Long post ahead.
I’m Israeli, so I might be a little bit biased here, but even so-I figure it would help you to see things from my perspective. Please try and read my post, and not downvote me out of principle (like what happens to many posts by Israelis in this subreddit).
Let’s Get to the Context
For those of you who don’t know, about 3 weeks ago 3 Israeli teenagers were kidnapped near the town of Hebron. The Israeli government placed the blame on Hamas, and started detaining Hamas members throughout the West Bank in order to find the missing teenagers. This came as an incredible gift to Netanyahu, who has been just waiting to dismantle the recent Fatah-Hamas unity government- He sees Abbas as someone who’s trying to dance at two weddings- Trying to appease the Israeli government on one side, and trying to appease large portions of the Palestinian public by endorsing Hamas (which Israel, as you know, considered a terrorist organization) on the other- And that shit, for him, is intolerable. So he used the event as an excuse to “clean” the west bank from Hamas as much as possible- By arresting members, mostly, including ones that were released in the Gilad Shalit deal.
This shit triggered a massive response in the Israeli public, and racism which built up during the years started to come out. Following the news of the death of the teenagers, I am sad to say that I was ashamed of my country for the racist and hate-filled statements that came afterwards. The government realized just how much shit has burst from the dam they built with their cocky and hawkish attitude throughout the years, and tried their best to control and calm down the situation. Extremist jewish groups went out to the streets of Jerusalem and chanted “death to arabs”, counter protests started emerging with people from both the left and the right calling for non-violence and an end to racism, the situation was getting extremely tense- but as soon as I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it absolutely did.
6 religious-extremists jews (who were later caught by the Israeli police and confessed), influenced by the recent events (and probably their lack of compassion, emotion, and grey matter), decided to kidnap a Palestinian kid, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, as revenge. They grabbed him by force, drove him in their car to a nearby forest, and (according to the autopsy and later, their recreation of the act in front of the police) made him drink gasoline. After doing that, they doused him in it, and lit him on fire.
This caused the Arab-Israeli public to go nuts. Riots and protests started in the boy’s neighborhood, Shuafat, as well as a variety of other predominantly-arab towns and cities. The Israeli police responded in an attempt to contain the situation (and it didn’t help when a few of them were caught beating the murdered teen’s cousin on camera). Things were starting to feel like intifada 2.5.
As you might know, Since June 2011, funding from the Islamic Republic of Iran to hamas has been cut to show “displeasure at Hamas’s failure to hold public rallies in support of President Bashar al Assad” during the Syrian civil war, and funding from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has been cut so the Muslim Brotherhood can diverts funds “to support Arab Spring revolts”. After Morsi was thrown out, the little support and comfort Hamas had disappeared as well- and they, along with the Gaza strip, entered an economic crisis. The recent merge with Fatah was probably an attempt to remedy this.
In fact, after Fatah asked Hamas to stop the rocket fire, Hamas effectively stated “You want us to stop? Fine, but you have to pay our government employees the salary you promised them”. It’s clear evidence to what’s going on in here- Hamas are broke, and they’re trying to use military force to eventually-
A) Divert the thoughts of the population in Gaza away from the economic troubles ahead.
B) Acquire funding.
In essence, Hamas are trying to turn this lemon into lemonade. They saw what happened in the west bank after the kidnapping (which they were allegedly involved in, though they deny it wholeheartedly). Hamas operatives in the West Bank, some of which they worked very hard to release during the Shalit negotiations, were being arrested all over again. So what’s the way out of this? Hamas knows that, if they drag Israel into a major operation, they could score some major support from the Arab world- Especially if they manage to one-up themselves and surprise Israel with their new capabilities (something which I will comment on later). This would grant them outside funding, political support from the Palestinians, moral support from the Arab world, and a chance to release their captured prisoners.
What Hamas is doing isn’t new. They’re copying the same tactics Israel uses- War and military operations for political spin and gain is something Netanyahu is an expert at (as was seen in 2012’s “Pillar of Cloud”- even Israelis will admit that it was an “election war”.)
The Israeli Government’s Take
So, how did the Israeli government respond to all of these incidents? Surprisingly, for the first time in my life, I saw the Likud government actually trying to calm down the situation, instead of trying to inflame the public. There are multiple reasons for this.
First of all, following the murder of the three teenagers, the backlash in the Israeli public was far bigger than expected- And I suspect that the Israeli government thought that this could get way out of hand (and i’m not talking simple protests, i’m talking about the possibility of actual racial riots). You could clearly see that the government was trying to put on its calmest face to the public, a sharp contrast to the face it put on before the teenagers were found dead.
Second of all, the Israeli government, like Hamas, has a financial incentive; However, this time, it’s against escalation- The IDF is currently undergoing massive budget cuts, with training for reserves being canceled, R&D projects canceled, hundreds if not thousands of professional members of the IDF fired or expected to be fired, and more. A war on the scale of “Cast Lead”, or even “Pillar of Cloud”, can cost the Israeli government hundreds of millions, if not billions, of shekels- Shekels which they can’t easily pull out of their asshole, not even with US assistance.
And you could see this in the response to initial attacks from Hamas- Even though a large majority of Israeli public was crying out for revenge, the government seemed to be going “ehhh, could we do this another time guys? We’re kind of not in the mood…”
I genuinely thought that, hey, maybe they’ll actually let this slide this time.
The Subtle Dance of Escalation
So, what happened next started out as something that tends to happen a lot in the last few years… Something leads to Hamas firing a few missiles at small, southern targets at Israel, Israel responds with limited airstrikes, and it usually ends at that…
But then Hamas fired over 70 missiles at a very large variety of Important Israeli cities in both southern and central Israel, including Beersheba (where I live), Ashdod, Ashkelon, Rehovot, Herzelia and Tel Aviv. When I heard it happened on the news, two things went through my head-
2) Oh shit- They’re learning from us.
Why (2)? Because, until that point, I thought Hamas was responding because Israel forced their hand- they can’t look like wimps, they feel like they have to get involved. But here’s the catch- Israel and Hamas have both developed a sort of “unsigned treaty” of sorts, which allows a small number of missiles/strikes to be launched without a massive response from either side (after all, if every missile launched from Gaza/Every strike launched from Israel would be answered with everything each side had, there wouldn’t be enough fuel in the world to get the rockets/jets flying after 6 months). Hamas and Israel both know the general details and “red lines” very well, and Hamas decided to clearly cross those lines- 2 missiles, fine. 5 missiles will be forgotten. 10 missiles can be dealt with a strike or two. But over 70, at almost every town in the south and towns in central Israel? The Israeli public would never forgive a government that chickens out of that, and Hamas knew this.
In 2012, Israel set the dynamite and lit the fuse- They killed off Ahmed Jabari, and then responded heavily to the rockets that were obviously bound to follow.
This time, however, the situation was different- Israel set the dynamite, realized that they set the dynamite, uttered a silent “oh shit” while backing away from the dynamite, and before they could tell, Hamas lit the fuse with a thundering roar. And now, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge (which sounds like something out of a Billy Mays infomercial), Hamas is firing even further than ever (reaching almost all the way to Haifa), and both sides are paying the Iron Price.
Shit is Going Down in Disco Funky Town
So, by this point, both sides know that this will go on for way longer than 2-3 days. Whenever Israel publicly states an operation’s name, you know shit isn’t going to get pretty. Here’s a recap of the stuff that happened since the beginning of this mess, in July 7th- 40,000 Israeli reservists have been called to the border between Gaza and Israel. Whether this means a ground invasion will take place is unknown; Israel called a similar number of reservists to the borer during Pillar of Cloud, yet no ground invasion occurred.
Hamas attempted to sneak squads of soldiers into Israeli territory via a massive tunnel. The Israeli air force managed to bomb and destroy the tunnel; The group of Hamas soldiers at the other end attempted to escape, and at some point, the explosives they were carrying accidentally detonated, killing the group- This was discovered after the IDF discovered the tunnel exit near the Kerem Shalom crossing.
Hamas also attempted a naval raid- A squad of Hamas frogmen who dove under the waves and landed on the beach, tried to infiltrate either Zikim army base, or the town of Zikim itself. This didn’t go so well, as they were spotted by an IDF camera outpost, which sent IDF soldiers to engage them, supported by a naval vessel.
These two incidents were probably a blow to Hamas’s morale; Both of these operations were commando raids far into Israeli territory, attempting to dictate the tempo of the conflict and boost the moral of the population of Gaza- But both of them failed.
Where Hamas has exceeded themselves, however, was missiles and missile range- In cast lead, they reached Beersheba. In Pillar of Defense, they proved that they can reach Tel Aviv. And now, attacks on the Tel Aviv metropolitan area are commonplace, and rockets have been launched and hit as far away as Zichron Ya’kov- A city in very short distance from Haifa, a target previously considered too far away for Hamas to hit. Even though Iron Dome manages to intercept most of the rockets, by launching at these cities Hamas effectively stated: “You can reach anywhere you want in Gaza? Well, now we can reach anywhere we want in Israel.” In past conflicts, some people in southern Israel stayed in their relatives’ houses in central Israel- and now there’s a feeling there’s nowhere useful to go. Even the head of the Israeli air force admits that they don’t know where all of the long range rockets are stored.
Meanwhile, from the IDF side, the IAF is trying to eliminate as many targets in their bank as possible- Missile launching sites, underground launchers, weapons and missile caches, houses of high ranking Hamas members, all of those are currently targeted by the Israeli air force. The real question is- What will happen when their “target bank” runs out? Will a ground invasion occur? I really don’t know, but the Israeli government is signaling that this wouldn’t end in a few short days.
Stay safe everyone.