The motivation to continue the internecine fighting, both in Israel and in Gaza, was relatively low on Saturday. Both sides were waiting eagerly for the whistle to indicate the end of this latest round of violence. Both sides were conducting themselves carefully, going to great lengths to avoid escalation.
This restraint was also evident on Friday, and certainly after Hamas announced its cease-fire. Israel was surprised, or should I say disappointed, to discover that other terrorist organizations had ignored the cease-fire declaration and had continued to fire rockets. As a result, Israel decided to communicate to Hamas that it would not be permitted to sit on the sidelines while rockets were exploding. On Saturday, the Israeli attack on Hamas' nerve center — Gaza's main security headquarters, al-Saraya — was intended to clarify to Hamas that sovereignty has a price.
After recovering from the shock, Hamas responded by launching five rockets at the southern Israeli town of Sderot. It was a measured response, designed to retaliate but not to escalate. Beyond that, Hamas did not fire any more rockets; the other organizations maintained the steady rocket fire, which number 150 rockets so far, but kept things on a relatively low flame: With the exception of one rocket, Beersheba and Ashdod, the biggest population centers in the south, were kept out of rocket range. (The Israel Defense Forces, for its part, made sure not to leave any threat unanswered, efficiently thwarting rocket fire and leaving 14 terrorists dead).
In consultations on Saturday night, the political echelon granted the IDF the freedom to continue with its current line – target rocket squads preparing to launch projectiles and retaliate for every successful launch; exercise moderation, understand the context, and make sure not to escalate violence.
All eyes are looking beyond Gaza to Egypt, where the results of the presidential elections are slated to be announced. It is true that Hamas is awaiting the results with trepidation, but Israel is no less concerned over tactical dynamics in Gaza that could incur strategic damage in Cairo. No one here really wants to see a new Egyptian president – certainly not one belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood – flexing his first leadership muscles on Israel.
The general intention on Saturday night was to maintain calm. But still, regardless of the relative calm, we should be disturbed by the increasing frequency of these bouts of violence and by the ever-shorter periods of calm between them. We cannot ignore the increasing correlation between attacks on the Israel-Egypt border and escalation in the Gaza Strip.
Perhaps this is a positive step, in terms of fingering Hamas as the culprit behind attacks from Sinai, but it also grants any resident terrorist in Egypt the keys to escalation with Israel. To neutralize these threats, Israel needs not only to maintain deterrence over Gaza, it must also quietly pave inroads to the new regime in Cairo. As of now, this is the only way to preserve the quiet in Gaza, which will allow Israel to concentrate on real problems, like Iran and Syria.