Fanack Home / Israel-Gaza Brinkmanship Slips over the Brink

Israel-Gaza Brinkmanship Slips over the Brink

Translation- Israel Gaza
Palestinians run for cover from tear gas during clashes with Israeli security forces near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabalia on May 14, 2018, as Palestinians protest over the inauguration of the US embassy following its controversial move to Jerusalem. Photo AFP ©AFP ⁃ MOHAMMED ABED

By: Michael J. Armstrong

The Israeli-Gazan conflict flared up dramatically recently when Gaza militants fired more than 460 rockets and mortar shells into Israel. Iron Dome interceptors shot down about 100 of the projectiles, while most of the rest landed in open fields. But 30 hit populated areas, killing one civilian and injuring 55 more.

The barrage was the largest since 2014. It brought Gaza’s year-to-date total to 1,124 rockets and shells fired.

Israel responded by bombing 172 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza. About 15 Palestinians died and several buildings were flattened.

The exchange of blows was surprising in one sense: thanks to Egyptian mediators, the two sides had seemed close to negotiating a truce. That’s despite their seemingly incompatible demands regarding military security, economic activity, and prisoner exchanges.

But in another sense, the abrupt switch from ceasefire to gunfire was predictable. Both Israel and Gaza have been relying on brinkmanship in dealing with each other. And that bargaining strategy always poses risks that the situation can slip out of control.

Brinkmanship hits and Misses

Brinkmanship is a powerful but risky strategy for resolving disputes. The United States used it successfully during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. It forced the U.S.S.R. to back down and avoided a nuclear war. But not before the Soviets shot down an American spy plane and nearly torpedoed a warship.

The strategy was less successful during America’s 1981 air traffic controller strike. During that labour dispute, neither the controllers’ union nor President Ronald Reagan would give in. When Reagan ultimately fired the strikers, 11,000 lost their jobs and airline flights were disrupted for months.

Mutual Threats

The Israel-Gaza situation similarly involves each side using brinkmanship to pressure the other. Like the historical examples above, this one displays several key features.

First, if the two sides don’t eventually reach agreement, they’ll suffer a disaster both wish to avoid.

Regarding Israel and Gaza, both want to avoid a full-blown war like 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. If one erupted, Israel’s interceptors and civil defences would limit its casualties from Gaza’s estimated 20,000 rockets and shells. But such a conflict would still cost its economy several billion dollars, like Protective Edge did.

Israeli airstrikes and artillery would meanwhile devastate Gaza’s already-weak infrastructure. A ground invasion might even topple the Hamas government.

Inching toward Disaster

Translation- hamas
Palestinians run for cover as smoke rises following an Israeli air strike on a Hamas post, in the northern Gaza Strip on February 6, 2017. Photo AFP ©AFP ⁃ MOHAMMED ABED

A second feature of brinkmanship is both sides deliberately inch toward that mutual disaster. Each proclaims its determination and willingness to approach the brink. Each hopes the other will concede first.

Gaza firepower escalations demonstrate this progression. Militants there began using to burn Israeli crops in April. In May, they fired 188 rockets and shells, the first significant barrage since 2014.

Explosives-laden balloons joined the fire-carrying ones in June. In July, sniper fire killed the first Israeli soldier near the border in four years. More rockets have since followed.

Israel’s responses intensified correspondingly. It initially dealt with flaming kites by intercepting them. In June it began firing warning shots near the kite-launching teams. It started targeting them directly in July, resulting first in injuries and then a death.

Airstrikes, such as the 50 tons of bombs dropped July 14, were initially used only after rocket attacks. But they became common retaliation for kites too.

Losing Control

Brinkmanship’s third feature is a growing risk of losing control. Both sides may fully intend to stop short of disaster. But they know it’s increasingly likely they’ll accidentally slip over the brink.

This has happened several times in Gaza. While Hamas rules Gaza, it has limited control over Islamic Jihad and other militant groups. Islamic Jihad reportedly started the May rocket barrage, with Hamas only belatedly joining in. A sniper reportedly affiliated with “rogue” militants wounded an Israeli soldier near the border in July. And in October, an accidentally launched rocket destroyed an Israeli home.

Such risks are amplified by hair-trigger retaliations that allow little room for error. After July’s rogue sniper attack, Israeli forces promptly attacked Hamas installations and killed three Palestinians. Gaza militants responded by firing nine rockets. That triggered seven more Israeli airstrikes. The entire escalation cycle took only a day.

Israeli Spies Discovered

Israel’s control has slipped too. In August an army patrol mistook a Hamas military exercise for a sniper attack. The patrol’s gunfire killed two militants. And last week’s violence began when Israeli spies were discovered during a mission in Gaza; one was shot dead.

Israeli politicians have also stumbled. Facing public frustration with the conflict, Israeli politicians have competed to sound the most belligerent. Even the minister of education has called for war.

Such tough-talk may have seemed like mere posturing. But when the Israeli government agreed to resume the ceasefire last week, the defence minister resigned in protest. (That gave Hamas cause to celebrate.) The country’s coalition government consequently may collapse and trigger early elections.

For the time being, Israel and Gaza have resumed their shaky ceasefire. But absent some miracle, the violent instability seems likely to continue, leaving the two sides only one incident away from war.

Remark: This article was originally published by in November 22, 2018.

The Conversation

© Copyright Notice
Click on link to view the associated photo/image:

We would like to ask you something …

Fanack is an independent media organisation, not funded by any state or any interest group, that distributes in the Middle East and the wider world unbiased analysis and background information, based on facts, about the Middle East and North Africa.

The website grew rapidly in breadth and depth and today forms a rich and valuable source of information on 21 countries, from Morocco to Oman and from Iran to Yemen, both in Arabic and English. We currently reach six million readers annually and growing fast.

In order to guarantee the impartiality of information on the Chronicle, articles are published without by-lines. This also allows correspondents to write more freely about sensitive or controversial issues in their country. All articles are fact-checked before publication to ensure that content is accurate, current and unbiased.

To run such a website is very expensive. With a small donation, you can make a huge impact. And it only takes a minute. Thank you.

  • As protests continue, Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing stalemate must end

    Power-sharing institutions need not be as narrowly prescribed as they currently are in Lebanon. These protests are a critical moment for the start of a national conversation on how to expand the basis of inclusion in Lebanese political life. So far, protesters have joined up across sect, class and gender in a way previously considered impossible. It is this solidarity that may yet serve as the pathway towards a post-sectarian future, with or without power-sharing.
  • Qassem Suleimani air strike: why this is a dangerous escalation of US assassination policy

    The Trump administration has, so far, refused to explain and justify its policy of targeted killing, but this latest operation further undermines international and US domestic norms against assassination is certain to set more dangerous international precedents for targeted killings.
  • Gulf security: China envisions continued US military lead

    China’s preference for a continued US lead in maintaining Gulf security, even if it favours a more multilateral approach, was evident earlier this year in its willingness to consider participating in the US-led maritime alliance that escorts commercial vessels in the Gulf and seeks to secure shipping lanes and was created in response to several attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman.