“While they thought revolutions in Arab countries served their aims and would make them stronger, they were not looking for war with Israel, not now, despite the fact they have been preparing themselves for one since the 2009 round ended,” the source close to Hamas said.
For Israel, a security situation that had been contained and politically tolerable — zero or very infrequent rocket attacks on the south by groups other than Hamas — tilted with Hamas’ decision to start shooting again with new weapons.
Israel says the aim of Operation Pillar of Defense is not to re-occupy Gaza or root out Islamists. It is to destroy long-range rockets, such as the Fajr 5 from Iran, that Hamas has acquired since 2009 and to disable Gaza’s rocket capacity “for a very long time,” Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
Could there be ancillary motives?
Alastair Newton at Nomura Global Markets wrote in a note to clients that “militants in Gaza have been building up stocks of missiles … and there does appear to have been an uptick in missile attacks.”
“However, an Israeli general election is now just two months away ... [Israeli] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party has historically benefited from pre-election security concerns, which this latest conflict is likely to exacerbate,” he added.
Although a vast majority of Israelis supports the operation, a high body count could reduce popular backing.
Another vote is also looming — one that the secular government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank wants to bring to the UN General Assembly by the end of this month to give the Palestinians a diplomatic upgrade.
Israel says this drive for UN recognition of a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem is “diplomatic terrorism.” It has threatened to topple Abbas, who is regularly derided by Hamas for not supporting their armed resistance.
Abbas himself is convinced the Gaza campaign is designed to sink his initiative, but has vowed to plough on.
“Everything that is happening is in order to block our endeavors to reach the United Nations,” he said on Friday.
Israeli columnist Uri Dromi says Israel should remember that its Palestinian neighbors in the West Bank “are still committed to a two-state solution, namely, sharing the neighborhood.”
“If we lose them, then we are left with the others only,” Dromi said.
Hamas has courted Egyptian support assiduously since the election of Islamist Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in June. However, Morsi has so far made clear that while denouncing Israeli “aggression” he will not go beyond diplomatic pressure.
The nuances of Gaza’s militant politics are fine but provide some clues as to how the showdown has escalated.
“Hamas did not claim the Kornet hitting the [Israeli army] jeep. The Popular Resistance Committees did,” the source close to Hamas said. “It is true Hamas did not condemn it.”
He did not deny that Hamas wanted to change the rules of a game in which Israel decides when a round of violence ends.
“But assassinating Jaabari was like giving the go-ahead to all Hamas cells to use the equipment, weapons and training they had prepared for a possible war,” he said.
Hamas official and columnist Mustafa Assawaf said the group was “not interested in silence forever, or a big escalation.”