The escalating violence this week between Israel and the Palestinians has not completely spun out of control, at least not at this stage. Perhaps we may see a rocket or two being launched from Gaza toward Israel on Wednesday morning, but by and large all of the regional players have no interest in expanding the cycle of violence, certainly not on Christmas, a day on which Bethlehem is decorated for a festive occasion.
Neither Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, or Hamas wishes to see another round of fighting. What we are seeing is akin to a conversation between two deaf people.
Israel could not have continued to hold its fire, especially after the murder of Defense Ministry civilian employee Salah Shukri Abu Latyef, the 22-year-old from Rahat who worked along the separation fence in Gaza to repair the damage caused by the recent storm. Israel also could not have ignored the string of terrorist incidents from recent days, including the explosive device which blew up on a bus in Bat Yam as well as the stabbing of a traffic policemen near Jerusalem. In the last three months, six Israelis have been killed in terrorist offenses.
That explains Israel’s decision to respond with a military blow. It was a joint operation that included IAF warplanes, tanks, and artillery fire against Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza. In addition, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon decided to seal off the Gaza border crossings. While Israel’s response was sharp, it was still a measured one when considering regional circumstances.
From the Palestinian standpoint, the escalation began earlier – this past Friday, to be more exact, when the IDF and the Israel Security Service (Shin Bet) launched arrest operations in the West Bank that left two Palestinians dead. In Gaza, meanwhile, the Palestinians will have a hard time restraining themselves in light of news that a mother and her infant child were killed – apparently due to poor intelligence – in IDF operations on Tuesday.
One would be remiss to neglect to mention the fact that Hamas has been playing a dangerous game these past few months. While it has no interest in sparking a large-scale conflagration similar in scale to Operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense, its economic and political standing is at an all-time low. Perhaps this can explain why it is seeking to demonstrate its relevance, refusing to surrender, that it is “alive and kicking.”
Against the backdrop of the escalation is the ticking clock on the diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. If those talks do not conclude with an agreement, it will lead to another round of confrontation that would make the events of the last few months seem like child’s play.