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Mideast on the boil

Editorial |

The cauldron bubble of the Middle East has flared up yet again this week, and the risk of war is dangerously real. The outbreak of violence is reckoned to be the worst since the 2014 conflict and the situation remains ever so fragile. The question that is now of greatest importance is whether the ceasefire will hold. There is an element of bitter irony in the resignation of Israel’s defence minister on Wednesday in protest against the truce.

Indeed, Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation and his call for early elections have thrown the government into turmoil. Neither Hamas nor the Netanyahu dispensation can be expected to hold their fire. The time to breathe easy is not yet, at any rate if the historical narrative is any indication. The Israeli government has let it be known that its actions will be determined by “steps on the ground”.

Ergo, the ceasefire is at best a temporary balm, at worst a development that has stiffened the responses of the hardliners on either side of the fence. There have been warnings in recent months that another war ~ the fourth since Hamas took over in 2007 ~ could erupt. The last conflict had one killed more than 2,250 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, and more than 70 Israelis, including six civilians.

The destruction in Gaza left 100,000 people homeless, worsening the already dire circumstances there. The latest crisis has been precipitated by the Israeli raid on Sunday which killed seven Hamas militants and an Israeli soldier in a firefight. Hamas is loath to buy the Israeli argument that an intelligence-gathering mission went wrong. Even if Hamas accepted that account, it was never going to let the raid pass without retaliation.

It has fired about 400 rockets and mortars from Gaza, while the Israeli military carried out more than 100 bombings, targeting the Hamas television station as well as military positions. The conflict, in a word, has escalated to an awesome degree. In parallel, there is a rift in the Israeli lute over the ceasefire; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been straining every nerve to defend the cessation of hostilities. The defence minister’s resignation suggests that “hawks” in the establishment are less than eager to concur with the fragile peace. Mr Netanyahu has warned against an “unnecessary war”.

Hamas appears to have amassed a larger stockpile than previously thought and it seems to be testing Israel’s “Iron Dome” defence system with appropriate tactics. Last year, the Israeli government’s watchdog had furnished a damning verdict on the previous Gaza conflict and Mr Netanyahu’s role.

The report mentioned that Israel had failed to prepare for the tactics of Hamas. Nor for that matter did it consider diplomatic initiatives that could have de-escalated the situation. Above all, the government in Jerusalem ~ shifted from Tel Aviv at the prodding of Donald Trump ~ has ignored the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The risk of another war will remain as long as Gaza is on the boil.