This week’s flare-up between Israel and Hamas has seen both parties displaying determination alongside restraint, as neither really wants another war. Both sides are trying to display their military might and maintain their deterrence against each other while remaining duly wary of an unnecessary plunge into the quagmire of war.
It also seems that both sides wanted to reach another cease-fire with as few casualties and as little damage as possible.
Hamas instigated the latest round of violence, citing retaliation for the killings of its fighters in Sunday-night’s botched Israel Defense Forces’ operation in Khan Yunis. That is nothing new, as Hamas—taking a page out of Hezbollah’s book—makes sure it never leaves an unsettled score against Israel, especially if an Israeli operation claimed Hamas operatives’ lives.
Hamas is determined to preserve the deterrence it has been able to generate, and when facing off against Israel it never wants to be the one to blink first.
With a tentative ceasefire in place thanks to Egypt’s efforts, Hamas wants to ensure any lull also spells immunity for its leaders and operatives. It maintains that a ceasefire must cement its position as the Gaza Strip’s ruler, and the only entity with which Israel and Egypt can deal for any future military and political arrangement in the coastal enclave. Again, that is nothing new.
The truly troubling issue underscored by Monday’s violence is the ease with which Hamas repeatedly pulled the trigger.
The terrorist group acts as though it does not fear Israel at all, and while it remains careful not to go too far and provoke an all-out war, it seems to feel confident enough to instigate rounds of violence from which it hopes to emerge as the winner.
Hamas wants to be portrayed as the entity that took the initiative, dictated the rules and the duration of the game, fired hundreds of projectiles at Israel, and, most importantly, emerged with a deal that has not only made it stronger, but has given it a new position of power against Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Hamas seems to believe that Israel is more concerned about war than it is, and that Israel wants to preserve Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip because it believes there is no better alternative.
As long as these are the basic assumptions by which Hamas operates, we cannot assume it will change its strategy. On the contrary; even if this round of violence has indeed come to an end, the next flare-up is only a matter of time.
In the meantime, Hamas is staying on its course.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.