Seems to me that the last thing Bibi Netanyahu needs is a mini-war with Gaza. In contrast to previous election-season mini-wars (Cast Lead, Pillar of Defence), a blow out with Hamas at the moment would expose Netanyahu’s inability (or refusal) to stop an onslaught of hundreds, perhaps thousands of rockets at southern and central Israel. With four ex-IDF chiefs of staff running against him in Blue & White, a medium-scale military operation right now would undermine his claim to be “Mr Security”.
On the other hand, Hamas is playing this very, very carefully. On one hand, the terror group has been struggling to contain protests in Gaza, and has instinctively resorted to its default method of deflecting domestic criticism: Provoking an Israeli response.
On the other hand, Netanyahu has been good for Hamas. During his 10 years as prime minister, Netanyahu has never pursued regime change in Gaza, preferring the devil he knows to whatever group might replace a deposed Hamas. With Netanyahu at the helm in Israel, Qatari money has continued to flow, with Netanyahu’s manage the conflict” approach demands only that Hamas ensure a modicum of “quiet” for Israeli civilians.
As such, Yahya Sinwar will likely take care not to underestimate Netanyahu’s weak political position, both inside the Likud Party and vis-à-vis right-wing voices like New Right leader Naftali Bennett and National Union/Otzma Yehudit Chairman Bezalel Smotrich, both of whom believe strongly in a massive invasion to remove the group from Gaza once-and-for-all, and would have little sympathy for Palestinian civilian lives lost in the process.
Sinwar, then, will spend the next two weeks trying to balance his organisation’s stated raison d’être of fighting Israel and the danger of miscalculating Netanyahu’s response to ongoing rocket attacks. Logic – and today’s heavy IDF response to this morning’s rocket attack on central Israel – would dictate that metropolitan Tel Aviv can rest easy over the next several weeks.
Residents of southern Israel, however, may not have the same luxury, as Bibi’s “deal” with Hamas apparently includes a generous allotment of rocket fire at Sderot, Nir Am and other Gaza Belt communities.