The prolonged problem of the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was propelled to the top of the world agenda two weeks ago with yet another round of senseless killings. The chain of events started with the abduction on June 12 and later killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank and the subsequent revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem on July 3. During the operation in search of three kidnaped teenagers, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) mainly targeted Hamas and arrested around 350 people, including all the West Bank leaders of Hamas, which triggered massive firing of rockets into Israel. Although Hamas denied accusations of kidnapping and rocket fires, Israel perceived Hamas as the main culprit and launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 against Hamas targets in Gaza.
Since the beginning of the operation, the IDF has launched more than 1,000 airstrikes on Gaza as a response to a similar number of rockets fired, which resulted in the death of around 200 Palestinians, mostly civilian, and one Israeli. Many more were wounded. The Benjamin Netanyahu government in Israel called up 40,000 reservists for a possible ground offensive. Although the kidnappings and revenge killing seem to be the reasons on the surface for the latest carnage, there are deeper causes.
On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Netanyahu wishes to show that Israel will not tolerate any attack against its citizens and to use this incident to increase his political clout in the country. Also, recent rocket attacks provided a sought after justification to mount an operation against Hamas’ military buildup in Gaza. Since the last two rounds of the conflict in Gaza - Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 - Israel has been watching Hamas regroup in Gaza and has been trying to weaken it through diplomatic and financial isolation. The crisis gave another opportunity to the Netanyahu government to strike Hamas’s military capacity directly.
On the other side, Hamas uses fighting with Israel to empower its primacy in Gaza. While Hamas has been able to recover militarily from its last show of force with Israel in 2012, its economic and political power has been weakened due to significant changes in regional dynamics after the Arab Spring. While it lost its regional allies in Syria and Lebanon, its relations with Iran have also been shaken since the Syrian civil war. Moreover, the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power in Egypt damaged its main source of income with the tightening of the blockade on the Rafah border crossing. The peace process pushed through by the U.S. also somewhat sidelined Hamas, empowering the Fatah Party of the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
While the peace process did not go far, Fatah and Hamas signed a unity agreement that helped Hamas pay salaries in Gaza and eased the blockade on the Egyptian border. The Israeli operation will clearly damage this relationship as well, and further radicalize frustrated Palestinians.
In 2012, Egypt was able to broker a ceasefire after more than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. However, Hamas declined a similar offer from Egypt this time on July 15, as it does not trust the current Egyptian administration.
It is obvious that the conflicting parties would not be keen on a ceasefire until their so-far-untold expectations are satisfied. In a weird way, by maintaining tension Hamas gains political leverage over Fatah, while Israel sets back Hamas’ striking capabilities for a couple of years. The cycle goes on.
It is the sad truth of this century-long conflict that, under the watchful eye of the international community on the sidelines, it is almost always the civilians that suffer most, and they are the real victims of this senseless bloodshed.