The quandary facing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his security echelon regarding how to strike back at Hamas for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens is not as simple as it seems. A clean tit-for-tat military operation aimed at Hamas leadership based on the justification that it provided the marching orders to the still-at-large killers is unrealistic both in terms of uncertainty in the chain of events and the need to identify an exit strategy from whatever military mission ensues.
It’s more likely that there were no explicit orders and that the abductors drew upon their personal knowledge of the habits of Israeli teens in the West Bank, seizing both the boys and the opportunity, a belief supported by the presumptions gleaned from the recording of the emergency call. It’s this form of opportunistic terrorism that is less susceptible to traditional military solutions and more frightening to democracies whose own citizens – such as those who fight alongside Islamists in Iraq and Syria – can be mobilized to strike through exhortation rather than by issuing specific orders: a scenario Western nations including the US are bracing for.
Even if Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal’s denial of his group’s responsibility for this specific act of terrorism was truthful, his “blessing upon the hands that carried out” the mission was itself both reward for the deed and encouragement for the next one. But for Israel’s leadership, differentiating between an organizational operation or a somewhat spontaneous act of zealotry complicates the retaliation options exponentially.
Indeed, even as the Israeli consensus leans toward a recognition that an all-out military campaign would be counter-productive, Hamas seems determined to bring that fate upon itself with the accelerated pace of rockets it’s firing into Israel. The national mood following the triple kidnap/murder is less than generous toward those attacking its southern towns. Yet, measured voices continue to argue that the Palestinian elections will remove Hamas from its control of Gaza without the inevitably negative spin of an IDF operation – or the “in-your-face” gesture of new housing starts in post-1967 areas that serve as lightning rods for anti-Israel sentiment from the international community.
Dr. Ephraim Sneh, a former deputy defense minister, echoed this thought when he told The Media Line that, “The paradox is that what is good for Israel is to strike a deal with [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas]. By doing that, they are neutralizing Hamas. Until now, Hamas does not know how to govern or rule a state. I don’t say measures against Hamas are not justified, but [they] must be carried out with political initiatives. By expanding settlements, you’re strengthening Hamas.”
The results of a new Pew survey provide support for the idea that those least interested in extending Hamas rule are those who have experienced life under the Islamist movement. Asked whether the respondent worries about Muslim extremism – Hamas included – the breakdown of results is telling: the 65 percent overall affirmative response by Palestinians includes 57% in the West Bank, but 79% in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Many, like Sneh, argue convincingly that there is no reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, that “they have totally contradictory visions of what future Palestine should look like.” But Israel also needs to be sensitive to the perception among Palestinians that its cooperation with the Jewish state is one-sided in order for coordination to become a proud achievement rather than pejorative to be minimized.
Dr. Hani al-Basoos, associate professor of political science at Gaza’s Islamic University, argues that, “[Israel] wants to weaken the Palestinian society, to divide the Palestinian political system and eliminate any chance for the Palestinian people to be united.” It’s a theory more easily proffered against a backdrop of explosions and warfare.
Many believe Palestinian reconciliation will fail, that Hamas will not allow elections, and if it does, will not win. All of which are Palestinian results to be determined by Palestinian, not Israeli, dynamics. As suggested by former Israeli national security adviser Giora Eiland in a Ynet news site op-ed, the obvious and appropriate mission for the IDF is the destruction of Hamas’ arsenal of rockets. Beyond that, Israel must allow the PA and Mahmoud Abbas the opportunity to rise to the occasion and demonstrate unambiguously that the address for Palestinian leadership is in Ramallah, not Gaza.
Felice Friedson and Michael Friedson are co-founders of The Media Line, an American news agency specializing in the Middle East. They can be reached at email@example.com. (www.themedialine.org)