The Jerusalem Post

Neither Hamas nor Israel wants another round


It seemed like we were watching the news on repeat: Jewish nationalis­ts marching through Jerusalem waving Israeli flags as Hamas in the Gaza Strip warned it would fire rockets. Everyone was on the edge of their seats. Less than a month since a ceasefire was signed, was Israel set to go back to war?

Throughout the day, dozens of incendiary and explosive balloons landed in southern Israel, igniting more than 20 fires, but no rockets were fired.

Israel had deployed Iron Dome batteries close to the capital, reinforced batteries in the South and had thousands of Border Police officers secure the march. There were several injuries and arrests during the controvers­ial march, but overall the day ended with quiet in the capital.

The Iron Dome batteries that had been deployed close to the capital stayed silent. Instead of rocket-warning sirens, the sirens of fire trucks rushing to the scene were heard.

The way that the two sides handled the day shows just how much restraint they employed, because neither Hamas nor Israel wants to go back to war so soon after the last round in May.

Hamas, which pushed itself into a corner with its threats and promises to the Palestinia­n people that it is the protector of al-Quds and al-Aqsa Mosque, resorted to its pressure tactics of balloons and night demonstrat­ions along the border, instead of rocket fire.

But the balloons and demonstrat­ions were not launched solely because of the flag march; the group is also trying to pressure Israel into letting the millions of dollars of Qatari cash into Gaza, as well as restart the fuel transfers into the blockaded coastal enclave.

Hamas knows it cannot afford another war right now, especially with Egyptians in the Strip handling all aid being sent. Egypt is an instrument­al player when Israel and Gaza go to war, and Hamas knows that angering its neighbor to the south would not be the smartest move on its part.

A key strategic ally for Israel, Cairo had reconnaiss­ance planes in the air over northern Sinai and off the Gazan coast throughout the day, likely to watch for any moves inside Gaza that would point to preparatio­ns of rocket fire.

If it wants to, Hamas can keep the quiet; we have seen that over and over again. And not only did it prevent any fire from its operatives on Tuesday, but it made sure that Palestinia­n Islamic Jihad and other groups toed the line as well.

But the terrorist group still claimed victory, saying that it imposed a new set of rules on Israel following the 11 days of conflict.

“The courageous stances of the Palestinia­n resistance, and its decisive decisions that forced the Israeli occupation to change the path of the so-called March of Flags away from the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque, change the path of civil aviation, and intensify the deployment of the Iron Dome, confirm the achievemen­t of the deterrence equation it imposed in the Battle of Saif al-Quds, and its success in imposing new rules of engagement on the enemy,” the

group said Tuesday night.

THE DAY was a test for Israel under the new government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, as well.

Bennett is a known hawk on defense issues. Shortly after he began his term as defense minister in November 2018, he

warned Hamas that “no one will be immune” from Israeli military action. The response to the launching of explosive balloons from the Strip would be similar to the launching of rockets, he said.

“The lawless conduct of Hamas leadership is bringing us closer to fatal action against them. We will not announce when or where, but no one will be immune,” Bennett said at the time.

And he has kept repeating that. So overnight, IDF jets carried out strikes against empty Hamas and PIJ compounds. They were the first airstrikes since the ceasefire and a warning to Hamas: we will not sit back quietly.

But does hitting empty compounds at night do anything to deter the group? Israeli officials have said over and over again that “what was, will not be,” so in order to stay true to their words, the Israel Air Force could have hit a target with more significan­ce.

Opposition MK Israel Katz (Likud) tweeted Wednesday morning that “for every attack in Israel, targeted assassinat­ions and widespread attacks on Hamas targets should be carried out. Not empty compounds.”

Perhaps the Israelis were also walking a tightrope, knowing that widespread attacks in the Strip would not be welcomed by Cairo and could instead lead to a diplomatic crisis that Bennett could not afford so soon into his term.

Both Israel and Gaza have firepower to cause extensive damage, but no matter the threats by leaders in Jerusalem or Gaza, both sides are restrained both by Cairo and by their own internal issues.

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