A Palestinian stone-thrower looks on as he stands in front of a fire during clashes with IDF troops in the West Bank village of Duma.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A tense quiet fell on the Israel-Gaza border on Saturday. The Palestinians did not fire any mortar shells and the IDF did not respond with tank fire, canons or air strikes, as had happened over the last week.
One of the reasons for Saturday's quiet were the messages that each side sent to the other publicly and through third parties, such as Egypt, in which they said that they have no interest in increasing tensions, and certainly no intention to go to war. Hamas's prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, expressly stated this in his weekly sermon on Friday.
An additional reason for the quiet is the fact that the IDF finished its work on the recently uncovered Gaza tunnel
in the 100 meters adjacent to the border fence inside the Gaza Strip and left the area.
According to the understandings reached between Israel and Hamas through Egyptian mediation after summer 2014's Operation Protective Edge, the IDF is allowed to operate in this area in certain instances, in which suspicions arise that the other side intends to act against Israel.
The recent escalation came amid increased activity by the IDF, which operated heavy engineering equipment and new technological means to locate tunnels. This activity led to the uncovering of two attack tunnels leading into Israel from southern Gaza within the last month. One tunnel was dug prior to Operation Protective Edge, but was fortified afterward. Hamas quietly witnessed its uncovering. However, when the IDF announced the discovery of the second tunnel last week, Hamas responded with mortar fire. The organization wanted to signal to Israel that it would not accept IDF activity to uncover tunnels within the thin strip of land near the border fence within Gaza. Thus, Hamas attempted to set new red lines between the sides.
Hamas's fire was measured, as were the IDF's reprisals. However, the defense establishment believes that Hamas understood that the IDF will not be deterred from actions to uncover tunnels in the narrow strip adjacent to the border fence within Gaza if it has cause to do so.
The defense establishment has emphasized this fact. If, through intel or new technological advancements, there are signs of additional tunnels, the IDF will not hesitate to once again enter the same area. The IDF understands that Hamas must not be allowed to dictate new rules which spell out the formula: "We will dig into Israeli territory, but you can't act to thwart or uncover our efforts."
Therefore, it seems that this round of hostilities is over. However, the central problem has not been solved. Hamas understands that it is losing a strategic asset, its tunnels, after its other strategic asset, the rocket fire into Israel's homefront that it displayed during Operation Protective Edge, failed to achieve its goals and did not fulfill the organization's expectations that it would lead to mass casualties.
Hamas will continue to dig tunnels, but it is a weakened organization. The group without a political "sponsor" will continue to be isolated. This is all happening on the background of an economic crisis for 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who are living in a state of poverty. Eventually, sooner or later, the powder keg of this economic crisis will blow up in Israel's face.
The cabinet will soon discuss the establishment of a port in order to eliminate what Hamas defines as a "blockade." At least four ministers support the idea - Israel Katz, Naftali Bennett, Yoav Galant and Avi Gabbay - and there are likely more. The IDF chief of staff, the head of Military Intelligence, the head of the the Civil Administration and the head of the Shin Bet are prepared to accept the idea, as long as there is a strict inspection regime in order to ensure that weapons and materials that can be used to increase Hamas's military strength are not smuggled into the Strip through the port.
However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon are ignoring this opinion, just as they are ignoring the the security echelon's recommendations to initiate a diplomatic process with the Palestinians.