Analysis: Neither Israel nor Hamas wants an escalation, but the situation in Gaza is explosive

There is a feeling of déjà vu in the air, of going back in time to the days that preceded Operation Protective Edge.

Rocket fragment found by secuirty forces in an open field, December 19,2014 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rocket fragment found by secuirty forces in an open field, December 19,2014
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The war in Gaza, Operation Protective Edge, lasted 50 days. Since then, the quiet has been kept for 114 days, with a few isolated exceptions that Israel let pass without incident. This is in addition to the navy's almost daily firing at fishing boats straying from the restricted area allowed to them in accordance with the cease-fire.
On Friday there was a blatant violation of the cease-fire: A 107mm. rocket was fired from Gaza into Israel. In response, the air force struck a factory suspected of providing cement to rebuild Hamas's infiltration tunnels in southern Gaza. This marked the first IAF strike in Gaza since the summer war. Hamas warned that it would not accept any more strikes and would be forced to respond. There is a feeling of déjà vu in the air, of going back in time to the days that preceded the war.
As was the case before the war, neither side is interested in an escalation, but they are liable to find themselves in a whirlwind that pulls them into a cycle of rocket fire, IAF strikes, more rocket fire, and so forth. According to all of the IDF's estimates, Hamas is not interested in a renewal of violence. The Netanyahu-Ya'alon government does not want to be dragged into another round either, especially not during a difficult election campaign, in which they are in danger of losing power.
Hamas's situation has badly deteriorated as compared to the group's standing before the war. The international isolation has gotten worse, despite a European Unio court's ruling last week to remove Hamas temporarily from its list of terrorist organizations. The court's decision was based on a legal technicality and EU states have already announced that they will work to put Hamas back on the list. Hamas's expectations that the war would break its international isolation have been disappointed.
Additionally, Egypt continues to see Hamas as a cruel enemy, accusing the group of directly and indirectly aiding the worsening terror in Sinai of Ansar Bayit al-Maqdis, the local al-Qaida affiliate, which has recently sworn allegiance to Islamic State. The security-Intel-operations cooperation between Israel and Egypt in the fight against Hamas and terror in Sinai is unprecedented.
The rehabilitation of Gaza, which was also supposed to be one of Hamas's achievements from the war, is not progressing. Of the $5.4 billion that countries pledged after the war, only some two percent have been delivered thus far, about $100 million. Tens-of-thousands of refugees who had their homes destroyed, including hundreds of Hamas commanders, are spending the winter living in tents or UNRWA institutions. The defense establishment is transferring building materials, such as cement and metal, too slowly and in too small a quantity.
Hamas is suffering from economic suffocation, extremely decreased military abilities and a bigger crisis than it was facing prior to the war. In the IDF, they admit that the situation in Gaza is extremely explosive and that Hamas is at a crossroads. The group may again come to the conclusion that only through exchanging blows with Israel, even if it spirals out of control as it did this summer, can they get out of the trap they are in. Or, there is also a belief that, if the rehabilitation money will begin flowing more quickly, Hamas will not want to escalate the situation because it will have on its hands a population, whose support the group needs, that has something to lose.
But the sensitive situation is not one sided. The Israeli government in its actions and reaction also holds the keys to war or quiet in Gaza.
Yossi Melman is an Israeli journalist and writer who specializes in security and intelligence affairs.  He is co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars.
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