On Sunday, schoolchildren go on their annual Pessah vacation, and the real
countdown begins – to end the current round of violence between Israel and Hamas
before the start of the holiday.
The IDF had prepared for this current
round and accurately predicted that it would take place after it bombed the car
in southern Gaza last Friday night, killing three senior Hamas operatives who
were planning attacks against Israelis in Sinai. The answer came on Thursday
with the anti-tank missile that hit the school bus near Kibbutz
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The IDF has been warning for several months of the growing rift
within Hamas between the political echelon, led by Ismail Haniyeh, and the
military wing, led by Ahmed Jabari.
Haniyeh and the rest of the Hamas
government are mostly interested in solidifying their regime, and are currently
more concerned about the possibility that the unrest in the Arab world will
spread to Gaza than they are with Israel. For this reason, Hamas has cracked
down hard in recent weeks on any signs of demonstrations and, like Libyan leader
Muammar Gaddafi, has not hesitated to use brutal force to quell the
Jabari has other interests.
First, he apparently felt the
need to avenge the Israeli strike against his fellow Hamas operatives. It didn’t
help that one of the men killed in last week’s strike was a personal friend of
Secondly, he has prevented his fighters from using their weaponry
against Israel since Operation Cast Lead two years ago, allowing Islamic Jihad
to steal most of the show and gain prominence as an up-and-coming organization
and power player in the Gaza Strip. His subordinates have felt real
After all, they smuggled powerful and high-quality weaponry into Gaza, but were not allowed to use it.
There are two main
differences between this current escalation and the one that led to Operation
Cast Lead two years ago.
First, Israel is not agreeing so quickly to a
cease-fire, and has made clear that it will not accept one in which Hamas fires
rockets and Israel refrains from firing back.
“It will either have to be
a full cease-fire, or nothing,” a senior defense official explained Saturday
The second difference is the successful operation of the Iron Dome
Many people from within and outside the defense
establishment had questioned its capabilities.
They were wrong. Based on
the 10 interceptions since Thursday, Iron Dome works.
While it does not
intercept every rocket fired into Israel, that is because it is designed to
intercept only those set to strike populated areas. If the system detects a
rocket falling in an open field, it will not fire an interceptor. At the same
time, there are still only two batteries – deployed outside Beersheba and
Ashkelon, respectively – hardly enough to provide an adequate defense for
Nevertheless, this does provide Israeli leaders with
unprecedented diplomatic maneuverability.
While rockets are hitting
within Israel, the damage and number of casualties is lower than it would have
been in the past, due to Iron Dome. This means the government does not feel as
much domestic pressure to launch a larger offensive against Hamas, and can
consider its options more slowly and more carefully.
It also means that
the government feels it can continue to strike at terrorists it detects in Gaza,
even at the risk of more rocket attacks.
The clock will be ticking,
though, with Seder night approaching. What will likely happen is that Israel and
Hamas will try to find a way to end this cycle before it escalates any further,
so Israelis can celebrate Pessah and Jabari and his men can go back to the
drawing board and plan for tomorrow.