The coordinated attacks this morning on both civilian and army targets near Eilat, Israel demonstrate again that the presence of a safe haven for terrorists on the country’s borders is a standing invitation to mayhem. Preliminary reports say that the origin of the attackers was Gaza and that they used the lax security in Egyptian-controlled Sinai to launch the assault that left seven Israelis dead.
While, as Michael wrote earlier today, this raises questions about the willingness of post-Mubarak Egypt to keep the peace along its long border with Israel, it also highlights the fact that Hamas and its iron-fist rule over Gaza constitutes the main obstacle to peace. So long as terrorists can fire missiles or launch terror strikes from the relative safety of Hamasistan, Israelis can never rest easy. Nor, it should be added, can Israel’s supposed peace partners in the Palestinian Authority.
Today’s atrocity is being widely condemned but it is more likely than not to be dismissed as just another wildcat terror operation that shouldn’t distract the world from a campaign on pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. Yet Hamas’s reminder that it can unleash terrorists on cross-border raids anytime it likes ought to be taken into consideration by those United Nations member states who are being asked to vote this fall to recognize an independent Palestinian state without it first being required to make peace with Israel. The independent terror state in Gaza is a warning to the world of what a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Jerusalem may become.
Israeli forces are already preparing for the possibility of a third intifada this fall in the wake of the inevitable failure of the Palestinian Authority’s UN gambit. Though the PA is clearly afraid of demonstrations getting out of hand and has sought to coordinate security efforts with the Israelis, Hamas remains the wild card in all of these discussions. Should Hamas make a concerted effort to escalate the level of violence in order to enhance their credibility as a political force the results could be unpredictable. Their strength is the fact that although the PA leadership is too insecure to really make peace, Hamas believes it is invulnerable in its fortified Gaza enclave.
The Israeli military believes that it can contain and even deter Hamas, as today’s counter-strikes against terror targets in Gaza prove, but the Islamist group may think Israel won’t try another full-scale assault on Gaza as it did in December 2008. The challenge for Prime Minister Netanyahu is to re-establish that deterrence and send a message to Hamas that it can be hurt — and hurt badly — should it continues these provocations while Israel is also conducting a diplomatic offensive on the statehood issue at the UN. Though Israelis are understandably concerned about the prospect of a diplomatic setback in New York next month, dealing with a terror state on its doorstep remains a higher priority.