Fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip this past week is culminating in a series of Israeli political changes that could produce another major conflict between the two sides.
On November 11, an Israeli special forces team operating inside the Gaza Strip was confronted by a Hamas squad, resulting in a firefight that left one Israeli soldier and seven Hamas members dead (Al-Maghrabi and Williams 2018; Najjar 2018). This engagement was followed by Hamas and its allies launching over 400 rockets into Israel, which Israel countered with airstrikes (Al-Maghrabi and Williams 2018; Najjar 2018; Meir Emit Intelligence and Terrorist Information Center 2018). The number of rockets was described as unprecedented by Israelis (Meir Emit Intelligence and Terrorist Information Center 2018; Glick 2018). Currently a peace treaty brokered by Egypt has restored uneasy calm, but tensions remain high as does the potential for conflict (Najjar 2018; Al-Maghrabi and Williams 2018; Aronson 2018).
The Gaza Strip is populated by approximately two million Palestinians living in dire economic conditions, while governance is left to the Islamist terror group Hamas (Najjar 2018). As a result of Hamas’ political and military gains in the Strip, Gaza has been under an intensive Israeli blockade for 11 years that has left the area nearly unlivable in the view of international observers (Aronson 2018; Kenner 2018; Nugent 2018; OCHA 2018). Gazans face a sinking economy, deteriorating infrastructure, and a dropping of the already dismal standard of living that is exacerbated by the blockade and Hamas’ own poor ruling of the enclave (Aronson 2018; The Economist 2018; Nugent 2018). Moreover, the last six months have seen massive Gazan protests against the blockade and the loss of Palestinian land in 1948; Israeli forces have killed over 220 Palestinians during these “March of Return” demonstrations (Al-Maghrabi and Williams 2018). However, polls suggest that many Gazans do not necessarily support Hamas (Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research 2018; Pollack 2018).
In Israel, a political crisis is brewing over the recent fighting. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman resigned from his post after the Israeli government accepted a ceasefire with Hamas, claiming that this represented a “capitulation to terror,” a perspective shared by a gleeful Hamas (Stratfor 2018; Caspit 2018; Asharq Al-Awsat 2018). Israelis from across the political spectrum, especially those in the south affected by rocket attacks, have condemned the ceasefire (Stratfor 2018; Glick 2018; Zieve 2018). Liberman’s departure, and the ensuing reaction of other members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist government, is spurring the call for new elections being held early next year (Caspit 2018; Stratfor 2018). These elections could dramatically change the composition of the Israeli government and possibly even bring down Netanyahu; however, it is likely that all of those currently challenging Netanyahu will do so on the basis of promoting a stronger military response to Hamas (Caspit 2018; Stratfor 2018).
The Gaza Conflict seems to have no good or easy solutions. On one hand, the Israeli blockade and restrictions on aid into Gaza may be strengthening Hamas’ hand by pushing ordinary Gazans into terrible economic straits. However, the fact also remains that Hamas is a terrorist group with aims to reclaim all the land that is now Israel and, along with other groups such as Islamic Jihad, receives funding from Iran (Middle East Eye 2017; Meir Emit Intelligence and Terrorist Information Center 2018; The Economist 2018). Israel and Hamas are at continual loggerheads, and no political or economic solutions have been able to bridge the lack of trust between the mortal enemies. Caught in between are the citizens of Gaza who suffer the most.