Israel battles Gaza, own politics, with no end in sight

JCRC Scene
Matt Goldberg

Matt Goldberg

There has been a never-ending cycle of violence between Israel and terrorists in Gaza. It is not a vague déjà vu; we know exactly when these mini-wars have happened, and they are certain to continue happening without a fundamental change in power structures.
The most recent round of violence started when Israel killed one of the heads of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, a smaller, more radical terror group than Hamas – the leadership of Gaza.
Hamas has been moderating recently (at least, to a small extent), and understandably so; they need Israel to allow in badly needed cash from Qatar and to increase options for electricity. In return, Hamas has refrained from missile attacks.
But Islamic Jihad, which does not rule and is free from any responsibility to the population, has launched missiles into Israel, attempting to break up any détente with Israel and do the bidding of Iran – its primary financial backer. The Islamic Jihad leader who was killed was the main actor behind the fight to break up the non-aggression between Israel and Hamas.
This mini war is different than previous ones. Israel only attacked Islamic Jihad targets, not Hamas. Previously, it would attack Hamas regardless of who launched the missiles, reasoning that Hamas rules Gaza, so it is ultimately responsible for anything coming out of there.
If it were retaliated against, Israel’s thinking went, Hamas would be more inclined to stop the smaller more radical groups from disrupting the calm.
But Israel, despite successfully taking out its target this time, learned some harsh truths during the fighting that ensued. Islamic Jihad has powerful missiles that can hit Tel Aviv. As a result, all of southern Israel shut down.
Islamic Jihad did not use its longer range missiles, but the mere fact that they have them and could use them was enough to bring the heartland – the financial engine of the country – to a standstill. That is a sobering thought for Israelis, portending serious issues should a much larger conflict break out. If Tel Aviv could shut down for a mere threat, could the airport be shut down in a future conflict?
Israelis are a resilient people, but this is a serious problem for future battles. Gaza is a tinderbox and battles such as the one we just saw are certain to happen again.
All of this comes as Israel’s grueling political deadlock continues. As of this writing, there is still no prospect for a new government, and it is increasingly likely that a third election will be held, despite opinion polls showing that another vote would produce roughly the same results. Without a functioning government, major decisions regarding budgets, economics, social issues and military expenditures must be postponed, and the end does not seem in sight. Neither conservative nor liberal parties have enough support to form a government on their own, and the gulf between the two is too great to bridge. Although a unity government (consisting of the two biggest parties from right and left) is most likely and polls best among electorate, the Netanyahu-led Likud insists on keeping right wing and ultra-Orthodox parties in its coalition, something the center-left Blue and White party views as a non-starter. Most politicians in Israel would consider a third election a disaster. And yet, that seems to be where the country is headed.
Things are unpredictable at best. By next month, there could either be a new government, a new election or a new round of fighting. This geopolitical game of Russian Roulette is taking its toll on the country, and no one seems to have a solution.

Matt Goldberg is the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

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