Reasons for a Short-Term Truce with Hamas

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, the Israel Air Force struck at Palestinians who were apparently planting a bomb at the Gaza security fence; meanwhile, rioting continued along the Israel-Gaza border and a grenade, borne by a balloon from Gaza, landed in Israel. And this was but a single day of Hamas’s attacks, which have continued on and off since March. Yaakov Lappin notes that at several points Israel and Hamas have come close to all-out war, which remains a possibility. Since Hamas has no intention of desisting from its terrorist activities, Lappin asks, does Jerusalem have anything to gain form a short-term cease-fire with the terrorist group?

Hamas’s negotiation tactics have alternated between talks and mortar shells, but its short-term goal remains the same: to open up Gaza to the world while holding on to the terrorist army it has built. . . . Hamas’s efforts to break its isolation was a major factor behind the outbreak of the 2014 conflict with Israel. Today, the very same factor could spur a new war. . . .

Yet despite Hamas’s radical Islamist ideology, its leadership is keen to preserve its rule in Gaza, and it is aware that a new war with Israel would jeopardize that. [The head of the regime in Gaza, Yahya] Sinwar, seems to recognize the futility of any new war with Israel at this juncture, particularly in light of the effectiveness of Israel’s Iron Dome air defenses and new anti-tunnel technology. . . . At the same time, Hamas’s rocket- and mortar shell-production efforts have been intensifying over the past year. . . .

Israel, [for its part], has its reasons for wishing to avoid a major Gaza conflict at this stage. One reason is that a full-scale conflict would mean fewer resources would be at Israel’s disposal against the bigger and significantly more dangerous threats that are developing in other arenas. . . . Stopping Iran’s takeover of Syria is Israel’s foremost immediate goal, and a Gaza conflict now would serve as a distraction from the more dangerous threat developing to the north.

In addition, it seems unlikely that Israel would be able to find viable substitute rulers to replace Hamas in Gaza. That means that containing and deterring Hamas, so long as this is possible, is preferable to any full-scale conflict. . . . The chances of a broad truce arrangement remain low, but a limited ceasefire that is still firmer than the current unstable setup might be within reach.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Yahya Sinwar

Israel Should Try to Defang Hamas without Toppling It

Feb. 22 2019

For the time being, Hamas has chosen to avoid outright war with the Jewish state, but instead to apply sustained, low-intensity pressure through its weekly border riots and organizing terrorist cells in the West Bank. Yet it is simultaneously engaged in a major military build-up, which suggests that it has not entirely been deterred by the previous three Gaza wars. Yaakov Lappin considers Jerusalem’s options:

In recent years, the Israel Defense Force’s southern command, which is responsible for much of the war planning for Gaza, identified a long-term truce as the best of bad options for Israel. This is based on the understanding that an Israeli invasion of Gaza and subsequent destruction of the Hamas regime would leave Israel in the unenviable position of being directly in charge of some two-million mostly hostile Gazans. This could lead to an open-ended and draining military occupation. . . .

Alternatively, Israel could demolish the Hamas regime and leave Gaza, putting it on a fast track to a “Somalia model” of anarchy and violence. In that scenario, . . . multiple jihadist armed gangs lacking a central ruling structure would appear, and Israel would be unable to project its military might to any single “return address” in Gaza. This would result in a loss of Israel’s deterrent force on Gaza to keep the region calm. This scenario would be considerably worse than the current status quo.

But a third option, in between the options of leaving Gaza as it is and toppling Hamas in a future war, may exist. In this scenario, the IDF would decimate Hamas’s military wing in any future conflict but leave its political wing and police force in place. This would enable a rapid Israeli exit after a war, but avoid a Somalia-like fate for Gaza with its destructive implications for both Israelis and Gazans. . . .

On the one hand, Hamas’s police force is an intrinsic support system for Gaza’s terrorist-guerrilla forces. On the other hand, the police and domestic-security units play a genuine role in keeping order. Such forces have been used to repress Islamic State-affiliated cells that challenge Hamas’s rule. . . . Compared to the alternative scenarios of indefinite occupation or the “Somalia scenario,” a weakened Hamas might be the best and most realistic option.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security