airport) and Ramle, pillaging several synagogues, and desecrating Torah scrolls. In Acre, Arab rioters burned a restaurant, and in Haifa and Jaffa, cars were torched. In both Jerusalem and Acre (Akko), Arab Muslims attempted to lynch a Jewish driver, and managed to cause serious bodily wounds. Prime Minister Netanyahu, visiting Lod, called the rioting there by Arab-Israelis, “intolerable.” He said that it made him recall “images of the past,” referring to the pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany known as Kristallnacht. This was also the imagery of Lod’s Mayor Yair Ravivo after seeing the ransacked synagogues and the burnt Torah scrolls.
The over 1,000 rockets Hamas and Islamic Jihad have lobbed into Israel inflicted death and destruction not only in cities such as Ashkelon (21 kilometers from Gaza), but in central Israel as well. In suburban Tel Aviv, there were direct hits, with the loss of lives and many wounded. As of this writing, 6 Israeli civilians were killed in Hamas’ rocket attacks. In many of the Israeli communities surrounding Gaza, frustration is mounting. Civilians have been the primary targets of Hamas, and have paid the price for the Israeli government’s indecisive dealings with Hamas. The frequent rocket attacks from Gaza have disrupted their lives. Schools’ shutdown, as do businesses, and they have seconds to run to shelters, which often cause injury, shock, and heart failure. These communities spend a lot of time in shelters, and after the closures caused by Covid-19, having to continue such a depressing regime is most debilitating.
While Israel’s political leaders were pursuing positions of power in the process of forming coalition governments, they were caught surprised by the massive Hamas offensive that not only destroyed houses and buildings, but destabilized Israel’s streets. It appears that Israel’s political leadership lost control in the mixed cities, where Arab attackers, incited by Hamas, and filled with hate toward their Jewish neighbors, have created anarchy. For the moment, it seems that Israel is losing its deterrence vis-à-vis the Hamas terrorists. At this juncture, it has become a strategic problem for Israel. One has to remember that Iran and Hezbollah are watching with delight the seemingly unstoppable Hamas’ rocket salvos on Israel. True, Israel’s Iron Dome batteries intercepted and destroyed at least 200 Hamas rockets on Tuesday May 11, 2021 alone. It is critical for Israel to restore its deterrence immediately by hitting Hamas hard enough for the terrorist regime in Gaza to beg for a cease-fire. Ultimately, the Hamas terrorists must be removed from Gaza for peace to have a chance.