New round for Israel, Hamas - how it happened, how will it end? - opinion

If Hamas and PIJ can launch several hundreds of rockets per day in volleys of dozens of rockets, then Hezbollah is planning to launch thousands per day in volleys of hundreds of rockets.

Streaks of light are seen as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel May 12, 2021.  (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
Streaks of light are seen as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel May 12, 2021.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
 Another round of Hamas high-trajectory rockets attacks against Israel. How did we get here? What are the reasons for this sudden development? How is this round different from previous rounds? What is Hamas trying to achieve in this round of clashes? How should this round end and what are the lessons learned from this deterioration?
Since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip 14 years ago, after a violent rebellion against the PA authorities and Fatah leadership, Hamas invested all its efforts and resources into building a huge military compound in Gaza. This is combined with an unparalleled Palestinian rocket arsenal and complex of large military tunnels beneath many highly populated civilian areas, protecting its headquarters, rocket launchers and military caches with extensive number of Palestinian human shields. Hamas also made a huge effort to guarantee the obedience of the Palestinians under its control and is violently oppressing its opponents. After a decade and a half and after few rounds of clashes that Israel found itself dragged into, Israel is now facing an unprecedented security challenge as three-quarters of its population is threatened with tens of thousands of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad rockets.
What drove Hamas this time and why has the current round opened? As a rule, fire exchanges between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist organizations have mostly started due to an unplanned deterioration (e.g. the exposure of an Israeli operation, a terrorist attack that prompted an Israeli response, etc.). However, most previous rounds started premeditatedly by Hamas or PIJ to leverage Israel to award them with some benefits, money or other achievements. In other cases, the trigger for the previous rounds was an inter-organizational tension in Gaza or competition in the Palestinian arena between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas, and more.
The current round of hostilities, too, is not the product of an uncontrollable burst of emotions in the Palestinian arena but rather the product of cold initiative, planning, guidance and execution of Hamas to obtain concrete goals coupled with capitalizing on opportunities that revealed themselves along this way: The moment PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced he was postponing the Palestinian elections (while blaming Israel for refusing to allow residents of eastern Jerusalem to vote), the queue for the current round was given to Hamas and the latter started to incite the Palestinian street.
Within this framework, Hamas claimed on its Telegram accounts that Ismail Haniyeh warned Abbas that withdrawing from the elections meant surrender to the Israeli enemy, but Abbas chose to ignore him. Therefore, the Hamas incitement campaign served the latter’s goal to ignite the Palestinian street first against Israel, and later Hamas may direct it against the PA leadership and Abbas. In any event, the fire started by Hamas, per the latter’s assessment, will win it valuable points with the Palestinian public and can be translated into a higher political support for those who allegedly defend the Palestinian people, Jerusalem and holy sites of Islam. The amount of blood that will be spilled in the process, whether Israeli or Palestinian, doesn’t concern Hamas.
The ignition of the current hostilities by Hamas may also be viewed in light of the internal rivalry between its military leaders, Mohammed Deif, the almost mythical leader, and Yahya Sinwar; a rivalry that almost lost the internal Hamas elections. It seems that Deif was the one leading the charge in the current hostilities and thus strengthened his stature in the organization. Add to the almost Pavlovian Hamas interest to avert the Gaza residents’ attention from their dire economic situation, created because of a consistent Hamas policy since it took over Gaza a decade and a half ago.
WAR WITH ISRAEL is an old trick in consolidating national sentiment and directing the anger and frustration toward an external enemy. The above root causes are augmented by the concrete triggers leveraged by Hamas to ignite the fire: the High Court of Justice sessions on the eviction of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah and replacing them with Jewish families, which stirred a lot of anger with the Palestinians and echoed loudly due to provocative steps by far-right Knesset Member Itamar Ben Gvir who chose to open an office in the neighborhood at this particularly sensitive time; the police decision to close off part of the Damascus Gate of the Old City during Ramadan that triggered riots by young Palestinians who had no respect whatsoever for law enforcement officers; and the decision to reopen the entire Damascus Gate area.
All that reinforced the rioters’ confidence and intensified Hamas’s incitement. The fact that this year Jerusalem Day and the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr were in close proximity contributed to raise tension and increase volatility and led Hamas to believe it had a unique opportunity on its hands.
The above process took place against the background of an unprecedented political crisis in Israel, where for the first time since the inception of Israel, negotiations took place with an Arab-Palestinian-Islamist party to join the coalition and, whether intended or not, by the nature of things the Hamas actions frustrate, at least for the time being, such as the formation of a new government. In this sense, it is no wonder that especially now we see such a strong push by Hamas, and it seems that unlike previous rounds, this one was meticulously planned by it.
In the first 48 hours of the hostilities, Hamas demonstrated the improvement of its capabilities and the change of its fighting strategy. Attempting to saturate and overload the Iron Dome anti-missile system, Hamas developed semi-heavy rockets with large warheads launched from a multi-barrel launcher. By launching more than 100 rockets within minutes, Hamas hopes that the Israeli technology cannot rise to the challenge and some of its rockets will penetrate the active defense system, hit targets, and cause property damage and human casualties. 
It is also evident that in this round, Hamas’s firing policy is fully synced with PIJ’s. As the PIJ is an Iranian puppet, it is safe to assume that the Iranians took part in the process and likely pushed Hamas and PIJ and assisted them to further deteriorate the situation. If that is not enough, then Hamas is making an extra effort to incite Arab Israeli youngsters and drive them to take the law into their hands and riot violently within the borders of Israel, attacking Israeli citizens and confronting police.
Where does all this go now and how might it end? Hamas is a rational terrorist organization and so are its leaders. As such, they perform their risk assessment based on cost/benefit considerations. Hamas’s subjective considerations must be viewed from that organization’s point of view and on the basis of its goals in the various arenas it is active in – internally, inter-organizationally, in Gaza and the west Bank, vs. Israel and the international and inter-Arab arenas. Per reports in the media, Hamas already requested that the Arab states, Egypt first and foremost, intervene and help in obtaining a ceasefire and the conclusion of this round of hostilities, likely because they assess that they have achieved their goals: higher support in the Palestinian arena, a stature as a defender of Jerusalem and the holy sites of Islam, deterring Israel from crossing lines in the sand it dictated and inflicting terror on the Israeli public. If the round of hostilities will draw out too long these achievements will be at risk.
AS FAR AS Israel is concerned, this round of hostilities may end in one of two outcomes – decisive victory or a settlement, that is, ceasefire via a compromise. A decisive move to bring Hamas down may be achieved only through the following: 1) ground operation that will involve taking Gaza or large part of it, which will cause many casualties on both sides, or 2) widespread bombings (much like those of the Russian and Syrian air forces destroying complete neighborhoods and causing significant collateral damage. 
It doesn’t seem that the current Israeli government is able or willing to do any of the above. Moreover, there is always the question of the “day after” in terms of the international price Israel will have to pay as well as in terms of Israel’s reluctance to regain control of Gaza and rule over two million Palestinians. In light of the above, it seems that Israel will settle for a ceasefire and a compromise under terms as favorable to Israel as possible. Israel’s ability to affect the terms of the ceasefire is the product of its ability to hurt Hamas and hit its military and political assets in a way that will deter it from embarking on another round of hostilities for a considerable period of time. In other words, the worse Hamas is hurt, the longer the period of quiet until the eruption of the next round.
What should Israel do now? Since it seems that Israel isn’t likely to do what it needs for a decisive victory over Hamas, after causing considerable damage to Hamas assets, Israel should agree to Hamas’s request for a ceasefire. However, this time Israel has to let Hamas and the world know that the ceasefire doesn’t settle the score, and since Hamas opened fire on the Israeli civilian home front, Israel reserves the right to open the next round, even after returning to routine life. Unlike the precedents, at the right time and when an opportunity appears, Israel should inflict a very painful surprise attack on multiple Hamas strategic targets and senior leaders. If needed, it should also contend with the ramifications of any retaliation when it happens.
Finally, without demeaning the steep price the current round of hostilities is claiming from Israeli civilians, and residents of the South in particular, one should remember that Hamas’s and PIJ’s capabilities pale in comparison with those of Hezbollah. 
If Hamas and PIJ can launch several hundreds of rockets per day in volleys of dozens of rockets, then Hezbollah is planning to launch thousands per day in volleys of hundreds of rockets. Israel should study very well Hamas’s conduct in the current round, draw the required conclusions and prepare immediately for the challenges the northern campaign will likely pose both on the battlefield and on the civilian home front.
The writer is founder and executive director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism and the Ronald S. Lauder chair for counter-terrorism at the Lauder School of Government at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.