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Hamas’s Provocation Trap

How will Israel respond to continued rocket attacks?

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Where a Grad missile landed in Beersheva.(Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Though the Jerusalem bomb that killed one person (a British evangelical Christian studying Hebrew in order to translate the Bible into Togo’s Ifé language) was more viscerally shocking, the dozens and dozens of rockets—many of them specifically claimed by Hamas—coming out of Gaza and landing in Israel, along with the limited Israeli retaliations that nonetheless claimed several lives (including a few innocents, for which the Israeli leadership apologized), was the more politically consequential thing that happened this week in the Holy Land.

As I said Monday, and as Time’s Karl Vick reported, the fact that Hamas not only launched the rockets but took credit for them—something it hasn’t done since the 2008-09 Gaza conflict—strongly indicates that they represent a gambit to provoke Israel into invasion, thereby distracting the Palestinian people from their own failure of leadership: Specifically, and recently, Hamas and Fatah’s refusal (and especially Hamas’s) to enter into talks with each other to unify for the sake of Palestinian nationalism.

In a new Slate article, Tablet Magazine contributing editor Michael Weiss sums the storyline up nicely:

Knowing its credibility is evaporating, Hamas has begun to act desperately. In recent weeks its agents have stolen automobiles belonging to the Palestinian Central Elections Commission and medical supplies intended for Gazans. And the party’s politics, said to be divided between the Gaza regime and its exiled ideologists in Damascus, have grown manic-depressive. When Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to Gaza to discuss reconciliation, Abbas surprised him by accepting. Having had its bluff called, Hamas responded to this acceptance by denouncing Abbas as a Mubarak-like dictator.

And, of course, by launching the rockets.

So will it work? It depends on how Israel responds. Defense Secretary Gates articulated the conundrum Israel faces when he spoke yesterday in Jerusalem. On the one hand, he diplomatically urged Israel to move forward on peace talks, particularly (so Americans said on background) because Israel’s increasing diplomatic isolation—embodied by, among other things, last month’s U.N. Security Council vote that would have condemned Israeli settlements had it not been vetoed by the United States—means that time is arguably not on its side. But at the same time, these are rockets aimed at Israeli civilians. “We underscore that Israel, like all nations,” Gates said, “has the right to self-defense and to bring justice to the perpetrators of these repugnant acts.”

Like last spring’s flotilla, the rockets are a “provocation trap”: They will have succeeded if Israel takes them as bait. The difference is, the flotilla was a ragtag bunch of lightly armed ideologues that did not represent much of a threat to anything. Responses to rockets are much more justifiable and, more importantly, necessary. At the time of the flotilla, contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg asked where Israelis’ seichel—their inborn cleverness at finding solutions to intractable problems—was. Israel’s response to the flotilla lacked seichel. Hopefully its response to the rockets—the far more formidable threat—won’t.

The Palestinians: Can Fatah and Hamas Be Friends? [Time]
What Egypt Can Learn From Palestine [Slate]
Related: Jerusalem Bomb Victim was British Bomb Victim Studying Hebrew [Guardian]
In Israel, Gates Condemns Recent Attacks From Gaza [NYT]
Earlier: Bomb Rocks Jerusalem Bus Stop
Hamas Launches Barrage, and Signs Its Name

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A beginning might be to call the UN’s bluff by insisting, if it really cares a damn about Gazans to demand that Hamas refrain from its attacks, lest Israel does escalate its response, and to act to forcibly contain Hamas if it doesn’t comply. Why let the Europeans off easily to pay lip service to humanitarian concerns once a conflict has begun? Why not put them on the spot now, given how muscular their response in Libya has been?

I remain convinced that ‘unity’ is just code for Fatah among Gazans, but they know just how far Hamas will go to suppress dissent.

David says:

Most important missing piece here – looks like Israel is not rising to the bait, because they don’t have to:

Good point, David, but I wonder if that translates into more bus bombings.

Incidentally, wasn’t the stabbing victim from a few weeks back aslo a British citizen?

Karl Vick was the writer who penned the cover story “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace” for Time Magazine. Now, in his own little way, by placing the onus for establishing peace in the Middle East on Israel, rather than the dozens of violent, brutal regimes it’s surrounded by, including Hamas, hasn’t Karl rather helped advance the cause of those very regimes, by advertising their rationalizations for suppression on the cover of an international magazine. Karl is like every other reporter who parrots the regime party line, and he certainly deserves recognition for doing so.

Paula says:

Too bad there is not a device that bats rockets back at their point of origin. We could call it the Karmatron!

Forest says:

Apparently you haven’t read the Hamas charter. It clearly states that they are not interested in “Palestinian nationalism”. What interests them is wiping out the Jews.

I would tell the Gaza Arabs that they must capture and kill all the Hamas gangsters in Gaza, and save the right ear to prove to IDF that they have complied. Otherwise, after a deadline, Israel will use mortar fire on suspected Hamas locations, and will not apologize for collateral civilian damage and deaths. Go thru with this threat and screw the UN. If Hamas publicly says it wants to kill all the Jews, this is only self defense and justified. Gaza has no innocent bystanders!

Cutting off ears now? At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy meshuggeh, I confess to seeing this emblematic sort of brutality (on all sides) as a global regression, perhaps the penultimate act in the tragedy of civilization-as-we-know-it, often exploited, if not set in motion, by corporate oligarchies. I see it in the devolution of nations and regions into warring tribes and factions who are conditioned to see each other as less than human in order to kill and torture in the name of — often invented — “ancient conflicts.” I see it in the fear-based tactics that the American right-wing is using to turn workers in the private sector against public employees and to convince millions to vote against their own economic interests. The idea of the tribe has as much that is essential to human culture. But, like everything, it has its shadow. I cling to the hope that our differences have as much potential to bring us together as to divide us. But only if we resist the seduction of “an eye for an eye” and the tempting but isolating comfort of the fortress

theMoja says:

Ahh, what’s this, this warm & calming breeze wafting thru the net-osphere? A voice of reason & sanity? So refreshing, so intelligent &– dare I say it?–thoughtful. Let me deeply second your comment, Corey, & thank you.
Amoja Three Rivers


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Hamas’s Provocation Trap

How will Israel respond to continued rocket attacks?

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