Yaakov Katz
The Jerusalem Post
December 22, 2010 - 1:00am

Almost two years ago to the day, Operation Cast Lead began, and here, Israel and Hamas are back to fighting again.

A large-scale conflict has yet to evolve, but in the eyes of both sides, there is no question that the current escalation could easily lead to Cast Lead II – which neither side wants at the moment.

In Israel, residents of the South do not want a return to life in bomb shelters, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is currently focused on trying to work with the Obama administration to get the peace process back on track. A large-scale operation inside Gaza would most likely end that possibility.

The understanding within Military Intelligence is that the Gaza leadership also has reasons for not wanting a deterioration into another Cast Lead. For one, Hamas has yet to complete its rehabilitation process since the first conflict; it still needs to acquire more advanced weaponry and complete the construction of additional underground bunkers and passageways before it can pose a real challenge to the IDF.

If this is true, why is Hamas attacking the IDF along the border and allowing the Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad to fire rockets and mortars into Israel? These two organizations are institutionally independent of Hamas, but they are subordinate to the latter’s directives.

The answer is likely the result of several factors. First, the political leadership in Gaza is under pressure from the military wing, led by Ahmed Jabari, to renew rocket attacks against Israel.

After two years of quiet, Hamas fighters and the group’s proxies want some action.

The second reason is that while the rehabilitation process continues, Hamas has obtained sophisticated weaponry over the past two years. These weapons include long-range rockets like the Iranian Fajr-5, which can hit Tel Aviv, and the Russian Kornet anti-tank missile, which penetrated a Merkava tank two weeks ago. If they have the equipment, why not use it?

A more powerful incentive, however, is probably Hamas’s feeling that it has been forgotten. By slightly escalating the Gaza front, it will remind the regional players of its existence and its rule over Gaza.

Hamas officials are genuinely frustrated at seeing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas traversing the globe, leading the efforts to obtain international recognition for a Palestinian state without even mentioning Hamas or the Gaza Strip.

Egypt has also cracked down on Hamas over the past year, and an escalation that includes the use of missiles like the Kornet, which were smuggled into Gaza via tunnels under the Egyptian border, will likely cause some embarrassment back in Cairo.

Lastly, the talks for the release of Gilad Schalit are deadlocked, denying Hamas a political victory. The organization needs to flex its muscles and show that it not only exists, but can cause Israel damage.

Israel’s policy appears to be quite simple for the time being – to respond to fire with fire, but exercise caution at the same time. Israel’s hope is that the retaliatory air strikes will restore some of its eroding deterrence.

However, this policy could also have the exact opposite effect – and unwittingly lead the country straight toward Cast Lead II.


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