There can be no doubt that the Hamas leaders in Gaza brought this on themselves. Recent rocket attacks from the Strip no longer made any pretence of being perpetrated by more extreme Salafists and assorted jihadists. Rather than distance itself from the attacks, Hamas has been taking the credit for sending up to one million Israelis in the Gaza periphery into safe rooms and shelters. The reason for this new boldness is presumably Hamas’s close relationship with the ruling Muslim Brothers in Egypt.
The most this operation can do is achieve a few more months of quiet that will get Netanyahu and Barak through the coming elections. By demonstrating that the PLO does not control Gaza, it might also slightly damage that organization’s credibility as it seeks U.N. recognition for a state that comprises Gaza. That’s the best case. It assumes that Hamas will not seriously escalate and cause heavy loss of life in Israel. It also assumes that an errant bomb won’t accidentally kill a bunch of kids in Khan Yunis or Rafah, thereby bringing down upon us the wrath of the world.And then there is Egypt. This operation is the first serious test of the validity of President Morsi’s commitment to look after the Gazans. So far, Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood has withdrawn its ambassador. If it weakens relations in a more substantive way—e.g., by closing down military cooperation with Israel regarding the salafists in Sinai—the damage at the strategic level could quite profoundly hurt Israel’s broader strategic interests.As always, it’s easy to go in, but hard to get out.
Yossi Alpher is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. Until recently he coedited bitterlemons.net.