Limited violence

Breaking news (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Breaking news
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Limited violence is less than limited war. There were 130 or so rockets and mortars fired toward Israel, with limited damage and a few injuries, all less than critical. It took a hour or two for the government and IDF to decide on the response. As expected, it was considerable, but limited.  

Israel's targets were structures and munitions of Hamas and its allies, rather than people. There were explosions alongside apartment towers, but no crumbling of the dwellings. 

The delay in Israel's response allowed Hamas et al to remove their people from likely targets, which fit with the Israeli intention of a limited response. 

There appears to have been cost-benefit assessments on both sides, but nothing that could be defined with precision. 

There was considerably more destruction in Gaza than experienced on this side of the border and perhaps a few Gazan deaths, but nothing that produced an escalation of the conflict. 

Hamas and its allies did not use their longer range rockets, and Israel did not send in the tanks and troops. 

The weight of intelligent commentary is that both sides have an interest in avoiding anything more serious. 

There are several explanations for the actions of Hamas and other organizations.  

One is that it was a response to the deaths of several of their fighters in recent days. 

Another is their effort to remain active and visible after the campaign of recent weeks to reach and penetrate Israel's border resulted in little more than about 100 deaths and many more wounded. 

Yet another is the frustration of Iran, due to their recent experience with Israel in Syria, and its aiding and pushing Gazans to open a front on Israel's southern border. 

Then there is the issue of Gazan misery, and the claim that this uptick is an expression of the "explosion" widely predicted from a population with nothing to lose. Those with experience elsewhere in the Third World can doubt that Gaza's misery is all that unusual. UNWRA'S multi-generation support of so-called refugees assures a better life than experienced by many Africans, Latin Americans and others.   

Optimists see this as a limited uptick in violence capable of pushing both sides to agreement about a long-term cease fire in exchange for greater aid.  

From Gazan media we hear boasts that they produced fear and panic in Israeli settlements near Gaza, and a special meeting of the Israeli Government.  

That's a limited accomplishment, but it may play well with those anxious for something. 

The disproportionate weight of military capacity renders Gazans' actions both pathetic and confusing. While this level of violence is little more than a nuisance to Israel, it gets in the way of any willingness from Israel to open its borders to Gazan workers that could lift Gazan living standards and calm the tension. 

Should Israel escalate, and seek to solve the problem of Gaza? 

It's an idea we hear, mostly from people overseas whose military experience may be limited to stories of World War II.  

Israel's policy, honed by years of experience, is to concern itself with a balance of costs and accomplishments. That means an invasion only as a last resort, and a measured response to provocation meant to produce yet another period of quiet.  

Behind this is a disinclination to control Gaza with responsibility for what may be two million restive Palestinians. Israeli morality, a concern for international condemnation and sanctions, as well as an assessment of the possibilities. Israelis don't consider the imagined option of sending the population elsewhere or bombarding civilians in the manner of what's been happening in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Yemen. 
 
Assessments are that Hamas is a problem, but the best that Israel can expect with respect to those aspiring to govern Gaza. 
To be sure, the suffering of Israelis living near Gaza was intolerable-- from a day or more of having to remain close to shelters and having their fields burned by firebombs carried by kites, but it's a cost that is bearable and far less than the costs of a military operation (as in 2014) that resulted in more than 70 Israeli deaths. The parallel cost of more than two thousand Gazan deaths along with international condemnation is no great boon to Israel, especially if a period of quiet can be achieve with less carnage. 
There may still be Arab mobs and publicists who call for Israel's destruction, but the more important phenomena are Arab governments that have tired of Palestinian intransigence, see Israel as a useful partner against Islamic extremism and especially Iran, and work to quiet aggression from Gaza. Currently it's Qatar and Egypt that are most involved. One has a lot of resources that can be used to buy quiet with aid, and the other has control over some of Gaza's borders, and can tempt and threaten concessions or closures in order to produce cooperation,  
The continuation of limited tension is dependent on good luck. Should a Gazan rocket or mortar produce significant casualties, Israeli officials will find it difficult to limit their response. And insofar as casualties are likely to have a similar affect in Gaza as in Israel, significant bloodshed would likely prolong and escalate a period of violence. Most certainly such an occurrence would be far most costly in life and property for Gazans, and it might not buy a longer period of quiet than a more modest exchange during a day or so of unpleasantness. 
There are conflicting reports of an agreement for quiet, if not an actual cease fire. 
Subtlety reigns. Only those with a sense of nuance can claim to understand. 
Comments welcome
 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
irashark@gmail.com