The ceasefire even survived clashes between police and Palestinian rioters throwing Molotov cocktails and stones on Temple Mount Friday, as tens of thousands of Muslims gathered there to celebrate what they called Hamas’ “victory” against Israel. The crowd also forced the Palestinian Authority-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Mohammed Hussein to flee the al-Aqsa Mosque in mid-sermon, after he was silenced by chants of support for Hamas and accusations of being a collaborator with Israel. This and the ongoing show of support for Hamas among Jerusalem Arabs who have flown Hamas flags and unfurled banners on Temple Mount and elsewhere in eastern Jerusalem featuring Hamas “heroes” are seen by observers as a sure sign of the erosion of Palestinian Authority and Jordanian influence over the Temple Mount compound in particular and their support among the Palestinian population in general. That trend, which prompted cancellation of the Palestinian general elections by PA Chairman Mahmud Abbas, triggering Hamas’ frustration just when it seemed poised to wrestle control of the PA from Abbas’ Fatah, is the most coherent explanation for the sudden deterioration of the situation into war on Jerusalem Day rather than any Israeli action or inaction on Temple Mount or Simon the Just (Sheikh Jarrah) neighborhood.
Undoubtedly, the IDF can take credit for an impressive list of achievements against Hamas during the campaign: Our home-grown Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted 90% of incoming rockets (of the 3,400 that actually crossed into Israeli territory, with 680 falling in Gaza and 280 at sea); no terrorists were able to penetrate Israeli territory due to the significant subterranean anti-tunnel barrier, completed by Israel only two months ago at a cost of $833 million; attempts by Hamas to use drones—including “suicide” attack drones, introduced into the arena for the first time—were intercepted by Iron Dome and autonomous attack submarines were thwarted; Israel destroyed over a third of Hamas’ 300-kilometers-long underground tunnel system (the Metro)—ten years and hundreds of millions of dollars in the making—that it intended to use now and in the future to resupply weapons and manpower throughout the Strip with impunity, was seriously degraded as were their military research, production and launching sites; IDF killed 200 terrorists while keeping civilian casualties in Gaza to a minimum by any standard.
But the fact that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar could emerge from his hiding place at the end of the hostilities and take a victory lap in Gaza and that Hamas was able to fire into Israel until the moment the ceasefire took effect early Friday morning is reason enough for Israelis to feel that victory was again denied. It is generally accepted that short of a major ground offensive specifically designed to bring Hamas to unconditional surrender but that no one has the stomach for here, the terrorist organization will continue to rule Gaza, to the detriment of its own people and Israel’s. Sinwar’s threats following the conflict that he will “burn everything” if the problems of Gaza are not solved and activate “10,000 martyrs” inside Israel if Jerusalem is harmed are a chilling reminder that Hamas and its Iranian enablers—who undoubtedly learned much about Israel’s military capabilities and civilian resilience in the face of a future war with Hezbollah that is estimated to have ten times the firepower of the terrorist organizations in Gaza—might be temporarily deterred but remain undefeated.
While the kinetic battle might have ceased, Israel’s diplomatic battles continue, with a reprehensible resolution already adopted at the World Health Organization and others expected at the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Human Rights Council. At the same time, it was heartening to see support from a number of European governments including Greece, Germany, Czech Republic and Slovakia who sent foreign ministers to Israel during the conflict and others who raised the Israeli flag on public buildings.
The military conflict between Israel and Hamas was not only a localized clash but challenged Israel’s most important external relations, first and foremost with the United States, its single strategic partner, with other major powers such as China and with its veteran and newfound partners in the region. With the Biden Administration quickly reversing many of the former administration’s Middle East policies and with anti-Israel elements gaining worrisome traction in the president’s own party, many in Israel were concerned about how the Biden Administration would react as the conflict unfolded.
This was not to be the case, as the U.S. stepped in repeatedly to prevent the adoption of U.N. resolutions condemning Israeli “aggression” and reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself against an internationally recognized terrorist organization. President Biden’s declaration this week that “Until the region says unequivocally they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace” was embraced here as a sober understanding of reality that will hopefully guide U.S. policy not only toward Hamas and the Islamic terrorist organizations, but in the ongoing negotiations over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), where Israel and the U.S. remain at odds, illustrated during yesterday’s joint Netanyahu-Blinken press conference in Jerusalem.
Importantly for Israeli citizens who bore the brunt of Hamas rocket attacks, Secretary Blinken stressed that the U.S. would work closely with its partners in the reconstruction effort of Gaza to ensure that Hamas does not benefit from the assistance. While a mechanism for ensuring this does not yet exist, such a policy, if implemented, will undoubtedly leave Hamas more vulnerable in any future conflict and thus more deterred, as it will find it difficult to replenish the huge amount of concrete, metal and fuel that were depleted and ruined during this campaign. Secretary of State insisted that the ceasefire must be used “to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges,” beginning with the “grave” humanitarian situation in Gaza, but some observers argue that it was the very concessions made by the Biden Administration to the Palestinians, including the refunding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the promise to reopen the PLO embassy in Washington and the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, that encouraged Hamas and its Iranian handlers to launch an attack now.
Israel’s relations regionally seemed to have withstood the test of this round of fighting. Israel will need the involvement of friendly Arab states to change the status quo, reign in Hamas and avoid another round of violence. Egypt, which has the only other land border with Gaza, played the most constructive role, brokering the cease fire deal and gaining widespread praise, also from the Israeli government. Egypt has now invited Israel and Hamas for indirect de-escalation talks in Cairo that could lead to a long-term ceasefire, the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip and an agreement on the issue of prisoners and missing persons.
While no country revoked diplomatic relations or recalled their ambassadors, statements were issued that indicate the dilemma posed to Arab states that face internal criticism of their relations with Israel while seeking the benefits of close bilateral relations. The most egregious of this was a message by Morocco’s prime minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in which he reportedly extended his “warmest congratulations” on “the victory achieved by the Palestinian people and the supreme resistance after the ceasefire agreement between the factions of the resistance and the Zionist entity.” Morocco, which normalized ties with Israel last year on the heels of UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, is due to exchange embassies in the near future.
Jordan—which, since the signing of a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, has custodianship of the Temple Mount and regularly takes a confrontational position whenever violence erupts on the holy site—was particularly critical of tension in Jerusalem that preceded Hamas’s rocket attack: “What the Israeli police and special forces are doing, from violations against the mosque to attacks on worshippers, is barbaric [behavior] that is rejected and condemned,” summoning Israel’s chargé d’affaires in Jordan to decry Israel’s “attacks on worshipers,” which were in fact a measured police response to Ramadan-inspired riots by Muslims that included lobbing stones on Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall. In a league of his own inimical self was Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan who accused Israel of being “murderers, to the point that they kill children who are five or six years old. They are murderers, to the point they drag women on the ground to their death, and they are murderers, to the point that they kill old people… They only are satisfied by sucking their blood.”
Another victim of the Gaza flare-up is Israel-China relations, with China using its pulpit as rotating president of the U.N. Security Council as an opportunity to deflect criticism of its treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang and to accuse the United States of practicing a one-sided and discriminatory policy by continuing its support for Israel and failing to uphold the human rights of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. As pointed out in a paper published by the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pinned the conflagration on the Trump administration’s “mistaken policy followed…of ignoring the need to continue the Middle East peace process and promote a two-state solution, which consequently caused prolonged damage to the rights of the Palestinian people” and failed to factor in Israel’s position in the U.N. General Assembly resolutions, which were blocked by the U.S., including any mention of Hamas aggression. This, coupled with China’s growing relationship with Iran and other malign players in the Middle East, will have to give Israeli policy makers pause as China asserts a greater role in the region.
Life is getting back to a form of “normal” in cities most heavily targeted by Hamas—Sderot, Ashkelon and Ashdod and the small communities in the Gaza Strip “envelope”—as the considerable damage to property there is repaired and the implications of the loss of life and limb contemplated. But mixed cities and Arab-majority areas in the North and South are still reeling from the unprecedented anti-Semitic viciousness this round of fighting released among the Arab citizens of Israel. At the beginning of the week the Israel Police, which has been severely criticized for a combination of incompetence and confusion during the violence, launched “Operation Law and Order.” In its first 24 hours, 74 suspects were arrested for disorderly conduct, weapons possession and assaulting police officers in addition to more than 1,550 arrests made during the operation itself—the vast majority of them Arabs. Horror stories continue to surface of peaceful Jewish civilians assaulted while they walked in Jaffa, lost their way in the forested area near Meron, studied in yeshivot in Lod, walked their dog around the Old City of Jerusalem or were vacationing in a hotel in Acco. Many fear that the tension with the “Arabs of ‘48” will be more difficult and take more time to heal than the conflict with Hamas that is largely kept at bay.