First, here is a summary:
- Both in the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead and in the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel’s government focused its objective on enhancing deterrence – opting for hitting the terrorists hard enough to give them an interest in a ceasefire for as long as possible – rather than dismantling Gaza’s terror infrastructure or toppling the Hamas government.
- Already in Cast Lead the IDF told the government that a Defensive Shield-type operation (as in the West Bank in 2002) to eliminate Gaza’s terror infrastructure, while possible, would require significant forces and could take many months. Then the problem would arise: what would be Israel’s exit strategy?
- The 2012 operation was carried out against the background of dramatic changes in the region, with Israel facing a potential undermining of the fragile peace with a different, Islamist Egypt; uncertainties along Israel’s northern borders with Syria and Lebanon; and an ongoing critical situation regarding Iran. Given all these considerations, the government was right to determine more limited objectives, and successful in achieving them without resorting to a ground operation.
- While fault-lines between Sunnis and Shiites are heating up across the region, Hamas still draws on both camps. Even though Hamas has replaced its Iranian political and economic umbrella with a Sunni one provided by Egypt, Qatar, and Turkey, it still receives weapons from Iran, which now publicly and proudly takes credit for it; Iran wants it known that it does more than the Sunni states to aid Hamas’ anti-Israel
- If it has the requisite political will, Hamas is capable of enforcing the ceasefire on all factions in Gaza, including jihadi groups that were the main escalating engine leading to Operation Pillar of Defense. Hamas has been trying to maneuver between its responsibilities as a government and its wish to sustain its standing as a resistance movement. Operation Pillar of Defense compelled Hamas to make a choice.
- Coupled with its Egyptian sponsor’s interest in stability, Hamas now feels compelled to observe the ceasefire. The result, for the time being, is unprecedented quiet along the Israel-Gaza border. To sustain that ceasefire, however, it is essential to get Egypt to effectively stop the smuggling of weapons through its territory into Gaza.
There are many reasons for the abject failure of the Abbas regime to project itself as a leadership model for the Palestinian Arabs -- or as a peace partner for Israel. The unrelenting incompetence and corruption of the Palestinian Authority has in no way been mitigated by the willingness of the UN to abrogate the Oslo Accord and grant upgraded non-member, observer status. The insistence of the Abbas regime to call itself the "state of Palestine" has not won it any admirers as it continues to imagine itself to be a real state while Abbas begins the 9th year of his 4 year term, the legality of Fayyad's own position is questionable at best, and the government continues to rely on regular infusions of billions in aid -- all the while openly encouraging hatred of the Israelis, without whom Abbas does not have the borders for what would become an actual state.
The Palestinian Authority in Decline?Another aspect of the changes underway in the Middle East is the tension between Islamists and nationalists, and it is well evident in the Palestinian context. Although Hamas was decisively beaten militarily, in the political sphere it scored points, mainly because of the abovementioned Sunni political and economic umbrella it receives. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority was totally marginalized during the Gaza crisis. While Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was in Cairo meeting with Morsi to work out the ceasefire terms, PA President Mahmoud Abbas tried to call Morsi – who would not take his call for five days. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to Israel and Egypt to help craft the ceasefire, she visited Abbas in Ramallah for all of thirty minutes. It was also to extricate itself from this complete marginalization, exacerbated by the events in Gaza, that the Palestinian Authority went to the United Nations.
It remains to be seen how things will play out in the Palestinian context. Over the past few years, the West’s and Israel’s approach has been to highlight the differences between the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, on the one hand, and Gaza, on the other. It was to show that the nonviolent and potential partner for negotiations – the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank–could become a thriving entity under the stewardship of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad with his institution building, while violent Gaza under Hamas, openly calling for the destruction of Israel, was isolated and declining. The regional transformation, however, has produced
No matter what actions Israel and the West take, the Hamas terrorists appear to get stronger, while the Abbas regime just becomes more and more irrelevant.
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