While at War With Islamic Jihad, Israel Is Almost in Talks With Hamas

Hamas has so far refrained from joining the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's rocket fire on Israel, which began Tuesday morning following the assassination of one of the latter organization’s senior commanders, Baha Abu al-Ata. That is the main aspect currently shaping the flare-up. Without Hamas — and following the hit on a crucial component in its chain of command — the reaction of the smaller of the two organizations may be large in scale but, for the time being, hasn’t been particularly effective. As usual, everything depends on the damage wrought by isolated rockets. But as of midday Wednesday, the escalation has not spiraled completely out of control.

– Haaretz Weekly 12/11

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Hamas is far from being a collaborator with Israel. It has its own interests, and these apparently dictate that the calm be preserved based on its desire of achieving an longer-term arrangement, accompanied by cash injections from Qatar and the easing of restraints on movement to Egypt and Israel.

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As long as Hamas itself suffers no losses and there are no massive casualties among the Palestinian population at large, the organization seemingly doesn’t feel it is incumbent on it to react. On the other hand, it isn’t trying to restrain Islamic Jihad. But without the logistical and operational cooperation of Hamas, Islamic Jihad has so far proven unable to deliver a real blow to Israel.

We have to assume that it has the motivation. According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, 21 Palestinians have been killed since Tuesday — most of them members of Islamic Jihad. The movement will probably continue to try to exact revenge, whether through rocket barrages at unexpected times or an awe-evoking attack such as firing anti-tank missiles, a sniper ambush or infiltrating Israel.

Since Tuesday night, the Israeli army has marked up operational successes after a long dry spell: it has damaged the Islamic Jihad’s rocket-launching units. This is an important layer on top of the impressive one supplied by the Iron Dome missile defense system (which has intercepted more than 90 percent of Palestinian rockets in urban areas). The lingering question, always without a clear answer, is to what degree a high number of Palestinian casualties deters the organizations and when mass funerals drive Islamic Jihad (and, more dangerously, Hamas) into escalating the rocket fire.

Abu al-Ata had commanded the northern division of the Islamic Jihad’s military wing in Gaza and was described as a key obstacle to any arrangement in the Strip because he insisted on firing rockets at Israeli targets every few weeks. Hamas’ failure to respond so far could show that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the organization’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, understand each other pretty well.