The Irish Times view on Israel/Gaza tensions: Back to the brink
Israel and Hamas could easily find themselves fighting a battle neither of them wants
A picture taken on Monday shows a ball of fire above the building housing the Hamas-run television station al-Aqsa TV in the Gaza Strip during an Israeli air strike. Photograph: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images
In few places is peace more fragile than the Gaza strip. For months, quiet progress has been reported in diplomacy aimed at putting the uneasy, on-off ceasefire that followed the 2014 Israeli-Hamas conflict on a firmer footing. Brokered by Egypt and United Nations Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov, the talks attempted to address Palestinian concerns about the worsening humanitarian and economic crisis in the strip while assuring Israel of calm on the border. As part of that process, more than €13 million in Qatari cash was sent into Gaza in suitcases with Israel’s blessing last week – part of an €80 injection needed to pay Gaza civil servants. The next stage in the process, following a ceasefire and the cash transfers, was to be the gradual reassertion of control over the territory by the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas.
In the space of a few days, however, all of that progress appears to have been reversed. Gaza is again on the brink of an all-out war, with six Palestinians killed in just a few days. In the most intense exhanges of fire since the 2014 conflict, around 400 rockets have been fired into Israel and Israeli forces have bombed a series of buildings across the enclave. The spark for the latest flare-up was the exposure of a covert Israeli special forces unit in the Gaza city of Khan Younis on Sunday. Hamas said its salvoes were in retaliation for that botched raid, which killed one of its commanders and six other gunmen. An Israeli colonel was also killed in the incident.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said he hopes to avoid another war. Hamas also has little appetite for all-out conflict. It’s in both sides’ interests to restore calm. But situations such as this take on a momentum of their own, meaning Israel and Hamas could easily find themselves fighting a battle neither of them wants. It’s vital, then, that the UN and Egypt do all they can to end the current round of violence. The spiral of the last few days shows the urgency of a more durable peace. The sooner calm is restored, the better the chances of restarting the mediated talks process.