Hamas gunmen 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Between Tuesday and yesterday evening, dozens of Kassam rockets hit Sderot, wounding at least 18 people. One of the rockets directly hit a home, seriously wounding a mother and moderately wounding her son. Sderot residents, for the first time in months, slept in bomb shelters on Tuesday night. Yesterday, the schools were closed until further notice.
The beleaguered people of Sderot are demanding action, and they are right. The action, however, should not be what Hamas evidently wants to provoke: a massive land incursion that will distract from the Palestinian civil war.
Despite the cease-fire reached Tuesday night between the Palestinian factions, Hamas killed a Palestinian officer from Force 17, as well as seven bodyguards of a senior Fatah official on Wednesday. Over 41 people have been killed in such battles over the last four days.
A senior Egyptian official was shot in the hand Wednesday as he walked with senior officials from Hamas and Fatah to test the cease-fire. A local journalist told The Jerusalem Post, "The streets are completely deserted and people are afraid to walk out of their homes. This is a real war and people are really afraid."
Hamas is to blame for both of the wars it insists on fighting, against Fatah and against Israel. If Hamas had decided, after its election victory and the complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, to focus on ending corruption and improving the Palestinian standard of life, the situation in Gaza would by now have been relatively peaceful and much improved. Instead, Hamas has chosen the path of endless war.
Hamas must be punished for this, but without doing it any favors. This means refraining, for now, from fighting the war that Hamas wants to fight, on the ground, in the alleyways, that will maximize casualties both among Palestinian civilians and IDF soldiers. It also means returning to the intense military pressure that the IDF was able to place on Hamas with air strikes and the work of small military units.
There should be never have been a unilateral cease-fire on Israel's part, and Sderot is now feeling the consequence of misguided "restraint," under which the IDF was barred for a time from firing even at Kassam gangs that were launching salvoes into Israel.
In addition, it means doing much more to impose a price on Hamas in ways that Israel has not pursued with sufficient vigor.
First, Israel should insist that Egypt cannot be a peace process player while refusing to take effective action to prevent the arming of Hamas. If Egypt had policed its border with the Gaza Strip with at least the seriousness that Jordan exercises on its border with Israel, Hamas would likely be much less belligerent today.
Because of Egypt's failure to do so, Hamas is threatening war, actively attempting to provoke an Israeli military operation, and Israel is under increasing pressure to destroy the Hizbullah-like terrorist infrastructure that Hamas has built. But why should Israel go to war to compensate for Egyptian failures? And what good would that war do if Hamas is able to easily rearm via the porous Egyptian border?
While Syria actively arms Hizbullah and Egypt only passively allows Hamas to arm itself, it is the results that matter and, at the end of the day, they are the same. Accordingly, Egypt must understand that if it acts like a pariah state, it will not be treated as a mediator for peace, and could face other sanctions as well.
The second neglected front is the UN Security Council and the EU, which routinely condemn Israel for defending itself after taking minimal or no action when Israel is attacked. This has become such a predictable pattern that Hamas builds it into its strategy: Hamas sees its attacks on Israel as a way of escaping international isolation, not increasing it.
Israel should advise the UN and EU that their silence is encouraging Hamas's aggression, and that they must signal that there is a diplomatic price to pay, and no reward for, attacking Israel.
If these messages to Egypt and the international community bear fruit, further attacks on Israel will be counterproductive, and Hamas will likely have to accommodate its internal foes as well - all without fighting the war Hamas wants. Supporting moderates against extremists should not just be an empty slogan, but should result in a marked increase in international pressure against Hamas.