Winds of War


Israel and Hamas at edge of new confrontation


By: YOSEF TASTASSA  
Published: February 28th 2011
in News » Israel

Hamas Troops

The New Middle-East

 

The new developments in the Middle-East have definitely increased the "appetite" of the extremist militants. The vacuum in Egypt and the near collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya are interpreted by many Arabs as signs of weakness of the west. The US is losing its influence in the region, Europe is speaking but doing nothing practical and Israel who is supported by the West, especially the US, looks weaker and much more vulnerable.

 

Recent developments

 

The most important development in the region are the two Iranian warships which have recently crossed the Suez Canal and are now stationed in the harbor of Latakia in Syria. Both the Iranian and the Syrian Navy have signed a collaboration agreement between the Navies. Whenever there is a vacuum in the Middle-East, it is quickly filled by the Iranians who wish for full hegemony in the region.

 

In addition, the fall of Mubarak puts Hamas in a completely different situation. The Sinai Peninsula is becoming the land of smugglers, outlaws, AL-Qaeda and of course the Hamas who will now see the Peninsula not as a barrier but as a logistical hinterland.

 

The Hamas opportunity

 

Ever since Hamas took control of the Gaza strip, they have been relatively isolated and have not succeeded in taking over the West Bank. Hamas is trying to take advantage of the new political situation by labeling president Abbas as a coward, traitor and a collaborator with the US and Israel. If Abbas loses further legitimacy in the West Bank, it is quite likely that through new elections, Hamas could have full control over the West Bank without having to fire a single bullet.

 

In order to increase its popularity, Hamas has decided that a new confrontation with Israel is in their best interests. For the first time in almost two years, on the night of February 23rd, Hamas fired a Grad rocket on the Israeli city of Beer-Sheba. Luckily there were no casualties, only panic among Israeli citizens. One house was severely damaged from the rocket's explosion.

 

There is no doubt that the firing of the rocket was coordinated with Hamas supporters – Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.

 

The Israeli reaction

 

Israel responded immediately. The launchers were attacked by the Israeli Air-Force and were reportedly destroyed. In addition, the Israeli Air-Force kept attacking Hamas and Islamic-Jihad military targets. Hamas responded by firing rockets on the Israeli city of Netivot. No casualties or damage were reported.

 

A cycle of escalation

 

The last two days of firing could easily escalate and could lead to a high scale confrontation between Israel and Hamas. Israeli troops would again find themselves fighting in the streets of Gaza and many Israeli cities will be shelled and rocketed by Hamas, a scenario too familiar to both sides.

 

The military escalation in the Israel-Gaza strip border could deteriorate and Israel may find itself fighting in more than one front. Hezbollah could see this as the the right time to attack Israel and would start firing missiles on Northern-Israel with the support of Iran and Syria.

 

The combination of an Arab world vacuum and a full scale confrontation between Israel and its near neighbors could lead to catastrophic results in the region.

 

What to do?

 

The Israeli dilemma is obvious. It does not want to look weak and passive nor does it want to start a full scale war. Israeli decision makers will probably keep reacting proportionately to any Hamas aggression, trying to strengthen the Israeli deterrence. However, if a Hamas missile attack would cause large scale damages and casualties, the Israeli citizens will urge its government to strike Hamas without mercy. The unwanted scenario of thousands of missiles fired at the heart of Israel, and a reply of another costly and bloody war, could then become a reality.



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