Israel did it and launched the Operation “Pillar of Defence,” targeting the head of Hamas military wing Ahmad al-Jaabari, the leader in the takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas, who played a role in the capture of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
This operation has many indications at different levels:
The first level: within the Israeli government
The discussions within the ministers committee of security affairs were about the priority of restoring the initiative power of the Israeli army and assassinating Palestinian figures from a target list of 14 names presented by the Shabak and the Shin Bet, with Ahmad Al-Jaabari as a primary target, and the execution of strategic hits in Gaza, focusing on destroying the capabilities of the Hamas movement and other Palestinian resistance organizations, especially the Islamic Jihad.
Two parties were in the committee: One was led by Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces Binyamin ‘Benny’ Gantz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. This group espoused strong response to the “threats” coming from Gaza, despite the iron dome defense system, which obliged the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take advantage of the situation and take the standoff to a new level, by initiating assassinations.
Another party saw that Israel is facing a real danger, beyond the missile attacks, and called for a gradual response to send messages to Hamas through third parties without launching a full scale attack.
But both parties agreed on the following:
1.Resort to escalation by exploiting the right wing Israeli positions, including those of the governing coalition, that Israel is facing a direct war from Gaza and Hezbollah, and an indirect war from Egypt.
2.The actual situation will harm the reputation of Israel about its strategic response power and might send a wrong message to the external sources of danger aka Syria, Hezbollah and Iran, and that a heavy attack against Gaza, coupled with assassinations will reinforce Israel’s strategic presence.
3.The call for early parliamentary elections on Jan. 22 will request the government to prove that it can provide security, not just a precarious truce.
The second level: The Palestinian forces
This level can be divided into many sections, led by Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other resistance organizations, faced by new elements such as:
1- The will of Hamas to testing the waters in a new fight with Israel, based on the new realities in the Arab world, on the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions.
2- The will of Hamas to put an end to the economic blockade imposed on Gaza for many years, especially after the visit of the Emir of Qatar, which opened the door to other potential visits, with a direct support from Egypt which opened permanently Rafah crossing.
3- Reinforcement of Hamas by the support of Arab and Regional powers, such as Qatar, Egypt and Turkey, which reconfirmed Hamas ability to face Israel and respond with a developed arsenal, with all what it means militarily and strategically.
4- The development of the military power of Hamas, with a higher accuracy of the missiles.
5- A consensus among Palestinian organizations that Israel will try to change the status quo before the elections.
6- Hamas admitted that the Palestinian status quo cannot remain unchanged after the failure of the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in getting the full membership of Palestine at the United Nations.
As for the Palestinian authority, regardless of its stance towards the assassination of Ahmad Al-Jaabari and Gaza attacks, it focused on the following:
1- Alienate Hamas as an active party in the frozen efforts of reconciliation, and the will to marginalize the military option fearing its negative impact on Palestine’s demand for full U.N. membership.
2- Taking a new road, away from reconciliation, threatening with a pacific uprising.
The most important development would be the reaction of the Palestinian authority if Israel escalates the attacks and reoccupies the Philadelphia crossing at the border of Gaza, returning to what it called as the gate of Hell.
The third level: The Egyptian Stance
In spite of Egyptian efforts before the attacks to reinforce the truce, but these efforts were turned down by both Hamas and Israel, which indicated the following:
1- The will of Hamas and Israel to change the rules of the game and put new rules against each other, at the military and security levels.
2-The presence of internal pressure on both sides to start a new round of efforts after Egypt’s failure to create a new reliable reality, strategically.
The escalation of the attacks and the start of a war open to all possibilities, coupled with the assassinations will create a new reality on both of Egypt and Hamas, especially that recalling the Egyptian ambassador from Israel without firing the Israeli ambassador in Egypt might be an indicator that Egypt and Israel might play a role in putting an end to the war under external pressures, but this will require some conditions that are lacking at the Israeli side, with internal pressure on the Israeli prime minister.
If Israel is to accept an Egyptian intervention, it will require a comprehensive new way of looking at the Israeli-Egyptian ties beyond Hamas and the end of hostilities or a new truce, to open the door beyond Camp David peace treaty and other conventions. This might lead Israel to stop considering Abu Mazen as a partner, and would take unilateral steps against the Palestinian authority.
One of the demands of the right wing parties addressed to the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu is to interfere directly in Sinai after the failure of the Iron dome in stopping the missiles launched from that area, and the failure of Egypt in stopping it, but Israel will seek a temporary solution with the Egyptians instead of other scenarios including the establishment of an American and international force.
Israel has put its priorities in Gaza according to short term elections related calculations and the long term strategic view considering Gaza as a continuous source of danger calling for a radical intervention without a large scale war, while the intelligence reports called for attacking the backbone of the resistance and pushing them to suicide, in addition to the importance of the early elections in determining the strategic options of Israel and its security priorities, and targeting Iran or Hezbollah, or Hamas or the Jihad, by adopting the policy of the freedom of initiating any war on any front, putting Egypt and its stance towards Hamas in the forefront of the Israeli movement.
And it is not a secret that Israel has many plans to deal with the Egyptian front (Oz – or strength- plan in detail) as revealed by the wide range of military exercises, which proves the military options of a country that didn’t neglect its military options be it in Gaza or elsewhere.
And with the likely continuity of the right wing in governing Israel after the elections, Gaza’s attacks can be a prelude to further attacks to countries and resistance organizations, according to Israel’s priorities.
Regionally, there is a lack of regional powers to stop Israel from attacking Gaza, including Egypt, which Israel is putting to the ultimate test, especially that the war will face Egypt with economic and security challenges through Rafah crossing, with the estimation of a real flooding of Palestinians to Sinai, and Egypt’s obligations towards Gaza residents. In addition to this, the Arab foreign ministers lack any realistic solutions to deal with any developments in Gaza, while the Palestinian delegation in the United Nations is busy with the file of full membership of Palestine.
Internationally, the United States gave the green light to Israel to pursue its legitimate defense operations in Gaza, but the real questions will be raised if Israel decided to expand its operations to Sinai. And the real danger is that the United States will not push Israel to negotiate with Palestinians, in the absence of intrapalestinian reconciliation, and the weakness of those who should work for ending the attacks, especially that Israel managed to promote its operations as a response to a military threat from Gaza.
Based on these developments, the option of the military resistance comes in force, with a chaos in the Arab Political scene and the absence of international stances to stop Israel from escalating and taking radical measures, not only against Gaza but against neighboring countries as well, such as what happened recently in the Golan, which means that Israel will keep on taking unilateral steps to preserve its own security, which is a top priority, regardless of any other foreign security considerations.
*Tarek Fahmi is the head of the Israeli desk at Egypt’s National Center for Middle East Studies.