Israel and Gaza: A Silver Lining?

With Hamas rockets raining down on Israel’s cities and Israeli jets pounding Gaza with airstrikes, it is easy to despair at the cycle of violence that has defined the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades. But there is good reason to believe that after this operation concludes, a much-welcome and enduring quiet will occur.

Operation Protective Edge, like previous Israeli operations, was initially defined by Israel’s aerial response to a deluge of indiscriminate rockets emanating from Gaza. As in Operation Pillar of Defense (2012), Hamas has launched an incredible number of rockets into Israel in the last few weeks. This is not only an attempt to overcome the protective miracle of the Iron Dome but also because of the supposed flexibility its defense provides Israeli leadership. Despite massing troops on the Gaza border in 2012, Israel never carried out any extensive ground incursions.

Last week Hamas continued its incessant rocket fire with a potential ceasefire agreement in the works, calling what it believed was another Israeli ground invasion bluff. However Israel’s discovery of extensive kidnap and attack tunnels leading into southern Israel caught Hamas off guard. Israeli leadership saw the opportunity to proactively dismantle Hamas’ newest terror strategy and took it without hesitation.

Despite suffering heavy military losses and facing great international outcries, Israeli leaders across the political spectrum are calling for the continuation of the ground operation in Gaza until all tunnels are destroyed. With its more damaging long-range rocket arsenal seriously depleted and its new counterstrategy literally being ripped out of the ground, Hamas is in dire straits. Unlike in the past, Hamas is now losing all conceivable ability to commit meaningful violence against Israel.

Backed into a corner, Hamas militants continue to fight the Israeli Defense Forces ferociously. Israel has already suffered more casualties than during its last ground incursion in 2009.

While casualties, military or civilian, are always tragic, historically, their quantity significantly alters the framing of the post-conflict landscape. Israel suffered heavy losses in a war with Hizb’allah in 2006 that continues to be perceived as a symbolic victory in the Arab world. But Israel’s border with Lebanon has since remained quiet. Also, it was the surprising performance of the Arab armies during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 that created the initial ripeness for a peace agreement in both Egypt and Jordan.  

No one is suggesting that Hamas will simply give up its commitment to violence or quickly reform its ideological goals of conquering the entirety of Israel. But thanks to el-Sisi’s sympathetic leadership in Egypt, the Gaza blockade is tighter than ever. The Iron Dome continues to render the majority of Hamas’ diminished rocket arsenal harmless. Hamas’ terror tunnels are being permanently demolished. Even the EU has called for the disarmament of all terror groups in Gaza including Hamas. It seems that Gaza’s leadership possess no better alternative than framing the outcome of this war as a “great victory” and refrain from serious violence.

As history has proven, “great victories” often provide increased stability. With lasting stability come new opportunities for meaningful resolution. The silver lining to this terrible violence occurring in Gaza and Israel will at least be a durable calm. At its best, it could result in something far more historic.

Ayal Feinberg: Ragonis Scholar, Willingham Peace Scholar, Ph.D. Student