War or Cease Fire: Israel-Hamas dilemma

War or Cease Fire: Israel-Hamas dilemma

Jewish Light Editorial

Just when it looked as if things could not get any more volatile between Israel and the Hamas terrorist group that runs Gaza, the situation became much worse.

First, an Israeli intelligence raid into Gaza went terribly wrong. Israel killed a senior Hamas militant, but one of the Israel Defense Forces soldiers was killed and the IDF had to call for air support as its troops came back across the Gaza border. The timing of that operation seems more than questionable since it scuttled efforts by Egypt to arrange for a cease fire, leaving a key Mideast ally out in the cold.

The delicately negotiated cease fire arranged by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was shattered, and increased fighting grew more intense, with Hamas firing a record 500 rockets into Israel in response to the inept Israeli raid. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was faced with a hard choice: waging an all-out military assault on Hamas in Gaza or trying yet another cease fire.

The ousting of Hamas could lead to its replacement by ISIS, which could force Israel to re-occupy the Gaza Strip. No sane Israeli government would want that development to occur. So Netanyahu accepted another cease fire. But that deal led two hard-line members of his Cabinet — Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home Party, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, to resign. 

Their departures left Netanyahu with a razor thin majority in the Knesset. To show how fluid the situation has become, Bennett suddenly dropped his resignation as Education Minister, and announced Monday that despite his reservations about Netanyahu’s strategy in Gaza, he will “stand by his side.  He added that he is likely to “pay a political price” for his about face.

To date, Lieberman who like Bennett is far to the right of Netanyahu, has not withdrawn his resignation. Bennett is learning the hard way that Netanyahu cannot be counted out too quickly.  With his proven ability to re-invent himself and form new coalitions, he has surpassed David Ben-Gurion’s record of total number of years served as prime minister. In the rough and tumble of Israeli politics, Netanyahu, with all of his shortcomings, has a proven ability to survive.  

The effort by Lieberman and Bennett to force new elections is being seen as a cynical ploy to take advantage of Netanyahu’s perceived weakness and force him from power through “snap elections.”  With Bennett dropping his threat to bold the coalition, it looks at the moment that Netanyahu has kept his coalition intact.

It is too soon to predict how all this will ultimately play out. At the moment, the region has the odd situation in which Netanyahu has become the “moderate” leader in Israel compared with his rivals on the extreme right. In such a situation, accepting Hamas’ continued control of Gaza seems more prudent than ousting them and risking an ISIS takeover or yet another costly and dangerous war. 

Ironically, Netanyahu and Hamas in Gaza have been forced into the category of  “the devils we know” versus the unpredictable consequences of an all-out war that could leave both Israel and Gaza in a much worse situation than the status quo. Meanwhile, typically, Mahmoud Abbas, the feckless president of the Palestinian Authority seems even more irrelevant than ever to any real prospects for a peace process.