Since last summer's war in Gaza, some things in Israel have changed dramatically, some not at all.
With Memorial Day’s unofficial launch of a new summer season, it is hard not to reflect on the painful events of last summer — the kidnappings and murder of three innocent Israeli teenagers, the revenge killing of a Palestinian boy, Israelis in perpetual flight from incoming rocket attacks and the gruesome war fought in Gaza.
Taking stock of the situation on the ground since then, some things have changed dramatically, some not at all. There’s a new Israeli government in place, Islamist extremists have intensified their actions and the region is experiencing ever greater intra-Muslim conflict and bloodshed.
The big question no one wants to think about is whether another war between Israel and Hamas could erupt this summer. Although the prospects for a new round of fire seem remote, several factors could change that.
As Mideast analyst Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies recently wrote in a piece he co-authored in the Jerusalem Post: “An uneasy calm exists now between Hamas and Israel, punctuated by the predictable cantankerous rhetoric and an occasional rocket testing. None of that has come close to sparking another conflict, primarily because neither side really wants one.”
But, he added ominously, “what Israelis and Palestinians want may not matter now that actors like Mohammed Deif” — who oversees Hamas’ military operations in Gaza and was wrongly believed to be dead after an Israeli strike last summer killed his wife and child — “are back in the rocket-making business, digging tunnels for the next round.”
Deif, Schanzer reports, was the mastermind of the network of tunnels dug between Gaza and Israel that threatened the border communities. Furthermore, Deif has deep ties with Iran, which Schanzer reminds us, “is now poised to receive some $120 billion in sanctions relief” under the impending nuclear deal.
The tinderbox that exists now, with even ISIS making inroads in Gaza, could explode on Israel’s doorstep at any time.
Israel for its part, needs to be prepared and vigilant. But it also must be cautious about not being dragged into another war like last summer, where the lasting effects of its efforts to weaken Hamas are far from clear.
Israel is better served when it can stay on the sidelines as the region convulses around it. But it also must always protect its citizens if and when they are threatened.
Let’s hope and pray that this summer, the images from Israel project a calmer picture of life going on as normal, of tourists pouring in by the planeloads — of a season of joy, not war.