On the eve of the Israeli election and with Netanyahu out of the country Hamas is gambling on a limited Israeli response and a new, more favorable balance of mutual deterrence
Yesterday Hamas apparently had an “oops I did it again” moment when they fired a self-made rocket based on the Iranian Fajr design deep into Israeli territory. The Hamas didn’t miss a beat calling it a mistake, but the excuse has clearly outlived its welcome in Israel, especially since this time the rocket demolished a family home in a small village near the city of Kfar Saba and only by the grace of God and by the quick actions of the family, which managed to make it into the bomb-proof room in their house, there were no serious injuries. These bomb-proof shelters are mandated in every home in Israel and this time it proved to be a lifesaver.
Hamas is clearly calculating that the time to establish a different deterrence calculus with Israel is now. Now that Israel is in the final throes of one of the most heated and contested election campaigns in a quarter of a century. Now that Israel is achieving unprecedented success in the international arena. Now that the Golan Heights have been recognized by the world’s sole superpower as Israel’s sovereign territory, Now that the “C” territories in Judea and Samaria, territories in which, according to the Oslo Accords, Israel has full civilian and military control are clearly next to be brought under Israeli sovereignty not only de-facto, but also de-jure. Now that the BDS movement has all but failed. Now that the US and even Europe are waking up to the fact that anti-Israel is no different than anti-Jewish. Now, that it is almost “now or never”.
It is true. The timing is bad for Israel. By law, in the period between the parliament’s decision to resign and until a new government is formed, the existing government is in fact a “caretaker” government. Such a government is usually very reluctant to undertake momentous decisions like war and peace, preferring to defer to the new government, one that will have a fresh mandate from the Israeli people. It is also a particularly bad timing for prime minister and acting defense minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu, who is now in Washington attending the AIPAC conference and taking a victory lap with his good friend president Trump vis-a-vis the Golan Heights decision, has shortened his visit and will be returning to Israel before the allotted time. There is no question that the Hamas strike managed to kill the mood for his visit to Washington and blunt one of his main strengths in the elections, that of a proven leader on security issues: a Mr. Security.
The Hamas has also taken a very significant risk. Timing their strike with Netanyahu out of the country they may have caused him to lose face, but they also gave him a chance to consult with the Trump administration and get the “green light” for a very extensive Gaza strike. Trump, fresh from his full exoneration by special counsel Mueller and eager to drive home the newly stridently anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic stance of the Democratic Party may give Netanyahu all the backing he could possibly desire for a military action up to and including the temporary re-conquest of the entire Gaza strip.
Netanyahu, on his part, may prefer to postpone the elections until the war in Gaza is over, but only if he feels that he can achieve an unequivocal and unambiguous military and diplomatic victory. Time will tell. In the meantime, Israel is doing all the regular stuff it does before a major Gaza operation: landing routes to Ben-Gurion International Airport have been altered to give the Israeli Air Force more freedom of operation over Gaza, communities around Gaza have been issued emergency procedures, and two regular IDF brigades, one infantry and one armor, have been deployed to the Gaza border. Public shelters have been opened and the entire Israeli south is on a war footing.
From Gaza, the usual threats are coming right on cue. “Every city in the Zionist regime is in range of our missiles” and more along these lines. What comes next, is anyone’s guess.