The Short Answer
The polarized and well publicized views of each side and their supporters are so jaded, “old hat” and reactionary that few international commentators or governments wish to become embroiled in a conflict whose roots are so deep that few believe a resolution will ever be possible until one side is utterly defeated by the other. This outcome is completely unacceptable of course so as bad as the status quo would appear to be it is better than the alternative.
The Long Answer
To elaborate – the current crisis in Israel / Gaza is a two sided affair. Each side and even their moderate supporters comment and pass judgment in an increasingly partisan fashion.
Palestinian supporters post images of bombed out domestic dwellings, civilian deaths, mass panic after receiving 60 second “dud rocket warnings” / “knock on the roof” bombing techniques and in particular the deadly consequences of the Israeli bombardment for the children of Gaza. Israeli supporters post images of rocket intercepts, burned out cars hit by Hamas rockets, allegations that Hamas are targeting a nuclear reactor and images of firefighters battling gas station blazes caused by short range rocket attacks which were not intercepted by the Israeli “Iron Dome” missile defense system.
The Iron Dome is Israel’s anti-missile defenSe system that, it is claimed, has had a nearly 90 per cent success rate in intercepting potentially deadly rockets from Gaza. The Iron Dome was designed and built by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems in 2011. It’s aim is to intercept potentially deadly rockets aimed at the Israeli territories. There are seven missile batteries placed around Israel firing 10ft long projectiles to intercept rockets fired on Israeli territories. The missiles have a range of between 2.5 and 43 miles. Each missile fired costs $50,000. Israel has invested in excess of $1 billion into the Iron Dome. The US has also pumped $235 million towards the project this year alone. If the Iron Dome was not in place then atrocities in Israel would match or exceed those in Gaza.
In the worst violence since 2012 Hamas continues to fire hundreds of rockets into Israel. Operation Protective Edge – the Israeli response – continues to bombard targets throughout Gaza including, highly controversially, the private dwellings of suspected Hamas leaders with the inevitable consequences for those living close by.
It is clear to all impartial observers that the response of a first world military organization will be far more deadly than the acts of terrorism which have provoked it. The Hamas arsenal is made up of short range rockets albeit with lethal consequences when targets are hit. The Israeli arsenal is a complex mix of highly effective and brutally destructive state of the art guided munitions capable of being deployed from land, sea and air platforms.
The fact is that the provocative acts, whether based on genuine grievances or not, have produced a far deadlier effect for the civilians of Gaza – a sacrifice that Hamas appears to be willing to let their fellow countrymen absorb.
So why does Hamas do it & why does Israel not experience more international pressure to cease reacting? Here are three points to keep in mind.
Quoting Ishaan Tharoor writing in the Sydney Morning Herald:
Hamas does not want a return to the status quo
A cessation of hostilities may end the current Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza, but it would reinstate a state of affairs many Gazans find intolerable. Since 2007, when Hamas won a battle for control of the Gaza Strip, Israel has clamped down on the densely populated, impoverished territory, imposing blockades and launching various military incursions. “The problem is not the cease-fire, the problem is the situation in Gaza,” said Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, in a televised address this week.
Hamas, as well as many ordinary Gazans, want restrictions on border crossings into the enclave to be loosened – in particular, the Rafah crossing with Egypt, which is the main gateway into the territory for goods and aid. But that has been closed since the ascension of Egypt’s Sisi, who ousted president Mohamed Morsi and banned Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, an institution that is Hamas’ ideological progenitor.
After the disappearance of three Israeli teenagers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank last month (who were eventually found murdered), Israel conducted mass arrests of hundreds of suspected Hamas operatives living there, even though the group denies any role in the teenagers’ abduction. Critics accused Israel of carrying out “collective punishment” on the Palestinians. Hamas wants some 54 of those detained to be released. Other demands include the extension of fishing zones in compliance with a 2012 agreement that critics say Israel has not followed. Gazan fishermen, struggling in the dwindling shoals, face routine harassment from Israeli gunboats.
For Hamas, rockets are politics by other means
Israel’s sophisticated Iron Dome system has neutralised most of the dangerous rockets launched from the Gaza Strip; many of the rockets fired carry no payload or land harmlessly in the desert or sea. Yet militants in Gaza continue to launch them at Israel amid the current crisis.
Rocket fire is Hamas’ main tool for achieving, or at least asserting, its demands. The Islamist organisation styles itself as a resistance movement against Israeli occupation and has long been at odds with the government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the main Palestinian interlocutor in the stalled peace process with Israel. Abbas has little influence over Gaza and the current escalation sidelines him even more, as Griff Witte and William Booth write in The Washington Post:
Bitter Abbas aides acknowledge that the president is fast losing relevance, but they say this is what Israel intended all along: hopeless negotiations followed by a fight that would elevate militant Palestinian elements at the expense of relative moderates. The timing, they say, is aimed at derailing a fragile Palestinian reconciliation deal that brought together the various factions, including Hamas, under Abbas’ leadership. “The objective of this war for Israel is political revenge against Mahmoud Abbas,” said Husam Zomlot, a top foreign policy official in Abbas’ secular Fatah party. “Israel wants to pull all of us into the military arena, because that’s where they have the advantage.”
Hamas thrives in this polarised context. Earlier Israeli operations against Hamas in Gaza in 2008 and 2012 led to tremendous loss of life, but did little long-term damage to the militants. Hardline politicians in Israel are now calling for a ground offensive into Gaza, a move that could lead to a calamitous escalation of the conflict.
Hamas also tragically gains from the rising death toll of Palestinian civilians. A cease-fire on Israel’s terms, writes Mya Guarneri of the +972 blog, “would also mean an end to the immediate damage to Israel’s image caused by the horrific photos and footage coming out of Gaza, and global protests against what Israel calls Operation Protective Edge”.
Hamas has fewer options and less leverage than in the past
Away from the battle, Hamas in Gaza faces crippling financial headaches and mounting anger over its record of governance in the territory. Some 40,000 public employees employed by the Hamas-run government in Gaza have gone without salaries for months, eking by on small stipends. The group is demanding the payment of these salaries as a condition for a cease-fire.
The shortfall in funds is in part a consequence of the upheavals of the Arab Spring. The civil war in Syria caused it to lose a key backer in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who’s now the target of Sunni antipathy – and Palestinian Muslims are Sunnis – across the region. Iran, the Middle East’s chief Shiite power, has also reduced its assistance to Hamas in recent years.
The closure of many smuggling tunnels into Gaza from Egypt has taken a toll as well. Sisi seems to have returned his country’s foreign policy to the earlier era of Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak, where a US-authored pact with Israel guaranteed a degree of stability in the region and military aid to Egypt, but did little to improve the lot of ordinary Palestinians. Sisi accuses Hamas of abetting an insurgency in Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula.
Without Egypt on its side, it’s unclear where Hamas can turn abroad for greater leverage. It retains varying levels of support from governments in Qatar and Turkey, but not enough that it can place much stock in a positive diplomatic solution. And so it clings to its bellicose rhetoric and rocket fire, no matter the bodies piling up around it.
Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a Senior Editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.
The Short Answer