An uncomfortable ceasefire between Israel and Hamas went into effect Friday after a deadly 11-day conflict, with both sides claiming victory and experts warning that the seeds of another bloody showdown between Israelis and Palestinians have already been sown.
The truce brought about by Egypt provisionally ended the fourth war between Israel and the Islamist militant group since 2008. Like the three previous conflicts, the final bloodshed ended in blows for both sides, but failed to secure a Knockout.
Israel claimed to have caused “unprecedented” damage to Hamas with thousands of blue air strikes, even though it was again unable to stop rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Hamas and its smaller ally, Islamic Jihad, also claimed victory, despite the horrific toll on countless families and businesses in the impoverished Palestinian enclave.
“Both sides exhaust each other,” said Yossi Mekelberg, associate fellow at London-based Chatham House, in an interview with FRANCE 24. “Both tried to prove their points and strengths, but their vulnerabilities and weaknesses were also exposed.”
Publicity for Hamas, a lifeline for ‘Bibi’
More than 200 people – the vast majority Palestinians – have died in the 11-day conflict that began on May 10 when Hamas militants in Gaza fired long-range missiles at Jerusalem.
The barrage came after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the focal point of Al-Aqsa Mosque, where heavy-handed police tactics coupled with the threat of eviction of dozens of nearby Palestinian families by Jewish settlers created tension.
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Hamas and other militant groups fired more than 4,000 missiles at Israel during the fighting, displaying a vastly expanded and improved arsenal as they launched projectiles from civilian areas in Israeli cities. Dozens of rockets flew as far north as Tel Aviv, the country’s commercial capital.
“The whole world should know our hands are on the trigger,” Hamas warned Friday as Palestinians took to the streets in Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank to celebrate the ceasefire, pushing the Islamist group’s position. was fortified in areas controlled by its weakened rivals. in the Palestinian Authority.
Israel, meanwhile, has carried out hundreds of airstrikes targeting what was reportedly Hamas’s military infrastructure, including a massive tunnel network and – in a first to raise global alarm – a tower block housing the offices of the international media Al Jazeera and the Associated Press. accommodated.
“Hamas cannot hide anymore,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised address, alleging that the Israeli military had destroyed the group’s extensive tunnel system, its missile factories, weapons labs and storage facilities and killed more than 200 militants, including 25 senior agents.
Agnès Levallois, a senior fellow at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, said Friday’s early ceasefire “comes at the right time for both parties.”
“Hamas got what it wanted: to cast itself as the protector of Jerusalem, while until now it had been confined to the Gaza Strip,” she explained. “At the same time, Hamas knew full well that the vehemence of Israel’s response meant it had no choice but to accept a truce.”
On the Israeli side, a contentious Netanyahu was determined to do maximum damage to Hamas in a war that could help save his political career. But he, too, had come under a lot of pressure because of the horrific toll the conflict had on civilians, especially children, Levallois added.
Netanyahu realized he had scored enough points on the ground to cement his position as Israel’s ‘strongman’ and thereby save his political skin – which has always been one of the main motives for this operation, ”she explained, referring to Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption process and failed attempts to form a new government after unclear elections.
The Israeli prime minister “” hasn’t orchestrated the whole thing – it’s bigger than him, “Mekelberg added.” But the conflict certainly saved him.
‘Hamas will not just disappear’
The 11-day war has effectively held back Netanyahu’s rivals’ attempts to form a coalition without him, greatly increasing his chances of extending his 12-year rule. But the ceasefire also comes at a cost to the prime minister, who is facing angry accusations from his ragged, nationalist basis that he stopped fighting too early.
Gideon Saar, a former ally who now leads a small party opposed to the prime minister, called the ceasefire ‘shameful’, while Itamar Ben Gvir, the virulent head of the far-right Jewish power party, described it as’ a serious surrender terrorism and the dictates of Hamas ”.
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As the local newspaper Haaretz noted Friday, Israeli authorities have once again been caught up by the discrepancy between the concrete military goals of deterrence and the impossible aspirations of any new confrontation with Hamas.
“Once every few years, Israel launches or becomes involved in a new operation in the Gaza Strip,” the newspaper said. “The disparity between the limited goals the military wants to achieve and the landslide victory that the majority of the public wants to see will remain high.”
In the end, Netanayhu’s government accepted “the Israeli military’s advice that there was nothing more to be achieved with air strikes and that if you don’t expand, now is the time to withdraw,” said Irris Makler, Jerusalem correspondent for FRANCE. 24.
As Levallois and Mekelberg point out, the latest conflict in Gaza followed an all-too-familiar pattern of unclear wars leading to further bloodshed down the line. Meanwhile, peace talks remain off the table.
“In recent years, Israel has conducted several operations to eliminate the military capabilities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Despite the fact that they do enormous damage every time they come back, ”said Levallois. “Israel cannot make Hamas disappear because it is not a military problem, but a political problem.”
Failure to seek a political solution will inevitably lead to a new flare-up in the near future, Mekelberg added, stressing the need to involve international brokers.
“It’s like ‘Groundhog Day’, we’ve been in this situation so many times, with exactly the same pattern,” he said. “It’s not just about Israel and Hamas; it is the whole issue of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians that needs to be addressed in all its aspects. If they don’t go back to the negotiating table, the war will come back. “