Israel May Be Taming Hamas, but It Must Proceed with Caution

November 26, 2019 | Hillel Frisch
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In the Jewish state’s latest round of fighting with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas sat out the conflict almost entirely, and the IDF—with only a few exceptions in the final rounds—struck exclusively at Islamic Jihad targets. By deterring Hamas, writes Hillel Frisch, Jerusalem may have also succeeded in driving a wedge between it and Islamic Jihad, which, like the divide between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, could work to Israel’s advantage. Frisch probes the benefits, and the limits, of this divide-but-don’t-conquer strategy:

There are two possible solutions to the violence emanating from Gaza. Either embark on a massive fourth round of conflict like the 2014 confrontation and hope that it will bring Hamas to non-belligerency . . . or adhere to the “taming Hamas” approach used by Netanyahu since [the border riots known as] “the March of Return” began at the end of March 2018, which minimizes the sticks and maximizes the “carrots” for keeping the peace.

Initiating a massive round [of fighting], including a ground offensive into Gaza, . . . plays into the hands of Tehran’s regional strategy to use the Palestinian card to deflect the focus from its buildup in Syria, and entails other obvious costs in terms of lives and treasure. . . . The costs of [the latter] strategy are equally obvious. Any carrots offered to Hamas might buy peace and ameliorate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but Hamas will use those same carrots to enhance its military capabilities.

Just as Israel “tamed” the PA—in part because after 2007, [both] faced a shared enemy in Hamas and Islamic Jihad—giving rise to unprecedented levels of security cooperation between the two, Israel and Hamas are cementing a mutual interest in weakening Islamic Jihad.

As auspicious as this wedge in Islamist ranks may be, however, . . . Israel should give the fewest carrots and concessions possible, knowing full well that some of these carrots are quickly converted into firepower to be used against Israel in the future. This also means scuttling the visions promoted by Benny Gantz and [some Israeli analysts] who argue that Israeli sticks should be accompanied by a Marshall Plan of goodies to improve the welfare of Gaza’s inhabitants. That only worked after Germany and Japan were totally defeated and a mutual threat to the Western alliance, the Soviet Union, emerged.

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