On the Other Side of the Fence

Between the tension opposite Hamas in the south and the situation along the border with Syria, Amir Rapaport attempts to examine Israel's policy through the perspective of Hamas in Gaza and Iran in Syria

The riots along the Gaza border fence opposite the celebrations of the Syrian army reentering Quneitra (Photo: AP)

The arson balloon that traveled all the way from the Gaza Strip to the streets of Be’er-Sheva (according to police estimates) reminded everyone that complete tranquility should not be expected – neither in the south, opposite Hamas, nor in the northern sector, opposite Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. Nevertheless, after several particularly intensive weeks of incidents, tranquility seems to prevail (at least in anticipation of the coming weekend, as the situation is highly volatile and can change in an instant).

This is an opportunity to review Israel's policy for the two sectors from an opposite perspective – the perspective of Hamas and Syria.

Should Hamas be Overthrown?

Let us begin with Hamas: is the Israeli policy, according to which keeping a "deterred Hamas" in power in the Gaza Strip, necessarily justified?

In an article published in the new issue of Israel Defense, former senior ISA officer (= Israel Security Agency, Shin Bet) Lior Ackerman suggests that this approach should be revised immediately (and that the Hamas regime should be overthrown at the earliest opportunity).

Paraphrasing Ackerman's analysis, one may view Hamas' perspective as follows: "Whatever we have attempted, from rocket and mortar fire, through sniper fire to arson kites, has not really succeeded in changing the basic situation. The movement is at an impasse, in the Gaza Strip and most definitely in the Judea and Samaria district, vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority. The economic problem is severe, owing to the absence of sufficient financing sources, a naval blockade, no cooperation and support from the Palestinian Authority and increasing internal unrest within the local Palestinian population.

"Most of the world's countries, including the countries of the Middle East but excluding Turkey and Iran, have turned their backs on us. The new US initiative expected from President Trump's administration is very threatening, mainly for us.

"Obviously, as a matter of principle, we oppose any settlement, which is another reason to heat up the situation in order to counter any initiative. On the other hand, Israel is unpredictable and it is hard to tell when the Israelis might lose their patience and lash at us.

"A reconciliation agreement with the Palestinian Authority may relieve the economic pressure somewhat and appease the population in the streets, but it poses a serious threat to our rule in the Gaza Strip.

"It is important to understand that long periods of tranquility opposite Israel also undermine our position, in this case opposite other radical organizations that operate in the Gaza Strip. We are not really capable of preventing them from staging attacks against Israel."

This ends the address by our imaginary Hamas official.

As the ideology of Hamas does not regard the Gaza Strip as a "State" (the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood does not assign a great deal of importance to territorial borders), Ackerman reasons that it is time to break the paradigm. Hamas operates according to a strict ideology and subject to a long list of constraints, so the notion according to which it will keep the border of the Gaza Strip quiet is nothing more than an Israeli illusion.

The Iranian Angle

One may also view the latest developments in Syria from a different perspective – the Iranian perspective.

Try this: "We, the regime in Tehran, invested billions of dollars as well as the blood of Iranian troops and Hezbollah forces, in the fighting that saved Bashar al-Assad in Syria. After the war, when we came to claim our just reward and establish permanent Iranian bases in Syria – Israel started bombing those bases. Now, we are delaying the establishment of the bases and the shipping of more troops to Syria, but we are not pulling out.

"In addition to the Israeli attacks, we face some other major troubles: the withdrawal of the USA from the JCPOA and the renewal of sanctions led to an increase in the prices of all products sold in Iran. Demonstrations against the regime are becoming more frequent and more massive (our Basij, the anti-riot force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, can cope with the demonstrations but it is a major headache).

"Russia has also disappointed us, big time: we fought shoulder to shoulder with the Russians against the rebels in Syria, but now President Vladimir Putin meets the Israeli Prime Minister every few weeks and sells our interests down the river. We must find a way to secure our interests in Syria without drawing the line taut opposite the USA, Russia and our own citizens. That is a complex undertaking," concludes the (imaginary) senior official in Tehran.

Is this really what things look like from over there, or is it just the western perception? It is hard to tell.

In any case, chances are growing for a "settlement" that would allow some long-term Iranian presence in Syria, but away from the Israeli border (85 kilometers or more, according to the latest report, earlier this week, from a nameless Russian source through a Russian news agency. Apparently, this report is a part of the "trial balloons" released to the media during the international negotiations toward the desired settlement).

The Satellite Dilemma

Next week, the Israeli Government may endorse a plan for the manufacture of a national communication satellite.

It all started last year, following the loss of the Amos-6 satellite in a failed launch over US soil.

The manufacturer, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), has thus far received about 60% of the cost of the lost satellite through insurance. The balance is the subject of legal proceedings.

Meanwhile, Israel is in urgent need of a powerful communication satellite, but the "Halal" Company (formerly owned by IAI) decided to issue an international tender.

Except at this point, the story took a turn: the State of Israel decided, based on its own considerations, that the communication satellite must be manufactured domestically. Within the next few days, the Government will therefore endorse the manufacture of the Amos-8 satellite (by IAI) as a national, rather than commercial, satellite project.

In the background to this decision, there are growing concerns owing to the deterioration in Israel's status in all space-related activities.

While 10-15 years ago Israel occupied a respectable position within the world's top five space leaders, today it straggles at the bottom of the second ten (according to a weighted set of parameters).

The reason for this drop is the decrease in Israeli investments in space, while other countries are running ahead. The Israeli defense establishment is the one pressing for the reinstatement of Israel to a senior position in the space race. The national communication satellite, expected to be endorsed within a few days, is a step in that direction, although it will not change Israel's current grading.

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