cast lead 311.
(photo credit: kobi gideon)
This time two years ago, Israel was on the verge of launching
the 22-day Operation Cast Lead. The fighting began at 11:30 a.m. on December 27
with a wave of F-16 air strikes on Hamas strongholds in Gaza, aimed at putting a
stop to the relentless cross-border fire that was terrorizing Israelis living in
towns and cities in the South. Now, after two years of relative quiet, Gaza
seems to be heating up again.
Late Monday, IDF Chief of General Staff
Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi ordered the air force to strike eight targets in the
Gaza Strip, including a Hamas training camp and a tunnel used for smuggling, in
retaliation for a string of offensives against Israeli troops and civilians over
the last two weeks. Upping the ante, terrorists in Gaza on Tuesday morning fired
a Kassam rocket that struck near a kindergarten in Ashkelon, lightly wounding a
girl on her way to school and causing shock to two other people. Later on
Tuesday, the IAF struck back again.
IDF sources say Hamas is not
interested in a full-scale escalation. However, limited escalation does seem to
be in Hamas’s perceived interest, in part as a means of deflecting growing
frustration over its failure to attain political goals such as the release of
its prisoners from Israeli jails in exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad
TWO YEARS after Cast Lead, renewed terrorist activity from Gaza
is a reminder of the split that has taken place in the Palestinian leadership in
recent years. While the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority struggles to
maintain control of the West Bank and move toward statehood, Hamas is pursuing a
bleak policy of low-intensity terrorism from Gaza.
Hamas’s victory in the
January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections was the culmination of a long
process that marked the official end of a half-century during which the
Palestinian national movement was dominated by a more secular political culture.
Nizar Rayyan, a Hamas leader in Gaza who was killed by the IDF in January 2009,
had proclaimed that Hamas’s fight against Fatah was to “uproot secularism in
It is no secret that Hamas aspires to extend its control to the
West Bank. And as the Israeli academic Asher Susser noted in The Rise of Hamas
, growing Islamism is not limited to those territories either. It is
part of a larger trend of Islamic ascendancy and re-Islamization of society and
politics from Egypt to Jordan, from Iraq to Syria.
Part of the reason for
Hamas’s electoral success was disgust with the rampant corruption and cronyism
that permeated Fatah and its leadership. But there was also a belief among
Palestinians that Hamas’s ruthless methods were more effective against Israel.
As Azzam Tamimi wrote in Hamas: A History from Within
, Israel’s unilateral
withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, months before the 2006 elections, was widely
regarded as proof that violence and terrorism had produced results where the
PLO’s professed abandonment of the “armed struggle” and focus on negotiation had
That election victory was followed a year later by a violent
coup, in which Hamas gunmen ousted Fatah from the Strip. Even though 2005’s
disengagement meant there was no Israeli civilian or military presence there,
the rocket fire escalated, and a reluctant Israel saw no alternative but to
launch its Cast Lead assault on the Islamists.
SOME ANALYSTS believe that
Hamas is losing popularity among the Palestinians, who may be internalizing the
destruction their Gaza government brought down upon the Strip by goading Israel
into military action two years ago. Some argue, too, that Gazans are beginning
to look across to the West Bank, where stability and economic coordination with
Israel are producing a much-improved day-to-day climate. Finally, it is
suggested that Hamas’s gradual efforts to impose a fundamental Islamic framework
in Gaza are producing growing disaffection.
Whatever the accuracy of
these assessments, however, there are no significant signs that Hamas’s grip on
Gaza is loosening. Having capitalized on ballot-box support to engineer its
violent takeover, Hamas will not willingly relinquish control.
prospects of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations producing a peace breakthrough are
faint enough; Hamas’s rule in Gaza represents a huge obstacle to the
implementation of any substantive accord.
More immediately, the current
minor-escalation of fire from Gaza underlines Hamas’s potential to wreak havoc
in southern Israel with the mortars, rockets and missiles it has been steadily
acquiring since Operation Cast Lead.
For two years, the force of that
operation evidently served as a deterrent to this kind of cross-border
fire. However firm it considers its hold on Gaza to be, Hamas would be
foolish to risk forcing Israel into a repeat resort to such use of force.