From tense quiet to regional conflagration
Like Arafat in his day, Hamas is trying to ride the tiger, on the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
Islamic Jihad terrorists in Gaza Photo: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Since Israel’s decision to unilaterally disengage from the Gaza Strip in 2005,
many Israelis have seen their hopes dashed that disengagement would improve
Israel’s political-security situation.
The culprit? A massive,
sophisticated system of tunnels dug by the Palestinians under the border between
the Gaza Strip and Egypt, which has enabled Hamas to turn the Gaza Strip into a
giant Islamic fundamentalist army barracks, where Hamas provides a berth to
local jihadist organizations (e.g., Islamic Jihad) and global jihadist
organizations (e.g., the Army of Islam, the Popular Resistance Committees and
other supporters of al-Qaida).
The relationship between these Palestinian
organizations and al-Qaida is evidenced above all by a letter found when Osama
bin Laden’s home in Pakistan was raided in 2011. Sent in 2006 by the Army of
Islam to a senior al-Qaida activist and religious scholar, the letter posed
questions about financing the Army of Islam.
organizations have invested massive effort in developing an extensive capability
for high-trajectory rocket fire at Israel, and continue to wage a sophisticated
and coordinated battle to delegitimize Israel and its right to defend
These have left Israel, post-disengagement, much more limited
than it was in its ability to proactively thwart attacks on itself, and with no
genuine capability to absolutely defend its citizens on the home front. The
number of Israeli citizens under immediate and constant threat of
high-trajectory rocket fire by Palestinian terrorist organizations in the Gaza
Strip has grown steadily, from a few tens of thousands in the towns and villages
proximate to the Gaza Strip, to more than one million in the area south of Tel
As the ruler of the Gaza Strip, Hamas is not only responsible for
its own actions but also for the actions of other terrorist organizations that
operate from the territory under its control.
However, just as Yasser
Arafat did during the 1990s, Hamas demands obedience from these organizations
but avoids directly confronting or disarming them.
terrorist and high-trajectory rocket assaults on Israel from the Gaza Strip and
the Sinai Peninsula, Hamas preserves limited military confrontation with Israel
without taking responsibility for it.
Like Arafat in his day, Hamas is
trying to ride the tiger, on the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my
friend” – a principle proven time and again to be misguided and
And indeed, these organizations, which see themselves as part
of global jihad, treat Hamas as though it has lost its way, challenging its
authority and control of the Gaza Strip. While global jihad organizations in the
Gaza Strip usually maintain a balance of deterrence with Hamas, if and when they
do decide to disobey Hamas and launch attacks at Israel, they may send the
entire region into war, leading Hamas to incur serious damage from
Ostensibly, the key players in the Middle Eastern theater –
Israel, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas – do not want
escalation. Yet analysis of their interests and capabilities and of the
historical and political processes taking place in the region indicate that
military deterioration is all but deterministic.
Local and global
jihadist organizations, which suckle at al-Qaida’s breast, are the ones now
holding the wick to the bomb that could set off a chain of explosions that would
rock the whole region. This should drive sleep from the eyes of all those
Given the incendiary situation of the Middle East in general,
and on Israel’s southern border in particular, the distance between tense quiet
and regional conflagration may be no longer than the distance traveled by a lone
Kassam rocket from its launching pad in the Sinai desert or the Gaza Strip to
its point of impact in a crowded Israeli school, hotel or mall. If such a rocket
leaves many wounded, Israel will be obligated to embark on a massive military
operation against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip – an operation whose severity
will be proportionate to the damage done to Israel, and which we may reasonably
assume will then lead Hamas to fire a barrage of missiles deep into Israeli
territory. To arrest such massive, continuous rocket fire, Israel would then be
forced to undertake an extensive land-based military operation in the Gaza
Strip. It’s a hop, skip and a jump from there to regional war.
must therefore make the most judicious use possible of its leverage to pressure
Hamas to act responsibly, and avoid a dangerous military adventure. This
includes inducing the superpowers to exert their influence to ensure regional
stability and security. At the same time, Israel must also improve its
relationship with actors that have direct or indirect influence on Hamas, such
as Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Even if normalized relations with
these nations are not possible under current geopolitical circumstances, Israel
must at least strive to use them as mediators who can arrest any deterioration
in security or, failing that, bring about a ceasefire.
Israel must not
let itself be influenced by the provocations of Palestinian organizations,
emissaries of Iran and global jihad, which are meant to goad it into a knee-jerk
Lastly, Israel must be prepared militarily, politically,
nationally and internationally for the possibility of being dragged against its
will into an extensive land-based operation in the Gaza Strip, which could send
the region into war.
This requires oiling the military system,
establishing international legitimacy and national consensus, preparing the home
front to sustain damage and loss, defining feasible aims for a military
operation, and setting policy for “the day after.”
All of these will be
examined in the war games to be played next week at the 12th annual
International Conference of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism
(ICT), Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC).
Dr. Boaz Ganor is the
founder and executive director, International Center for Counter-Terrorism, IDC