Sunday’s vast rally in Gaza, with its ghastly Gilad Shalit tableau and tens of thousands of flag-waving Hamas supporters, was a sight intended to strike terror or awe into all who saw it (including the ranks of foreign cameramen).
But as a show of force it was pretty deceptive. The fact they still hold Shalit hostage is pretty much the only achievement Hamas can show off to the beleaguered occupants of the Strip. Things are probably about to get much worse, too.
The six month truce is up and Israel, much as it wants to continue it, fully expects an imminent escalation in the south.
As usual, the Hamas leadership in Damascus has been more hardline than in Gaza — but neither seem inclined to extend the truce unless its terms are ratcheted up, which seems unlikely. Not to mention that violent action in the run-up to an Israeli election has become something of a Hamas tradition, and one it looks unlikely to break now.
For its part, Israel has been preparing civil defences for cities previously out of rocket range. The diplomatic message is that Israel will not allow missiles to fall without severe consequences.
Unfortunately though, the ceasefire brought more quiet on the border than any military operations ever managed. And any full-scale IDF operation in the Strip — up to and including a re-occupation — will be hugely costly, both in terms of Palestinian and Israeli lives, and leave Israel with another problem — just how to get out again.
Gaza is going to be a huge problem in 2009, both for the Palestinians inside it and the Israelis within missile range.