As another Gaza escalation ends in ceasefire, what has changed?

After 27 deaths and dozens of properties destroyed, the violence — again — reaches an inconclusive end

May 06, 2019 10:55

A two-day escalation between Israel and Gaza ended early on Monday morning with 27 dead — four on Israel’s side of the border and 23 Palestinians — as anonymous sources in Gaza informed the media that a ceasefire had been reached through Egyptian mediation.

There was no official announcement in Gaza, but just before 7 am the Home Front Command issued orders rescinding restrictions on civilian activities in the areas that had been under fire from Gaza.

It ended another short and sharp escalation, more violent and intense than its predecessors, with a similarly inconclusive end.

This time, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) launched 650 rockets towards Israel and the Israeli air force had responded with strikes against 320 targets within Gaza.

So what had changed?

This round of violence was sparked off by sniper fire by PIJ towards Israeli troops on the border, in which an officer was moderately wounded and another female soldier lightly hurt.

This was followed by a retaliatory attack by Israel on a Hamas position — as Israel routinely holds Hamas responsible for attacks of any Palestinian organisation from Gaza — in which militants were killed.

Then came more Palestinian rockets.

Both sides largely kept to the script of recent escalations: Hamas and PIJ fired mainly towards Israeli towns and villages near Gaza; not one rocket was fired towards the Tel Aviv area, where preparations for Independence Day celebrations and the Eurovision Song Contest are underway. Israel mainly attacked “real estate targets” — Hamas and PIJ facilities which had been emptied of personnel.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, the Egyptians worked on reaching a ceasefire which mainly consisted of promises to transfer Qatari money to prop up Hamas’s administration in Gaza and vague promises to work on a more long-term truce.

But there was something new about this round of conflict. Hamas and PIJ fired multiple salvoes of rockets, indiscriminately, but towards a smaller number of targets. These included towns of Ashkelon and Ashdod up north along the coast from Gaza.

While most projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, a handful penetrated the missile defence system and caused three deaths in Israeli. A fourth death was caused when an anti-tank missile was launched from Gaza and directly hit a civilian vehicle. These methods can be expected in a future conflict with Gaza and are challenging Israel’s defence systems.

On the Israeli side, there was a limited return to older tactics, including the “targeted killing” of a Hamas commander for the first time since the summer of 2014 and attacks on the homes of senior members of the organisation.

Both sides gave each other a taste of what another major conflagration will look like. But both, at least for now, still have more to lose from further escalation: Israel doesn’t want to disrupt Independence Day and the Eurovision. Hamas still hopes to prolong its rule in Gaza. A ceasefire was just a matter of time.

Even after the IDF had officially notified residents in southern Israel that all the civil defence restrictions had been removed, no official government statement was forthcoming about a ceasefire. Four hours later, the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office put out a statement saying that “in the last two days, we hit Hamas and Islamic Jihad with great force” and that “the battle isn’t over and it takes patience and consideration”.

Does this indicate a further round of strikes, once the Eurovision contestants have left? Not necessarily.

Benjamin Netanyahu is not predisposed to another major Gaza campaign because it runs counter to his risk-averse nature.

His advisers have also been talking more openly of the “strategic advantages” of having Hamas remain in charge of Gaza, because it weakens the Palestinians overall by perpetuating their separation between Gaza and the Fatah-ruled West Bank, and thereby creates yet another obstacle to a diplomatic process.

The prime minister is already taking flak from members of his own party and his potential coalition, as well as from the opposition, for agreeing to what Likud rival Gideon Saar called “a ceasefire with no achievements.”

But Mr Netanyahu believes he can handle that. He has just won an election and with the Trump peace plan and his own legal challenges in the offing, he has bigger fish to fry. His strategy of trying to keep Gaza isolated and on the back-burner has not been exhausted yet.

May 06, 2019 10:55

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive