It looks like the Israelis and Egyptians are sticking with their plan to push Hamas against the wall. After the Gazan militant group broke a ceasefire yesterday, Israeli forces responded, and while Egypt holds the blockade firm, every day now brings Hamas’ rocket supplies closer to zero.The New York Times reports:
As a 72-hour truce in Gaza expired at 8 a.m. Friday, Palestinian militants fired barrages of rockets into Israel and the Israeli military responded with airstrikes, one of which killed a 10-year-old boy, according to relatives.The renewed hostilities interrupted the indirect talks in Cairo, brokered by Egypt and backed by the United States, for a more durable cease-fire agreement. While the rocket fire signaled Hamas’s refusal to extend the temporary lull and its desire to apply pressure for its demands to be met at the talks, the Israeli government said in a statement that “Israel will not hold negotiations under fire.”
Given that Hamas seems to have fired one-third of its rocket supply against Israel and lost another third to Israeli military action, and that it currently has no means to rebuild its arsenal, neither Israel nor Egypt is probably very impressed by Hamas’ military capability at this point.The one weapon Hamas has that works at all at this point is its capacity to provoke global outrage by arranging for its people to be killed in fighting. But even that has been dulled by Saudi and Egyptian counter-propaganda among Muslims and Arabs.Meanwhile, Hamas may have missed one important calculation: The more of its rocket arsenal it expends, the greater the incentives both for Israel and Egypt to insist on ultra strict border and smuggling controls. Hamas is in effect disarming itself with every irreplaceable rocket it fires, and its enemies won’t want it to acquire more. War is a tricky business, in which fortunes can switch overnight, but Hamas today seems in an extremely difficult position, demanding concessions its enemies have no reason to make. Under the circumstances, both Israel and Egypt appear to have solid reasons for sticking to tough negotiating positions and awaiting events. They have inflicted a major and perhaps crushing military defeat on Hamas. They are now trying to turn this into a decisive political victory that will force Hamas to accept substantially more Egyptian power over Gaza as the price of Hamas’ survival. Hamas is now about one-third as strong as it was at the start of the war, and it faces enemies who smell its weakness and who loathe and mistrust it. Yet it is insisting on an agreement that would amount to a victory even as its political wing reaches out to Iran. One can admire the chutzpah but doubt the wisdom of a strategy rooted in desperation and fear.Yet whether it realizes it or not, losing may be Hamas’s one last card to play. If it collapses totally, the chaos that would result in Gaza might be worse even than Hamas’s rule. We have seen in Libya, Iraq, and Syria just how ugly things can get when there is no controlling force.In light of this, the Egyptian goal might be either to rule Gaza by suborning a desperate Hamas or by installing Fatah as a weak and dependent power. But it’s hard to engineer these things, even in a prearranged handover deal — much less if authority collapses but armed fighters remain, the military wing is still active, and Islamic Jihad and other groups are waiting in the wings.Would Israel then agree to use the IDF to impose Fatah rule? This would not only be very hard to accomplish, but would probably prove self-defeating, as the visible Israeli support would be fatal to the Palestinian group from a legitimacy point of view.So even as Hamas appears to court its own destruction, it still may have something to sell. Its last weapon may be a threat to commit suicide as an organized force—the ultimate suicide bomber, as it were.