Lots of questions
Why Hamas attacked in the first place?
Why it continues to attack, especially from within the time frame of the cease fire that it requested?
Why has the US sided with the most radical of the Muslim governments?
Why has the Israeli government dithered about escalating beyond goals not likely to achieve lasting quiet?
There are no clear answers to any of these questions. The fog of war surrounds us, and we should not expect any of the players to be candid about their aims or capacities.
Hamas'' motives are the most intriguing, and the most important insofar as it is the major initiator and has been stubborn despite suffering great damage and losses of life.
Its leaders most likely knew from the outset that Israel would cause great destruction and casualties. Differentials in the fire power of the two sides are profound, but Hamas still has the capacity to hurt Israel, three weeks into its bombardment of Gaza. Moreover, Hamas'' vulnerability is as much a strength as a weakness. Its surplus of population with a high incidence of unemployment is an asset in international politics. The deaths of women and children aid its cause. Hamas'' pressure on civilians not to leave areas likely to be attacked, and even to assemble around Hamas'' military assets work to achieve international support on the blood of its excess population.
The strategy recalls Jonathan Swift''s A Modest Proposal. The Irish should deal with hunger by eating their surplus of children.
Swift was writing a parody, but Hamas is not kidding. They are using their kids as ammunition.
The best answer to What does Hamas want? is what it has been demanding all along: the opening of borders and the development of air and sea ports that will provide Hamas not only with international recognition but with the economic potential to strengthen its hold on the population of Gaza.
So far Hamas retains the military capacity to keep fighting, and waiting for international pressure to build on Israel to make those concessions, largely on the strength of dead children and screaming women.
Involved here is a profound cultural barrier between Israel and Gaza, suggested by Hamas exposing and even killing its own civilians, perhaps by intention; perhaps by poorly constructed missiles that do not fly out of Gaza.
Israel, in contrast, distributes a video showing children singing in the yard of their kindergarten, then running to shelter in response to a siren, lying down and covering their heads, until the boom, most likely of Iron Dome destroying the incoming missile.
Most perplexing to westerners, but understandable in terms of Hamas'' aims, is their violationof the cease fire they requested for the holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
This provided all that was desired by Israeli political and military figures who had been salivating at the prospect of expanding the operation until the destruction of Hamas.
From Hamas'' perspective, the violation of the cease fire was likely to bring the IDF further into Gaza, where Israeli troops would kill and destroy more, but also be exposed to prepared fortifications and the deadly tactics of Hamas fighters.
Hamas'' standing among Muslims adds to the puzzle and helps to understand its actions.
On the one hand, it has been targeted by Egypt, on the outs with Saudi Arabia, is not all that close to Iran and Hezbollah, and forced to rely on Qatar and Turkey, both of which are involved in serious animosity with the major Muslim players.
Hamas status and tactics built on sacrificing civilians put it in the league with the barbarism of ISIS, taints them with the colors of Islamic extremists, and is too much for Egyptian and Saudi elites.
In recent days Hamas has killed Gazans who dared express opposition to the continuation of the fighting.
The extremism of both ISIS and Hamas gains them support from anti-western Muslims, many of them living in western countries.
One also senses a cultural boundary between us and the Americans, or at least the President and his Secretary of State.
Their efforts to exploit the connections of Qatar and Turkey with Hamas, and to accommodate their demands, makes us wonder about which sandbox the Americans are choosing for their play.
Here''s how the cartoonist at the left-of-center Ha''aretz views the American President. Barack is telling Bibi, "Stop that immediately."
The substantial US military base in Qatar, and desires to keep Turkey happy within NATO, may provide part of the explanation.
Wednesday morning we heard about an especially difficult conversation between Obama and Netanyahu. According to one report, the President demanded an immediate, one-sided, and unconditional cease fire. He endorsed Qatar and Turkey as appropriate mediators, and said that Israel could not choose its mediators.
The US defines Hamas as a terrorist organization, claims to avoid direct contact with it, but nonetheless views it as a player whose demands must be given considerable weight. Especially worrying have been comments of Ban-Ki Moon that officials of both Israel and Hamas may be held to account for war crimes.
We doubt that major international actors will do what is necessary to assure the de-militarization of Gaza, or to prevent the import of munitions to replace and improve the stockpiles used in this confrontation
Israelis also question their own government. Why the dithering? Why not earlier movement against the tunnels, known to have threatened Israeli civilians long before this operation? Why the gradual escalation rather than the immediate heavy bombardment of areas where Hamas leaders and activists might be found?
The best answers lie in Bibi''s caution and a concern for international support.
His style is to avoid risk. He''s known as a great speaker, but as a waffler whose speeches often exceed by far the actions he is willing to take.
From all the signs, he has wanted to accomplish enough damage to Hamas and Gaza to assure a reasonable delay until the next confrontation, at a minimum cost in Israeli casualties.
He sought to build support for whatever Israel had to do by means of absorbing some damage and then escalating only gradually in response to Hamas attacks and its rejections of cease fire proposals.
His moderation and measured increase in force have won him support from the Knesset opposition, and even from some further to the left.
He is being badgered by colleagues in his own party and government who want to destroy Hamas.
An unnamed general is quoted as saying that the IDF needs a clear decision, either to escalate or withdraw.