Breathing fire, Israel weighs options over teen deaths
Recent events are indicative that Israel and Gaza remain on the brink of yet another major escalation
As tragic reports surfaced that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) discovered the dead bodies of missing Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Frenkel, 16, and Gil-Ad Shaer, 16, just north of the West Bank city of Hebron, political leaders and citizens called for swift retaliation against Hamas. Hours after the attack, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi announced: “I don’t know how many leaders of Hamas will remain alive after tonight.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s official stance that Hamas “animals” were to blame for the murders, vowing they would pay.
While close-knit Israel collectively grieves over the loss of their youths, Palestinians mourn the deaths of at least five of their ownBrooklyn Middleton
Hours after Israel made the reports of the murders public, the military conducted a broad airborne assault in the Gaza Strip, targeting at least 34 different Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) sites, injuring at least four people. Meanwhile in the West Bank, the IDF continued its operation targeting Hamas militants and its infrastructure. Reportedly, the offensive has now shifted to securing the detainment of those directly involved with the murders. During overnight hours, sources reported that the IDF detonated explosives at the entrance of suspected kidnapper Marwan Quasma’s home and then proceeded to raid it.
Predictably at the same time, rockets rained down on southern Israel, causing damages and a fire in Sderot. As of the early morning hours local time, a total of at least five projectiles had exploded in Israeli territory.
While close-knit Israel collectively grieves over the loss of their youths, Palestinians mourn the deaths of at least five of their own who were killed during Israel’s sweeping offensive during the last two weeks in the West Bank. Noting the skyrocketing tensions and calls on both sides for an escalation, Israel is likely to continue weighing its options before responding to knee-jerk demands to obliterate Hamas.
Notably, while Hamas was barely finished reveling in the new found status afforded to them by unifying with the Palestinian Authority, Israel rendered the group nearly impotent in all of its stronghold cities in the West Bank. On the one hand, this means that if Israel now launches an offensive in the Gaza Strip, Hamas is less capable of carrying out attacks across the West Bank - a security advantage that Israel is increasingly motivated to seize if rockets continue hitting its southern towns. On the other hand, the entire rest of the region remains unchanged despite seemingly major developments on Israel’s domestic front. While it may seem there is a wide open window of justifiable opportunity to hit Hamas, Israel’s northern and eastern fronts remain on the brink of conflagration - diminishing the likelihood of an all-out Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Trigger a major turning point
Importantly, the recent events could trigger a major turning point for relations between far-right Israeli “price tag” groups - who’ve proved increasingly violent in their attacks against Palestinians and Israeli security forces - and the IDF. Because Israel is likely to significantly step up efforts to thwart the inevitable attempts of attacks before they even occur, clashes between price-taggers and the IDF cannot not be ruled out. Security experts within Israel have long called for a stronger response and more comprehensive policies to deal with the threat of price-tag groups; the degree to which Israel has confronted this is likely to be revealed in the near term.
Ultimately, recent events are indicative that Israel and Gaza remain on the brink of yet another major escalation. But whether or not that happens still depends largely on whether Hamas prevents other militant groups from firing rockets at Israel and - equally as important - if Hamas decides it is still motivated to uphold the tenuous ceasefire implemented in November 2012 despite the major blows dealt to its leadership in the West Bank.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.