Unnerved by Gaza Protests, Hamas Attacks Israel

Jerusalem should consider quietly supporting the Palestinian protesters

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March 26, 2019

"If we hadn't got to the bomb shelter in time, I would be burying all my family." That is how Robert Wolf described the scene at his home in central Israel on Monday to the Telegraph. "We would all have been dead if we didn't do what we were supposed to do." Wolf and his wife Susan, British-Israelis originally from London, had their children and grandchildren staying with them when Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group in control of the Gaza Strip, fired a rocket at the town of Mishmeret around 5:20 in the morning. The blast almost completely destroyed the Wolfs' home and injured all seven family members, including a six-month-old granddaughter. The family's two dogs were killed.

The attack came less than two weeks after rockets were fired at Tel Aviv from Gaza, marking the first time since 2014 that Israel's second largest city, a major financial hub, had been targeted. Hamas claimed that a field operative fired the rockets at Tel Aviv without approval from superiors. After destroying the Wolfs' home, located north of Tel Aviv, the terrorist organization is claiming that it launched the rocket "by mistake." That explanation worked the first time, but two times in such a short period? The Israelis are not buying it, nor should they.

"This is a deliberate and dangerous act of aggression by Palestinian terrorists. We will not allow this!" said Emmanuel Nahshon, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry. He also called Hamas, which seeks Israel's destruction, "an organization of evil genocidal murderers" who are "cowards." The Israeli military identified the rocket that hit Mishmeret as one of Hamas's most powerful.

Israel retaliated by launching military strikes against dozens of targets belonging to Hamas in Gaza and has deployed more soldiers to its southern border. Hamas responded in turn by firing dozens of rockets at Israel. Egypt worked furiously overnight to broker a ceasefire and prevent the violence from escalating. There have been mixed reports about whether the ceasefire truly took effect, but, for the moment, the violence is less intense.

The big question now is whether hostilities will again escalate, and thus risk a war. Israeli officials have made clear that a ground incursion is possible if Hamas provokes the Jewish state. I wrote after the clashes between Hamas and Israel earlier this month that neither side wants a war right now. Yes, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to seem tough and confident on security matters just two weeks before Israel's elections, but he knows that a war is risky, with uncertain consequences. Moreover, beyond not wanting to sacrifice Israeli blood and treasure, Netanyahu fears the alternatives to Hamas ruling Gaza.

Hamas, meanwhile, is dedicated to destroying Israel, but is realistic and knows it desperately needs economic assistance for Gaza at the moment. War would only make its domestic situation worse. At the same time, however, Gaza's domestic situation seems to be the reason why Hamas launched the rocket at Mishmeret.

For the last two weeks, the people of Gaza have been protesting against Hamas, whose totalitarian rule has left the coastal enclave in a disastrous state. Price hikes, tax increases, and general economic incompetence have enraged the Palestinians in Gaza, who have to live with frequent blackouts, a terrible sewage system, and no hope. The unemployment rate, for example, reached 52 percent in 2018, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Gazans may not like Israel, but they understand that Hamas is the main source of their problems.

Hamas has responded with brutal force, beating and arresting demonstrators and intimidating journalists who want to cover the unrest. The anti-Hamas protests do not amount to a revolution by any means, but they are unprecedented in their scale and frequency. The terrorist group seems to be genuinely unnerved by the domestic opposition, which it blames on Israel and the Palestinian Authority. All the evidence and logic points to Hamas's rocket attack being an effort to distract the Gazan population and the international community from the protests by focusing on an external enemy—that is, Israel. Reports have indicated that Hamas is willing to provoke a conflict with Israel if it has to divert attention from the demonstrations and ensure they do not expand. The attack on Mishmeret could have also been a warning to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, who Hamas believes are behind the protests, to stop their covert support.

While Israel does not appear to be providing any such support, maybe it should start. The unrest in Gaza presents an opportunity. The Israelis view Hamas as the genocidal enemy that it is, but also as a known evil. Fear of what would happen next door in Gaza if Hamas somehow fell from power has in many ways paralyzed, or at least stymied, Jerusalem's approach to the coastal enclave. Israel does not want to overthrow Hamas and then be stuck governing two million resentful Palestinians living in horrid, almost post-apocalyptic conditions. Nor does Israel want chaos more generally in Gaza. Hamas is the devil that Israel knows. But perhaps now is the time to consider quietly supporting the protesters in Gaza. Hamas may be a known item, but the status quo of constant clashes and occasional full-blown wars is unsustainable. It is worth debating other options.