The Irish Times view on Israel-Gaza tensions: dangerously poised

Neither side wants war – but that’s no guarantee that they won’t end up fighting one

A ball of fire billows above buildings in Gaza City during reported Israeli strikes on Monday. Photograph: Majdi Fathi/AFP/Getty Images

A ball of fire billows above buildings in Gaza City during reported Israeli strikes on Monday. Photograph: Majdi Fathi/AFP/Getty Images

 

An uneasy calm held yesterday between Israel and Hamas, but the situation remains volatile and both sides risk finding themselves fighting a war that neither of them wants. The latest exchanges of fire began on Monday, when a rocket from Gaza hit a home north of Tel Aviv, injuring seven people. Israel responded by sending two extra brigades of soldiers to its border with the enclave and ordering air strikes against Hamas-linked sites, including its military intelligence headquarters and the office of Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh. A further 60 projectiles were then fired into Israel.

The flare-up could have cost lives, but it is noticeable that both sides showed some restraint. That’s because neither of them wants an all-out war. Hamas knows the consequences for the strip would be catastrophic. The last war, in 2014, ended with more than 2,200 Palestinian deaths and the flattening of large swathes of urban space in Gaza. The death toll on the Israeli side was much lower, at 73, but the conflict was costly and ultimately did not alter the broad contours of the stand-off. Opinion polls show Israelis do not want another war.

Simultaneously, however, both sides have an interest in keeping these tensions uppermost in the minds of their people. Israel’s election takes place in two weeks, and if he is to remain prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu will need a strong showing not only for his Likud but for all right-wing parties, whose support he hopes to count on to build a coalition. Reminding Israelis of the threat from Hamas allows him to put the focus on security, pushing his legal troubles to the background. For its part, Hamas has recently faced some of the biggest protests against its rule since it took power in 2007. Last week, it suppressed rallies over tax increases, arresting dozens of people.

The situation is dangerously poised. Tensions will rise further this weekend with mass protests called by Hamas to mark one year of demonstrations at the border fence with Israel. Both sides must weigh their actions carefully if the region is not to be tipped into another disastrous war.

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