It was clear that Israel had to act to restore its deterrence in the South. During most of the nearly four years since Operation Cast Lead ended with a strong Israeli victory, Hamas not only refrained from attacking Israel, but also actively prevented other terrorist organizations operating in Gaza – Islamic Jihad, Salafists and al-Qaida affiliated groups – from launching attacks.
But all that has changed. Hamas become increasingly daring.
The rise to power in Egypt of its ally and ideological comrade the Muslim Brotherhood was one factor leading to Hamas’s belligerence. Hamas allowed itself to be more daring, emboldened by the fact that its neighbor, the most populous Arab state, identifies with Hamas’s goals and that the majority of Egyptians are virulent opponents of Israel.
And the Muslim Brotherhood is on the ascendancy elsewhere, from Tunisia and Morocco, where there are Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated governments, to Jordan and Libya. In Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood is one of the largest opposition forces fighting to overthrow the Assad regime.
In the eyes of many Muslims supporting Muslim Brotherhood-oriented movements in the region, or those with an even more religiously extreme, militantly uncompromising position, Hamas is revered for spearheading the offensive against “the Zionist entity.”
A striking sign that Hamas has achieved considerable regional and international legitimacy was the emir of Qatar’s recent visit to the Gaza Strip, which included a promise to provide $400 million in reconstruction aid to the Hamas government.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, interested in cashing in on the Sunni Islamist resurgence brought by the Arab Spring to revive the Ottoman-era Turkish dominance of the region, is also reportedly considering a formal visit to Gaza.
Meanwhile, justifiably or not, the Muslim world perceives the Obama administration as weak. And Hamas is betting that as the conflict in the south drags on, US President Barack Obama will be less outspoken than George W. Bush was in his support of Israel. And Egypt – which is highly dependent on US aid – is betting that it will not be put under enormous US pressure to force Hamas to stop the rocket and mortar fire against Israel.
Under the new geopolitical circumstances, Hamas has not only allowed the various terrorist organizations in Gaza to shoot rockets and mortar shells at civilians in the South and attack IDF patrols. The anti- Semitic terrorist organization – which includes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in its official Charter – has increasingly launched attacks of its own. The resulting escalations have resulted in nearly 1,000 rockets and mortar shells fired at Israel since the beginning of the year.
Israel was left little choice but to use force to restore deterrence. Hamas must be made to realize that it will pay a hefty price for targeting innocent Israelis. And a broad consensus that spans the mainstream political spectrum supports the move.
But we must keep our expectations to a minimum.
Just as Operation Cast Lead did not fundamentally change the reality on the ground in Gaza, the present military offensive – Operation Pillar of Defense – will not transform the Gaza Strip. Islamist extremists pursuing the reactionary goal of returning the Arab world to an imagined, pristine Islam that purportedly existed centuries ago is on the ascendancy not just in Gaza but across the region.
This message is particularly potent for Gaza’s 1.6 million (and growing) population – 44 percent of whom are aged 14 or under, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Young people tend to be particularly susceptible to the sort of unwavering black-and-white certainty proffered by fundamentalist Islam.
While Israel has not only the right but the moral obligation to defend the residents of the South, Operation Pillar of Defense – like Operation Cast Lead – will not change the fundamental dynamics in Gaza. We hope that, as was the case with Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense will restore our military deterrence, which – in the present geopolitical situation – is the only means of achieving quiet in the South.