The Unavoidable Moment of Choice (Extract)

Extract of an article in Issue 25, March 31, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Ehud Olmert's government is limping toward the moment when it will have to take the decisions that - like its predecessor under Ariel Sharon - it has been reluctant to take. Now the prolonged period of footdragging, stuttering, wishful thinking and false promises is rapidly drawing to an end and soon this government will have to decide whether to move towards a head-on clash with Hamas or to seek an arrangement that will make an indefinite period of tolerable coexistence with the Islamicist terrorist regime in Gaza possible. A reminder of something that we tend to forget: Since November 2006, Hamas has not been firing rockets into Israel, but instead has been allowing smaller Palestinian organizations - mainly Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees - to do so at a rate of a few Qassams a day. Even this pattern makes the pressure on Sderot and the communities along the border intolerable. Hamas has more than once supplied the rockets and, of course, it has never done anything to stop the launches, but it has put its own forces into the fray only three times. First, in May 2007, at the height of its clash with Fatah, Hamas began targeting Israel in order to stop the fighting and, one month later, completed its putsch in the Gaza Strip. Then came the two rounds in January and February of this year, when Hamas systematically bombarded Ashkelon with Iranian-made Grad 122 mm missiles, whose range threatens some quarter of a million Israeli citizens. In that last round, in February, Hamas wanted to end the exchange of blows as well as the Israeli counterattacks speedily. It dispatched emissaries to Cairo to ask the Egyptians to calm the Israelis. It is already clear that in targeting Ashkelon, Hamas's leadership had mistakenly believed that a large-scale Israeli land operation was getting under way, while, in fact, it was only a brigade combat team of Givati infantry and armor that had penetrated a limited area around Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip. It is almost certain that Hamas never wanted to fire from the hip and intended to hold back on its ability to hit Ashkelon for the event of a general confrontation - but what is done cannot be undone. Simply speaking, Hamas found itself drawn into a fight that it did not want, after the Israelis wiped out an elite squad of operatives who had returned from training in Iran and Syria and were in the process of preparing a spectacular operation that was to include the abduction of Israeli soldiers or citizens. This was a severe blow to Hamas's sense of security and they needed revenge. But fundamentally, Hamas is still eager to achieve a truce that will enable it to consolidate its rule in the Strip and bring about the reopening, even the partial reopening, of the border crossings, especially the one into Sinai at Rafah; a significant easing of the economic siege, and later, perhaps, even an easing of the international political quarantine in which it finds itself. Despite all the internal arguments in Hamas, and despite the signs of tension among its various factions, the desire for a truce is the core of the consensus in the movement. Extract of an article in Issue 25, March 31, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.