Skip to main content

New dangers in familiar Gaza violence

By Aaron David Miller, Special to CNN
November 16, 2012 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Aaron David Miller: The violence between Hamas, Israel has disturbing new elements
  • He says jihadi elements that Hamas has trouble controlling are adding to rocket attacks
  • Miller: Hamas compelled to show strength, but self-interest should suggest de-escalation
  • Egypt's Morsy may be key to pressing to end the violence; U.S. can urge Israel restraint

Editor's note: Aaron David Miller is a vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and served as a Middle East negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations. He is the author of the forthcoming book "Can America Have Another Great President?" Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Confrontation between Israel and Hamas is an old movie. But the grim version playing out now -- with Hamas rockets, particularly use of a long range Fajr 5, aimed at Tel Aviv , Israeli airstrikes and the killing of a top Hamas official -- contains new and disturbing scenes. That said, there is reason to hope this won't turn into a complete disaster film. And Egypt may well be the key.

The last time Israel and Hamas tangled, in 2008 and 2009, the result was mayhem that left as many as 1,400 Palestinians dead, saw Israelis terrified and living in shelters, and destroyed large areas of Gaza. With diametrically opposed strategies and political goals, Hamas and Israel are fights waiting to happen.

But the current conflict contains several new and dangerous aspects likely to be with us for some time to come.

Aaron David Miller
Aaron David Miller

Jihadi elements

Part of the reason we've witnessed an uptick in the number of rocket attacks -- 750 this year -- is that a variety of smaller groups that Hamas cannot control, or chooses not to control, have been operating with greater impunity. Some are former Hamas militants, others are newbies, and they are testing the limits of Israel's reactions with the rocket attacks. One of those groups, Jaysh al-Islam, may have played a role in the August 8 attack that left 16 Egyptian soldiers dead in Sinai.

Hamas under pressure

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



In the face of this new competition, Hamas just can't fold up its tent and surrender the field. That means the Gaza-based organization needs to compete with or control these groups. And it's tough for Hamas to function as Israel's police officer, struggling to contain the smaller jihadi groups. After all, part of Hamas' reason for being is its championing of the armed struggle, a cause it can't abandon.

Now, with Hamas' external base of operation undermined in Syria as a result of the popular uprising there, Gaza becomes the main seat and repository of its legitimacy. And it must always demonstrate that it's the key actor there. Unlike Fatah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, it doesn't want to launch a U.N. initiative for statehood or even toy with the notion of negotiating with Israel. Maintaining the military option remains paramount.

Israel's politics and strategy

Zakaria: Israel is justified
Israel at a tipping point?
Are Israeli ground forces moving into Gaza?
Israel, Hamas trade shots on Twitter
A boy stands in the rubble of a destroyed shop in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, on Monday, November 26. A boy stands in the rubble of a destroyed shop in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, on Monday, November 26.
Israel-Gaza conflict
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Israel-Gaza conflict Photos: Israel-Gaza conflict

The Israelis are determined, particularly as they face the uncertainties of the Arab spring/winter, to demonstrate that they can protect their interests, particularly if challenged.

New actions by the jihadi groups and longtime concerns over Hamas' high-trajectory weapons have made Israel more likely to launch preventive attacks. The killing of Hamas military wing leader Ahmed al-Ja'abari, whom the Israelis have apparently targeted at least once before, was the manifestation of this proactive posture.

News: Rockets pound Israel, Gaza as Netanyahu alleges 'double war crime'

When you combine that with pressure on the Israeli government from communities exposed to rocket attacks, not to mention the upcoming elections in January, you have the makings of a very determined response. Particularly against the backdrop of an Iranian nuclear threat he can't defuse, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a stake in demonstrating that Israel can deter the Gazan threat and deal with it successfully.

But as bad as the situation appears, logic and self-interest should suggest de-escalation. Neither Israel nor Hamas has a stake in repeating the events of 2008 and 2009. War didn't fix the problem then, and it's unlikely to fix it now. Nor do the Israelis -- when the real threat is Iran -- want to get into a major military and political mess over Gaza that would make their relationship with Egypt even more complicated.

The government of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy has taken steps to support the Palestinians: tough rhetoric, recalling its ambassador from Israel, summoning the Arab League and putting the issue into play at the U.N. and sending its Prime Minister to Gaza. But it has no stake in seeing this conflict escalate or in attaching its future to Hamas or the jihadis, which it fears both in Gaza and in Sinai.

Egypt also has other priorities, such as economic aid. And at a time when the International Monetary Fund is negotiating a loan of over $4 billion and when it could use American support, Egypt doesn't want to get too close to Hamas. The longer the conflict goes on, and the greater the civilian casualties, the harder it will be for Morsy to play a positive role.

Cooler heads ought to prevail. Egypt should press Hamas to control the jihadis and to reimpose a truce--perhaps in exchange for a more open border with Gaza and greater political support from Turkey and Qatar, and the U.S. should urge restraint on Israel to allow Hamas to stand down. But this is the Middle East, where movies don't usually have happy endings.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Aaron David Miller.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT