With barrages of Kassam rockets being launched daily on Israeli towns from the Hamas-ruled Gaza strip and Israeli politicians competing over who would offer the harshest response, the question for Israel today has been reduced to whether or not to invade. But neither side is free of contradictions, and both are trapped in a seemingly insoluble conundrum.
As a government, Hamas is to be judged by its capacity to provide security and decent governance to Gaza’s population, but as a movement it is incapable of betraying its unyielding commitment to fight the Israeli occupier to the death. After all, Hamas was not elected to make peace with Israel or to improve relations with the United States. However encouraging some sporadic signs of a shift toward political realism might be, it is not on Hamas’s immediate agenda to betray its very raison d’être by endorsing the US-led Annapolis peace process.
Hamas’s offensive is not an attempt to draw Israel into a costly invasion that might shake its regime. Rather, it is a move aimed at establishing a balance of threat based on sustaining a low-intensity conflict even if a new lull is agreed upon.
A now increasingly arrogant and extremely well armed Hamas expects such a lull to be agreed upon only in exchange for new concessions from both Israel and Egypt. These include the opening of Gaza’s borders, including the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing, the release of Hamas detainees in Egypt, the suspension of Israeli operations against Hamas activists in the West Bank, and the right to respond to any perceived Israeli violation of the ceasefire.