While both Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire on November 14, 2018, we nevertheless experienced the worst round of military confrontation in the four years since Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Hamas was clearly the aggressor.
What went wrong, and where we are heading?
Immediately after an Israeli intelligence operation in Gaza failed on November 11, 2018, Hamas constrained its reaction. In its statements, there was no sign that they were planning the massive rocket launch that ensued during the afternoon and evening of November 12.
Two major components of the Hamas’ mode of operation led it to trigger this round of rockets. One is psychological: the sense of pride and dignity is also a core element of Hamas’ prestige and is necessary to keep it in power. Ramallah ridiculed Hamas for selling its dignity for a handful of Qatari dollars. This “dignity” element may prove to be a major problem even after the current round of hostilities stopped.
The second element is political – the establishment of a “joint operations room” for Hamas and the other “organizations” to run the show.
Joint Operations Means Consolidation to Change the PLO
This joint operations room is vital for Hamas to take its future steps – to establish a new PLO that will assume the role of the old organization currently under Fatah leadership. Right now, organizations including the Popular Front and the Democratic Front already boycott Ramallah’s PLO. It is necessary for Hamas to get them onto its side by heeding them and accepting their point of view in earnest. Additionally, there is the Iranian-supported Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which was never part of the PLO, but during Arafat’s time, PIJ respected him and cooperated with him, as opposed to Hamas.
This gave Islamic Jihad a strong say in managing the current situation, and it was a key component in the latest military deterioration. This gives Iran a better position in decision-making in Gaza.
But this joint operations room is also a double-edged sword for Islamic Jihad. As the governing power in Gaza, Hamas is still interested in achieving stabilization. After the current round of hostilities, Hamas can come to Islamic Jihad and say: “We gave you the military round you wanted. Now give us stabilization.” This backs Islamic Jihad into a corner where they cannot say no, and the same goes for the other organizations that are close to Syria and Iran.
So, what comes next? The danger of further deterioration is real, and Israel must renew its deterrence. Absurdly, a heavy blow to Hamas may help its leader Yahya Sinwar control the organizations that he so badly needs for his plans to both build a new PLO and get them agree to achieve the aspired stabilization after all.
Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Arab affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently serves as an analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.