A Cease-Fire in Gaza
Israel and Gaza have entered a period of calm following a weekend of fighting which began last Friday night when Israel bombed the Palestinian enclave.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the bombings were necessary to counter “an immediate threat.” He also highlighted Islamic Jihad’s links to Iran, reminding his audience that its leader was at that moment in Tehran.
Islamic Jihad’s response, to fire hundreds of rockets at major Israeli population centers, had little effect. The missiles either fell short or were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defenses.
It is unclear whether a cease-fire, arranged by Egyptian authorities on Sunday night between the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad and the Israeli government, will hold.
At least 44 people were killed—all in Gaza—since the initial bombing in the largest round of fighting since May last year. Several children are believed to be among the dead.
Francesca Albanese, the U.N. special rapporteur for the Palestinian territories said the strikes were “not only are illegal but irresponsible,” and called for a lifting of the blockade of the enclave, put in place by Israel and Egypt since 2007.
The U.S. response was muted, as U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby spoke of support for both Israel’s right to defense as well as the Biden administration’s support for a two-state solution.
The most recent exchange stands out from the last few rounds in that Hamas, the larger militant group and the governing authority in Gaza, was not involved.
Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Israel’s choice of a much weaker adversary this time around is a reflection not just of the strength of Hamas but of Israeli calculations that the two groups would not coordinate.
With part of the cease-fire agreement reportedly involving the release of Islamic Jihad prisoners, the group will likely lie low and assess its position, Miller said: “They’ve lost some significant military commanders in Gaza and a lot of infrastructure, and they’ve lost any sense that Hamas is willing, at least for the foreseeable future, to support their activities.”
With Hamas keeping its hands clean, the latest spark seems destined to fizzle out. Israeli bombs aren’t just destructive, however—they can also be converted into political capital: Caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid has already seized the opportunity to play wartime leader, hastily arranging a security briefing over the weekend (grudgingly attended by his nemesis and electoral challenger, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu).
“I think there’s probably less here than meets the eye in terms of any strategic shift. It may carry more consequences for Israeli politics, because Lapid—with no military [combat] experience, no high school diploma—needs between now and November 1 to demonstrate the fact that he can be prime ministerial, that he can show judgment in dealing with security issues.”
But Miller cautioned against any further risk-taking on Lapid’s part between now and Nov. 1: “The last thing that Lapid needs is an open-ended confrontation in Gaza that gets out of control. That would be very bad for Lapid and would be a huge talking point for Netanyahu.”