Hamas’s Provocation Trap
How will Israel respond to continued rocket attacks?
Though the Jerusalem bomb that killed one person (a British evangelical Christian studying Hebrew in order to translate the Bible into Togo’s Ifé language) was more viscerally shocking, the dozens and dozens of rockets—many of them specifically claimed by Hamas—coming out of Gaza and landing in Israel, along with the limited Israeli retaliations that nonetheless claimed several lives (including a few innocents, for which the Israeli leadership apologized), was the more politically consequential thing that happened this week in the Holy Land.
As I said Monday, and as Time’s Karl Vick reported, the fact that Hamas not only launched the rockets but took credit for them—something it hasn’t done since the 2008-09 Gaza conflict—strongly indicates that they represent a gambit to provoke Israel into invasion, thereby distracting the Palestinian people from their own failure of leadership: Specifically, and recently, Hamas and Fatah’s refusal (and especially Hamas’s) to enter into talks with each other to unify for the sake of Palestinian nationalism.
In a new Slate article, Tablet Magazine contributing editor Michael Weiss sums the storyline up nicely:
Knowing its credibility is evaporating, Hamas has begun to act desperately. In recent weeks its agents have stolen automobiles belonging to the Palestinian Central Elections Commission and medical supplies intended for Gazans. And the party’s politics, said to be divided between the Gaza regime and its exiled ideologists in Damascus, have grown manic-depressive. When Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to Gaza to discuss reconciliation, Abbas surprised him by accepting. Having had its bluff called, Hamas responded to this acceptance by denouncing Abbas as a Mubarak-like dictator.
And, of course, by launching the rockets.
So will it work? It depends on how Israel responds. Defense Secretary Gates articulated the conundrum Israel faces when he spoke yesterday in Jerusalem. On the one hand, he diplomatically urged Israel to move forward on peace talks, particularly (so Americans said on background) because Israel’s increasing diplomatic isolation—embodied by, among other things, last month’s U.N. Security Council vote that would have condemned Israeli settlements had it not been vetoed by the United States—means that time is arguably not on its side. But at the same time, these are rockets aimed at Israeli civilians. “We underscore that Israel, like all nations,” Gates said, “has the right to self-defense and to bring justice to the perpetrators of these repugnant acts.”
Like last spring’s flotilla, the rockets are a “provocation trap”: They will have succeeded if Israel takes them as bait. The difference is, the flotilla was a ragtag bunch of lightly armed ideologues that did not represent much of a threat to anything. Responses to rockets are much more justifiable and, more importantly, necessary. At the time of the flotilla, contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg asked where Israelis’ seichel—their inborn cleverness at finding solutions to intractable problems—was. Israel’s response to the flotilla lacked seichel. Hopefully its response to the rockets—the far more formidable threat—won’t.
The Palestinians: Can Fatah and Hamas Be Friends? [Time]
What Egypt Can Learn From Palestine [Slate]
Related: Jerusalem Bomb Victim was British Bomb Victim Studying Hebrew [Guardian]
In Israel, Gates Condemns Recent Attacks From Gaza [NYT]
Earlier: Bomb Rocks Jerusalem Bus Stop
Hamas Launches Barrage, and Signs Its Name