Given the other world crises that have dominated the headlines, it has almost been unnoticed that the fighting between Israel and Arab militants in the Gaza Strip has intensified to be the worst in quite some time. In four days of battles in which rockets are fired at Israeli targets from Gaza and Israel responds with counter-strikes, 23 Palestinians have been killed and 74 Palestinians and eight Israelis have been wounded (see link below).
Does this portend another Israeli-Palestinian war is looming? For a rather unusual reason, I think not. If you notice the link’s content, you will see the rocket attacks being fired at Israeli targets from Gaza are not being fired by Hamas, but rather by a rival Palestinian group called Islamic Jihad. A small blurb in today’s USA Today also mentioned that “Hamas…did not take part in the rocket salvos.” In the odd world of Mideast politics which results in strange bedfellows at times, I do not see this as a looming Hamas-Israeli struggle. Indeed, this current fighting may serve the interest of both Hamas and Israel. It is in Hamas’ interests to have the Israelis eliminate as much of the Islamic Jihad leadership and fighters as possible as this weakens an internal threat to Hamas’ dominion of the Gaza Strip. It also serves Israeli interests to eliminate as many Islamic radicals as possible in Gaza to lessen future attacks upon Israel. Because this particular fighting temporarily serves the interests of both Hamas and Israel, it would not shock me if some back-channel cooperation were actually occurring. Both the Reuters and USA Today stories mention Egypt is acting as the mediator during this fighting. If deep-cover, back-channel cooperation is occurring here, Egypt is likely the go-between which enables the cooperation to occur.
My thoughts on this subject may be wrong, but it is a telling point to me that Hamas is studiously staying out of this fighting while its rival for leadership of the Gaza Strip is being pounded by the Israelis, and the Israelis are not hitting Hamas targets. If any such back-channel cooperation is occurring, I expect it to be temporary.
There is one other aspect of this fighting worth noting. The Israelis have been working feverishly to install their “Iron Dome” anti-missile shield to protect Israelis from missiles fired from Gaza, Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, Syria or even Iran. The link below cites that Israel’s Iron Dome system has shot down 20 of the 35 rockets fired at Israeli targets. That is a 57% effective rate, far lower than Israel would like to achieve. This fighting has given Israel a chance to determine how effective its Iron Dome system is against certain types of rockets in actual combat conditions, and it is clear that the system has reached a useful level of effectiveness, but it obviously needs improvement. If it can shoot down only 57% of a small number of rockets fired from Gaza, how effective will the system be against thousands of rockets fired from Hezbollah from Lebanon? You can be sure that Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are also carefully watching how effective Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system is against the rockets fired from Gaza. Perhaps that is the primary goal of the rocket offensive against Israel from Gaza, and the elimination or weakening of a Hamas rival group is merely a secondary goal of Hamas.